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Mixed-race babies in lurch

Fact of Occupation life: Abandoned kids from GI-Japanese liaisons

by Reiji Yoshida

Fourth in a series

The Occupation left Japan not only further democratized, Westernized and with a pacifist Constitution, but also with thousands of mixed-blood children born to Allied servicemen and Japanese women.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of these kids would be abandoned by their American fathers, knowingly or not, when they rotated home, and also by their mothers.

“None of the fathers of more than 700 children who have stayed at our place took their responsibility, going back home, although I believe one or two of them must be suffering pangs of conscience,” wrote Miki Sawada in her book published in 1963. Sawada opened an orphanage for postwar mixed-blood babies in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Many babies were also abandoned by their Japanese mothers, as most people were still living in poverty, making raising any baby difficult, let alone as a single parent.

In addition, half-Japanese were apt to face discrimination because of their skin color and eyes.

According to one estimate, 5,000 to 10,000 babies had been born to American servicemen and Japanese women by 1952.

Elizabeth Ryan, who worked for the Occupation forces in Kobe from 1947 to 1948, mentioned the GI babies in a letter dated Jan. 28, 1948.

She wrote about a baby who was brought to an orphanage run by Franciscan nuns in Yokohama that housed as many as 126 babies fathered by GIs and abandoned by their parents.

The orphanage, Seibo Aijien, was originally set up for war orphans in 1946. The facility still exists 60 years after Ryan wrote the letter.

Following are excerpts from Ryan’s letter describing the orphanage in Yokohama:

Jan. 28, 1948

I wanted to send some Masses and went up to see Father Power. When I got in his office I was surprised to see Lee Grant sitting there with 2 Japanese women and a very young baby.

The baby was cute — big black eyes, quite bright looking — but I didn’t get the score. After work when I went home Lee called to me from her room and I went in. There on the bed was this baby.

It was one of the many illegitimate babies born of an American soldier and a Japanese girl.

This particular case was one Lee had heard of several months ago — the soldier had a wife back in the States “who didn’t understand him” (a likely story).

This young girl lived with her parents in a tin shack, filthy as you can imagine, and the grandmother of the baby had a child about the same age.

The girl’s folks had told her she just had to get rid of the baby since one baby was enough around there, and this one happening to be a girl just must be gotten rid of.

They didn’t have enough food to take care of it. . . .

Then on Friday of last week this girl came to her and said her folks said the baby couldn’t stay in their home another day. They would have to kill it.

So Lee hustled in to see Father Power who was working on getting the child admitted to an orphanage at Yokohama, run by the Franciscan nuns, just for the GI babies.

They have 126 babies there and now need another orphanage. So they decided to send the baby up that night and Lee volunteered to take it up there, since it would cost ¥1,000 to send the girl up there with the baby and they weren’t too sure her folks would let her get out of town. They would take the ¥1,000 and kill the baby. So off to Yokohama on the Allied train went Lee — and I tip my hat to her. . . .

The child was 7 months old but looked like about 2 months, if my judgment of an infant is any good. It could not hold its head up and made no effort to try to pull itself up.

In fact its hands were so terribly tiny and it didn’t know enough to grab at a finger the way most children do.

The little legs were so tiny. I don’t think they had developed at all since the child was born, and the tummy was bloated and blue, almost enough to make you sick.

The Japan Times is running the Letters from Kobe series featuring letters Elizabeth Ryan wrote in Occupied Japan from 1947 to 1948, which were recently discovered by Ken Alley, who runs a secondhand bookstore in Nebraska.