The 80-year-old female volunteer looked on warmly as men and women of all ages cheered and laughed with performers on stage at a public hall in Yokohama.
“I could have been one of them,” Akiko Nakamura said gently, looking at some 180 participants in the gathering in January, most of whom spoke Chinese.
“This is an important occasion for them to get together regardless of age, have a lot of fun and strengthen their bonds,” Nakamura said in reference to the event to celebrate the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday for Chinese.
Participants in the party were war-displaced Japanese, who as children were left behind in China by parents who evacuated to Japan in the chaotic aftermath of World War II. The war-displaced resettled in Japan after spending decades in China. Some were accompanied by relatives.
In 1946, Nakamura resettled in Japan with her family of seven from the northeastern region of China, which was known as Manchuria at that time.
“I was lucky,” she said, because, unlike most other war-displaced in China, she avoided being separated from her family in the process of coming to Japan.
Nakamura began studying Chinese at a language school at around age 30, when she was working at a bank, because she wanted to speak the language of the country where she was born. She stopped going to the school as she became busy raising children while still working at the bank.
However, she resumed her studies when she was in her mid-40s and even spent a year in China brushing up her linguistic skills after retiring from the bank at 57.
Nakamura joined a volunteer shaberi-ba (chatting place) group in 2002 to teach Japanese to war-displaced compatriots coming from China.
Now that 70 years has passed since the end of World War II, the war-displaced of her generation have become elderly and some are unable to work. While many rely on welfare benefits and nursing-care services, their relations with others sour from time to time because they still cannot express themselves well enough in Japanese. (Their offspring, by comparison, have adapted more quickly to their adopted communities.)
More than 10 years ago, a man named Wang attended Nakamura’s Japanese language class. He was cheerful, though deaf in one ear. When Nakamura asked what had caused his hearing problem, he said: “A bomb did it, and my mother burned.”
Nakamura was at a loss for words to the sudden confession. Wang never returned to her class.
People who encountered painful experiences suddenly remember them. Others suppress their sorrow.
“As many (war-displaced people) are unable to fit in with society, places where they can chat with each other and feel refreshed are important to them,” Nakamura said.
Their search for relatives in Japan got into full swing after the normalization of relations between Japan and China in 1972.
As of the end of March, there were 2,818 people recognized by the Japanese government as war-displaced who were left behind in China, and 1,284 of them have found relatives, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
Some 20,000 war-displaced Japanese and their families have settled permanently in Japan. Yet many are still living with the legacy of the war.
At the end of the gathering in Yokohama, participants stood up and sang “Furusato” (“Hometown”), a traditional Japanese children’s song with such lyrics as “Where are my parents?” and “I will return someday.”
They began to sing shyly at first, but their voices then grew stronger.