Grateful granddaughter sheds light on Japan-Russia goodwill voyage

by Daisuke Nakai

Kyodo

A woman whose grandparents were saved by a Japanese vessel during the 1917 Russian Revolution spent years searching for the identity of the ship’s captain and in the process has shed light on a little-known story.

Olga Molkina, 59, finally found the descendants of the captain, Motoji Kayahara of Kasaoka, Okayama Prefecture, and visited them two years ago to extend her gratitude for the assistance he gave her grandparents almost a century earlier.

“It is one of the absolutely unknown pages of relations between the two countries,” Molkina said at a news conference in Tokyo in early October during her latest trip to Japan.

Her grandparents were among some 800 children ranging in age from 3 to 15 who had evacuated to the Russian Far East from St. Petersburg, which was at the center of the revolution.

They were unable to return by land as the country was in turmoil, and the Japanese ship Yomeimaru offered to bring them home at the request of the American Red Cross.

The ship left Vladivostok in July 1920 and, after a stop in Nuroran, Hokkaido, crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic before arriving in Finland that October.

The children then went on to Russia and were reunited with their families the following month, according to Molkina.

She said that when she was a child her grandmother often told her the story “in the form of a fairy tale about the lost children who traveled around the world” by ship to return home.

She also learned later that her grandparents met on board the Yomeimaru and got married years afterward.

“This story really influenced . . . my own life,” Molkina said. “I decided that the story should be known not only to the narrow circle of people, but also to as many people as possible. So I decided to begin my own research.”

She looked into the archives in Russia but was unable to discover much about either the ship or the captain.

A breakthrough came when she met Nanen Kitamuro, a handwriting expert from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, who was holding an exhibition in St. Petersburg in 2009.

Kitamuro helped Molkina look through Japanese documents and they learned that Kayahara had captained the Yomeimaru.

“The relations between Russia and Japan have not been always good,” Molkina said. “But I think people’s diplomacy would help (them) get better and make people closer.”