Susumu Noda, who as a boy witnessed life in Dalian, Manchuria, both before and after World War II, said he never felt like he was growing up in a foreign country, but things changed dramatically 75 years ago, when on Aug. 1, 1945, the war ended, and the cities colonial masters became outcasts.
He told me his story because he felt too many people did not know and were not being told what impact wars have on people, and he wanted them to know.
Dalian belonged to Japan on a 99-year lease and there was no sense that it was anything but permanent. It was, for all intents and purposes, Japanese territory. There were Chinese but we didn’t live among them. There were Chinese neighborhoods and Japanese neighborhoods. The Chinese we came into contact spoke Japanese, so it didn’t feel at all like we were in a foreign country. We were in Japan. My father worked for a Japanese company, so it felt like Japan.
In those days some Japanese had pistols, and (right after the war ended) at night you’d hear gunfire. Japanese were being assaulted every day. You didn’t know when it would happen.
We lived on the second floor in Manchurian Railroad company housing. On the entrance to the second-floor veranda, we stockpiled rocks and prepared bamboo spears in case an attack came.
The building had a guard, and he bound a speer to his rifle so he could defend the door against anyone who came in, but no attack ever came.
A boy in my year at school, his home was attacked and the family escaped but he was separated in the confusion during the night and got lost. He went northward. Without any food or water, he collapsed. He didn’t make it back home, so he couldn’t return to Japan when his family was repatriated. It took two or three years before he came back by himself. I later met him in Kyushu and heard his story.
He said he collapsed from lack of food and water and resorted to drinking horse urine. I guess if I was in his place, I might have done the same. It turned out a Chinese couple found him. From his clothes, they knew he was a Japanese schoolboy, and said, “Hurry, get inside the house.”
He could have been killed but they saved him. He was in China for years after the war and he owed those people everything.
There had always been a lot of thieving in Dalian and mistrust of Chinese among the Japanese).
When we came home from school, we would take our shoes off in the entry hall and lock the door. If you forgot to lock the door, your shoes would be gone. The Chinese kids were keeping a close eye on who was wearing good shoes. We received really nice shoes from our uncle in Tsingtao but we barely had them before they were stolen. The next day, if you went to the black market, you would certainly see your stolen shoes lined up there for sale.
So after I lost my good shoes, I had to wear old ones to school. I had been so proud to wear those nice shoes to school so it was a letdown to have to wear my beat-up ones again.
Still, there were lots of acts of individual kindness from the Chinese, like with my classmate.
Years later, he went back and brought his Chinese mother and father glasses (from Japan) to help them see as their eyesight had gotten worse with old age. So there were people like that.