On Aug. 15, 1945, Susumu Noda was in the first year of junior high school in the Manchurian port city and Japanese colonial outpost of Dalian. Because of his father’s poor eyesight and valued job, the Noda family was able to ride out the difficult time after the Soviets occupied the city. Many families, however, were not so lucky.
In the 1980s a frequent sight on the Japanese TV news was groups of elderly people traveling to Japan from China, who had been orphaned at the end of the war. These people were seeking to reconnect with their Japanese relatives. A typical narrative was: “The children were separated from their families in the confusion as Japanese colonists fled the Red Army.”
Mr. Noda, in a long conversation we had in the spring of 2018 talked about the children he knew, who were orphaned, and how it was more about survival than confusion.
A battle for family survival
My father was at home throughout the war. Even though he was 40 he was told he had to go off to fight.
My dad did judo so he had a really good physique. But at the same time, his eyesight was poor. When he went for his army physical, they took one look and would say, “We really want this guy.“ So, they brought him back for more tests. But in the end, he’s eyes were so bad he couldn’t fire a rifle. And as a result, he got to stay home. His bad eyes saved him.
There was a classmate of mine. There were five boys in his family. The oldest boy in that family was two or three years older than us. One day, the parents sold him. The boy was purchased for the labor he could do. After that, they sold their second child, and then my classmate, too. He was sold. Then his next younger brother. Finally, there was only the infant left. He was worth the most.
The older boys who were given away could do labor, the junior high school kids, but the small children would be able to look after the Chinese husband and wife when they got older. So they were very valuable to Chinese couples without children. Essentially they would adopt them.
I said ‘sell,’ but it was more a case of people with nothing giving their children away and getting something of value in return. Finally, it was just the parents, alone, who ended up hanging themselves in the park.
Another classmate of mine, a girl, her parents sold her. She had a younger sister, and when the repatriation was finally starting, her younger sister went to see her, but the Chinese family slammed the door in her face. She couldn’t help her older sister. My classmate didn’t make it back to Japan for more than 10 years. By that time she had gotten married and had children in China.
The family’s youngest daughter ran away, she begged us not to tell her parents where she was. There were a lot of kids like that in Dalian.
I was so lucky. Some families were in terrible circumstances, but my parents could afford to keep us. That’s because my father was needed to teach the Chinese how to run the railroad.