Guan Lingxiang first came to Japan nine years ago with his parents and sister after his maternal grandmother, a war-displaced Japanese left behind in China in the chaos after World War II, returned to her native country.
However, Guan, 22, repeatedly asks himself: “Why am I here? I’m neither Japanese nor Chinese.”
Guan, who lives in the western Tokyo suburb of Kunitachi, has been struggling to find the answer and is instead suffering stress. He was brought up in Hunchun, a city in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin Province on the border between China and North Korea.
He can still remember the deafening alarms he heard in his infancy when tensions mounted along the border.
The Guan family is made up of his Chinese father, his second-generation Japanese mother and a 15-year-old sister.
Dreaming of attaining success in Japan, the family followed the grandmother to settle in her homeland.
The younger Guan didn’t want to leave China but agreed because his father didn’t want to leave him behind.
According to statistics for 2002 from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 19,757 people, both war-displaced Japanese and their families, have settled in Japan at government expense. However, support groups believe the number is actually five to 10 times higher, if those who have come at their own expense are included.
Two years after the Guan family arrived in Tokyo, the father collapsed with acute stomach pains. His doctor simply told him to come again if there was a recurrence.
Guan was angered because he thought his father was suffering from work-related stress. Meanwhile, he was struggling to adjust to his junior high school. His classmates initially treated him well, but he was stung to hear them sometimes put him down and dismiss him as being Chinese. He received similar treatment when he lived in China, where people regarded him as Japanese.
Guan began distancing himself from the school, but could not find happiness in anything he did. Nevertheless, he advanced to night high school.
But his father’s health never recovered completely. Failing to make it in Japan, the entire family returned to Hunchun in 1995.
A welfare ministry poll on the livelihoods of Japanese returnees and their families in 2000 showed that those receiving relief benefits accounted for 65.1 percent of those polled, a sharp rise from the 38.5 percent in the previous survey in 1995. No other survey figures were available.
After returning to Hunchun, Guan’s father told him to follow his own path.
This time, he returned to Japan alone. He was heartened to subsequently learn that his night school teacher, Katsuhiko Saito, had sent a letter to his family in Hunchun expressing concern about him because he had not been to school. Saito had taught classes made up of Koreans and people of Japanese descent from China.
His letter never reached Guan, but he said that whenever he thinks of the letter, it makes him feel warm inside because his teacher was thinking about his well-being.
Another teacher, who taught history, helped Guan open his eyes.
The teacher, who studied in the United States and whose father was a Japanese soldier in China, told him: “Don’t believe in history. Look at Japan from the outside.”
Guan said the teacher helped him broaden his horizons and inspired him to write his own history. “I felt a little better after I thought about it,” Guan said.
He has since made some good friends, including a number who are older than him and a physically impaired classmate.
“I’ve learned to recognize and respect others as human beings.”
Guan began taking part in activities to help people from China who settle in Japan. “I really received help from Japanese student volunteers,” he said. “If there had been a true support system, my father would not have been forced to return to Hunchun.”
Psychiatrist Keisuke Ebata, who has interviewed settlers from China since 1981 and who has researched Japanese-Americans in Hawaii, said family members of war-displaced Japanese are “special” immigrants because they are culturally Chinese, and the Japanese language is a hurdle for them.
“Adaptation to an alien culture entails mental difficulties that are more than (people) imagine,” he said. “It is more difficult for (the offspring and grandchildren of Japanese) because they have no experience (speaking or writing) Japanese.”
Ebata has been advocating establishment of “mental health and medical assistance” to settlers from China.
Guan graduated from a junior college last spring and has been working at a firm that wholesales perishable food. He and his college colleague, a third-generation half-Japanese like himself, plan to marry this fall in Hunchun.
There is a saying in China that “fallen leaves have to return to their roots.” However, Guan has not decided whether his roots are in Japan or China, but he hopes to discover them with his fiance.
His dream is to set up a business project linking Japan with Hunchun.