LONDON - For the grandchildren of those who were imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II, it is perhaps understandable that some may still hold hostility toward Japan and its people.
However, Andrew Wood is one of the hundreds of descendants of prisoners of war and civilian internees who have decided that the past must not dictate the future and maintains his grandmother’s desire for postwar reconciliation.
At her instigation he took part in the Japanese government-sponsored Pacific Venture program, which invited the grandchildren of POWs and civilian internees to visit Japan and experience its culture and people.
And now, the 30-year-old is the embodiment of that attempt at reconciliation, as he is living and working in Japan and has a Japanese partner.
His grandmother, Patricia Chick, was interned as a child in the Philippines for 3½ years during the war.
She later went on to campaign for compensation — albeit unsuccessfully — from the Japanese government in the 1990s.
But Chick, who passed away in 2014, was also very keen on reconciliation and never held any grudge against the Japanese.
Wood, who lives in Tokyo with his wife, Miyuki, told Kyodo News, “My grandmother always said that when war happens people do bad things to others which they wouldn’t normally do.”
Chick had a British father and Chinese mother and was living in Shanghai when war broke out. As hostilities intensified in December 1941, her family decided to leave for India. However, en route to Calcutta their ship was threatened by Japanese submarines and they were forced to disembark in Manila.
A few weeks later, the Japanese had invaded and the family was interned in university buildings. Chick later spoke about the appalling conditions to which the internees were subjected.
Her mother died of tuberculosis shortly after liberation and the rest of the family moved first to the United States and later settled in London.
Wood made his first trip to Japan with Pacific Venture at the age of 16.
As with any group in Pacific Venture, the participants attended several lectures before their two-week stay that gave impartial, factual information on the war and conditions in the camps.
During his stay, Wood recalled meeting other youngsters with conversations centering on the usual “teenage stuff.” He remembers a visit to Hiroshima and some of his Japanese counterparts “apologizing” for the past.
After discovering a love for Japan, he returned on several more occasions before coming in 2011 to live in Tokyo, where he met his future wife, whom he married in the summer of 2014. Wood now works as a translator and plans to remain in Japan for the foreseeable future.
He said: “My grandmother knew I had gone back to Japan. She was very happy and interested in the fact I had gone to Japan. She met my Japanese friends on occasions and was recounting her life in Shanghai.”
Chick also attended the couple’s wedding in Britain.
Wood says that neither his grandmother nor any of his wider family expressed concerns about him marrying a Japanese.
“I have never found in any of my maternal relatives any resentment toward Japan,” he said.
“Yes, my grandmother was campaigning for compensation, but I think that’s a different issue to forgiveness, which she had decided upon. She was very much in favor of reconciliation and not letting the past drag us down in the present.
“I wouldn’t be here (in Japan) if it hadn’t been for PV. I owe everything to PV and, indirectly, to my grandmother and her wartime experience.”
Looking at Japan’s efforts at postwar reconciliation, Wood cautiously welcomed the recent restatement of an apology and new fund for the victims of wartime sexual slavery.
However, he doubts whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s contrition is genuine and he laments the constant intervention by Japan’s rightwing politicians that undermines reconciliation.
“There’s a vocal right wing in Japan, which makes it difficult for me and reconciliation,” Wood said. “It’s frustrating for me, having benefited from reconciliation, to see these old-men politicians come out with these unhelpful comments.”
Reflecting on the success of PV, which ran between 1995 and 2010, Mary-Grace Browning, its British co-coordinator, said, “The aim was to allow the grandchildren of Far East POWs and civilian internees to experience life in Japan at the end of the 20th century, 50 years after the experience of their grandparents.
“They came from a range of backgrounds and had different levels of knowledge about the war. We would take groups of 20, twice a year to Japan, and a total of 380 visited Japan.
“There was no coercion and this was not a brainwashing exercise.”
She said participants were briefed by Japanese diplomats as well as the historian Dr. John Pritchard, the other coordinator of Pacific Venture in Britain.
“The aim was that Pacific Venturers should become a kind of cadre and they have kept in touch with their Japanese friends. We have had intercultural marriages and the process of making friends has spread,” Browning said.
During her tenure heading up Pacific Venture, Browning said one of the most memorable moments was a meeting between a female Pacific Venture participant and Emperor Akihito in London in 1998.
The girl’s aunt remained hostile to Japan and did not want her niece to travel to the country. A message from the Emperor to the aunt, however, “completely mollified” her attitude, Browning said.
She said the program was a huge success and when it closed in 2010, she still had 3,000 grandchildren on a list wishing to participate.