translated by Ray Matsumoto
Imagine 21's first play, "Reunion" (再会), sheds light on the topic of Japanese settlers abandoned in Manchuria following the Soviet invasion. The play is set in Japan in 1999. It depicts the story of the Fujita family, a middle-class household running a machinery business. 49-year-old Tomoyoshi and his father Shinzo run the business, while Tomoyoshi's wife Misako and daughter Tazuru, assist them. One day, an old friend of Tomoyoshi asks Shinzo about a woman named Haru, a 76-year-old woman who had recently returned from China. Shinzo, in utter shock, leaves the room leaving the rest of the family in confusion. He later reveals that Haru was his former wife in Manchuria during the war. They had moved to Manchuria in search of a better life and built a family as farmers. However, following the Soviet invasion in 1945, Shinzo was captured and sent to a POW camp in Siberia while Haru and their children were abandoned. The family is forced to confront Japan's dark past and question their identity.
Here is a prologue written by director and performer Yoshiji Watanabe. It describes his family's past and experience visiting China, which later inspired the play. The prologue is written in the form of a confession. You can find the original Japanese version at the end of the article.
On July 6th, 1991, at Yasuoka Village in Nagano Prefecture, I met with a group of abandoned Japanese women left behind in China, known as "stranded war wives" (zanryu fujin) for the first time. I will never forget that emotional day. It changed my life in a way that I would never have imagined.
They passionately and somewhat enthusiastically spoke of their escape from war. At times they were agitated, at times, they even laughed; and other times, they cried without trying to hide it. During our meetings, they frequently insisted that I have some food and tea. I felt dejected by their smiles and generosity. I was lost for words. How could they still smile after experiencing such hardship? I wanted to know more about them. Why did I reach out to these women and come here in the first place? I had to examine these questions. I felt guilt hanging over my head while listening to these women, who spoke of their experience as if it were yesterday. This feeling continued to weigh on me when I left the village.
My father went to Manchuria in 1934 as a commissioned officer in the Imperial Japanese Army. His assignment was to crush anti-Japanese resistance fighters (known to the Japanese as "bandits"). My parents married in Manchuria in 1938, and my elder brother was born the following year. That same year, following the Nomonhan Incident (Battles of Khalkhin Gol), my father retired from military service and became a government official for the Manchukuo government. However, in 1945, my father was once again drafted as a military officer. And on August 9th, he was notified of the Soviet declaration of war against Japan.
As a lieutenant of the Imperial Japanese Army Railways and Shipping Section, my father received word early that Japan was going to surrender (all members of the imperial family had been sent back to Japan in July for their safety). My father, as well as other military officers, abandoned the other Japanese settlers by evacuating Manchuria. They escaped with their families by train and bombed the railroad lines and bridges as they passed. (It was only after we left Yasuoka Village that my older brother told me about these stories. By September 2nd, they had already reached Senzaki port in Yamaguchi prefecture).
The Japanese Army, including my father, deserted the Japanese settlers, not only by leaving them behind but destroying their escape route. Many did not even know that the Soviets had declared war. I can only imagine their fate, or rather, the life they were forced to live, being abandoned by their own country and military.
My father often woke up from nightmares in the middle of the night and stared into the darkness with glaring eyes. He lived in emotional agony. He constantly fought with my mother, even going as far as to grab her hair and drag her across the floor. Perhaps he was reminded of the Japanese settlers running for their lives or the Chinese people he killed. Maybe by hurting himself and his family, he was trying to confront his guilty conscience. Our home was a battlefield until my parents died.
Upon hearing my brother's story, I decided to visit China. It had been ten years since my father died. I wanted to know more about my parents and the emotions they bore in Manchuria. So, on September 16th, 1991, my wife and I flew to China. I brought a photograph of my parents with me. Strangely enough, when I went to Yasuoka Village, when my brother told me about my Manchuria, when we visited our parents' graves, and when I arrived in China, there were thunderstorms. It was as if my father was trying to tell me something.
I arrived in Harbin on September 18th, the anniversary of the Mukden Incident (the Japanese invasion of Manchuria). As it thundered outside, my wife and I safely reached our hotel. I turned on the television and was astonished that they were airing a show about Unit 731 (one of the Japanese Army's biological warfare research units). It made me tremble, and hearing that TV shows on Unit 731 would be a guaranteed hit in China at the time made me tremble even more.
On September 20th, we took a night train from Harbin to Mishan, the city my parents lived in before their escape. It was a fifteen-hour journey. On the morning of the 21st, we were eating breakfast in the dining car when the chef suddenly approached us and said, "Countless Chinese people from this area were captured by the Japanese and taken to places like Unit 731. To this day, we do not know the status of most of these victims. As Japanese people, what do you think of it?" My mind went blank, and I could not give him an answer.
We reached Changchun on the 25th and began searching for the house where my parents had lived. Finally, due in large part to the effort of our interpreter, Mr. Lee, we found it (or at least what seemed to be it). There was a very kind Chinese woman living there, and she invited us in. It turned out that her son was studying in Japan, and she recently received a letter from him. The letter was in a typical brown-colored Japanese envelope with the Chinese address written on it. I started feeling overwhelmed by emotions from finding the house my parents previously lived in, and the fact that I was being treated so kindly by the Chinese person who now lived there.
We walked around the city and visited General Tojo's former vacation house, the former state department, the former Kwantung Army headquarters, and a palace built for Emperor Hirohito (currently a university). Lastly, we went to the Museum of the Imperial Palace of Manchukuo. There I saw a photograph that made me freeze in horror. A Japanese officer was laughing as he held his sword high in the air, and by his feet were severed heads of Chinese victims placed in a neat row (there were roughly twenty heads in the photograph). I stood there and stared. I could not move. I could barely breathe. It felt as if the heads were alive and staring back at me. And at that moment, mysteriously, I felt as if I had solved an enigma that had haunted me since childhood.
Ever since I was young, people in our neighborhood have avoided us. My father was convicted as a Class-C war criminal, and in a nation trying to transition to an era of peace, we were an unpleasant reminder of the past. Throughout my life, being raised in this environment, I felt I was searching for a place I could feel at peace. I think that is why I entered the world of theater. However, no matter how hard I looked, I always thought I could never be happy, and I refused any help because of it. As I stood frozen before this photograph, I understood why I came here: I was still looking for a place where my soul could find peace.
In the "Fifteen-year War," my family participated as the aggressors. They murdered Chinese people, just like the soldier in the photograph, and they abandoned their fellow Japanese people. The souls of these victims still roam. They drift among those who are considered "normal families" and plague my soul.
As a child of one of these aggressors, my soul was in distress. But, as I stood there, emotionally paralyzed, I realized that the root of all that I had experienced in my life was here, in the faces of the Chinese people I saw in this photograph. This was why I felt I could never find happiness. This was the cause of my fear.
The secret of my father's role in history died along with him. My mother's hatred for him weighed heavily on top of my father's own postwar hatred for himself. Years after my father's death, my mother followed him by taking her own life. I resented them for most of my life and could not find it in me to forgive them. But for the first time in my life, I understood the deep emotional conflict my parents were forced to experience during the postwar era. Even when I returned to Japan, I could not help but think about the countless victims of Japanese aggression. I began questioning my own existence. I was living my "life," but I also denied my "life." I decided I needed to reexamine my "life" in its entirety.
Did my parents think they were the only ones suffering? I began to realize that the war also robbed me of my childhood. I assume that my parents eventually realized this and were very lenient with me as I grew older. I cannot help but think that if they were alive today, we could fix our relationship and start over.
In contrast to my parents, the "stranded war wives" we met in Yasuoka Village were incredibly poor in Manchuria (compared to Kwantung Army families), yet they constantly worked to provide rice for the Army. Even after the war, these women were punished by the Chinese locals as scapegoats for Japanese war crimes. They were forced to live as criminals as well as victims and even atoned for the wrongs my father had committed during the war.
My circumstances led me to China, and I have finally found the source of my fears– the specter that has haunted me from within. And for this, I have so many people to thank. Now, as I reflect on my journey, I can finally say that I am able to face my postwar history as a Japanese person.
I wrote this play for the people of Yasuoka Village, as well as for my father and mother. If possible, I would also like to convey my feelings to the people of China. After meeting the "stranded war wives" and going to China, I was finally able to reexamine my life and question whether I was satisfied. Furthermore, I wish to reach Aufheben (sublation) through my newly gained "emotions" and use it as a stepping stone for my life in postwar Japan.
…あの日、残留婦人の皆さんは、元気な声で身振り手振りを交え、戦火の逃避行の話をしてくれました。時には笑い、 時には涙をぬぐいもせず、話の途中に何回も「漬物食べて下さい」「お茶を飲んで下さい」と私に気を使って頂いて…。 皆さんの仏様のようにやさしい笑顔に囲まれているうちに、私は心えぐられ、返す言葉も失っていました。 あんなに苦しまれたのに、どうしてこんなに笑顔がすてきなのだろう…。ああもっとこの方達の事を知りたい、又私は 何を残留婦人の方に求めてここに来たのかそれをみつめなくてはいけない…。まるで昨日の事のように話される皆さんを前に、あるうしろめたさをかかえたまま、村を出ました。
私の父は 、よく戦後、急にガバッととび起き、目をらんらんと光らせていました。又、 髪の毛をつかみ、ひきづりまわし自暴自棄になっていました。（逃げまどう人を思い出し、気が狂いそうになったり、殺した人を思い出し、我身を、家族をいたみつけ、許されざる身をなげだしていたのでしょうか…）まさに、我家は戦場でした。父母が亡くなるまで。
日本に帰ってからも、日本軍の犠牲になった、尊い、その方達の事を思わずにはいられませんでした。自分の「生」とはいったい何であったのか！生きていながら拒絶していた自分の「生」を私は洗いざらい、 さらけ出し、 みつめてみたくなりました。父や、母達は自分達だけが苦しんでいたと思っていたのでしょうか？