Photographs and documents (including cartoons) related to Japanese immigrants in Manchuria and Mongolia
The fatal day of disarmament and internment
Collective internment of Japanese people
Cutlery and clothing used by internees, and photographs of internees
Harsh daily realities of life in the labor camps
Tools, heavy winter clothing, and photographs
Radio (broadcast of the voice of the Showa Emperor) and diorama (the history of repatriation)
Cigarettes, knives, spoons, dishes, mahjong tiles, and musical instruments used in labor camps
Handmade notebooks, postcards written by internees in Siberia, meals (brown bread and kasha [cereal]) provided in camps, and papers published by the USSR
Miniature of a labor camp and reproduction of a scene inside the camp
Before the beginning of the Showa Era (1926-1989), the Japanese economy depended on trade with the United States, and the Japanese government upheld cooperative diplomatic strategies, along with a policy of non-interference in China’s domestic affairs. This diplomatic line was led by the so-called “Taisho Democracy” and the establishment of party politics. Japan’s policy also accorded with the trend of international society of the time, which pursued world peace and disarmament.
After the beginning of the Showa Era, however, the Japanese government began to take a different path, which eventually led the country into World War II. Several historical factors underlying this change in Japan’s track included the Great Depression, which impacted Japanese industry significantly, lean harvests that impoverished agricultural regions, and anti-Japanese movements that broke out in China.
On August 9, 1945, Soviet troops advanced into northern China. Although the Japanese Kwantung Army had around 700,000 soldiers at the time, most of them were locally mobilized men with insufficient weaponry, and the army suffered catastrophic losses.
Taking advantage of the turmoil resulting from the end of the war, the Soviet troops advanced southward. By the end of August 1945, most troops of the Kwantung Army had surrendered to the Soviet troops. Disarmed military personnel were brought to temporary assembly places in Manchuria and Korea. Their number reached approximately 600,000.
At the end of World War II, approximately 575,000 Japanese military persons and civilian employees (estimated by the Japanese government) were sent to the USSR. Of those, approximately 472,000 were interned in some 1,800 labor camps in Siberia.
The internees were forced to perform very hard physical labor in a state of near-starvation, even in the severe cold of winter. Many died due to the heavy labor, insufficient provision of food, inadequate housing and sanitation facilities, and the spread of epidemics. This was hardly anticipated by any of the internees.
Of the diverse tasks, the hardest was logging in the forest in the freezing Siberian winter. Internees had to log huge pine and fir trees with an ax. Even though they were undernourished and fatigued, they strove to fulfill their assigned quotas. Some were struck to the ground by the falling trees, being too exhausted to dodge out of the way. Many died from the hard labor, as well as the extremely harsh conditions of the labor camps.
“Domoy Tokyo” (“We’ll take you back to Tokyo”). This was what the Japanese internees were told by the Soviet soldiers. However, instead of Tokyo, the Japanese were sent to labor camps in Siberia. In the freezing cold weather, they were forced to engage in logging, the construction of railway tracks (the Baikal-Amur Mainline), and other hard physical labor. For meals, they were provided only a piece of brown bread and watery cereal, known as kasha.
Few documents recording the daily realities of life in the labor camps and the repatriation remain today. The majority of the carefully hidden records were confiscated in the daily searches in the camps and in the final searches conducted at the Port of Nakhodka, from which the internees were transported to Maizuru. Accordingly, only a limited number of materials that were miraculously shielded from scrutiny were brought home. These priceless materials reflect the internees’ harsh experiences, true feelings, and deep psyches. Postcards written by internees are also extant. Although many of the postcards, written in katakana (simple phonetic script), do not indicate the realities of the camps due to censorship, they also indicate the internees’ deep psyches.
Chart showing repatriation routes
List of repatriation ships that entered the Port of Maizuru
Miniature models of repatriation ships (six ships)
Photographs (six pieces)
Passenger list of a repatriation ship (one copy)
Maizuru—a place of reunion—and repatriation
Newspapers/photographs, support from local residents, repatriation certificates/notifications/bonds/bank bills, photographs of the Repatriates Relief Bureau
Ganpeki no Haha (Mothers on the Quay)
Ganpeki no Tsuma (Wives on the Quay)
Newspapers and photographs at the time
Notifications to Mrs. Ise Hashino regarding her son Shinji, his jacket and photographs
Posters of Ganpeki no Haha (a film, song)
Map of repatriation-related facilities with button-activated lights
A three-dimensional model of the Repatriates Relief Bureau and its vicinity
At the time of Japan’s defeat in 1945, an estimated 6.6 million Japanese people remained in various regions outside Japan. The Japanese government was obliged to repatriate all these people systematically in a short period of time. In September 1945, the government designated 10 ports, including the ports of Maizuru, Uraga, and Kure, as special ports to receive repatriates.
Each time a repatriation ship entered the Port of Maizuru, local residents welcomed the repatriates either at the pier or by chartering a boat to visit the ship. They held welcome events and entertained the returnees. Representing the “Mother Country,” women’s groups worked particularly hard, offering various services and even preparing baby clothes. When the returnees departed Maizuru for their respective hometowns, residents served hot green tea and steamed sweet potatoes, and saw them off along their way to the nearest railway station.
The buildings of the Repatriates Relief Bureau were constructed in 1944 as a facility of the Taira Kaihei-dan (a training institution of the Japanese navy). On March 8, 1946, the Repatriates Relief Bureau began to use the facility. After temporary relocation, the Bureau continued its service at the facility from February 1947 to November 15, 1958, when the Bureau was closed.
In addition to taking entry and demobilization procedures, staff of the Bureau offered dedicated services to repatriates, sometimes offering a consultation service and at other times providing relief supplies. In Maizuru, in addition to the Bureau, there were accommodation facilities for returnees, including the Mori, Ueyasu, and Tendai dormitories.
Each time a ship entered the Port of Maizuru, many women could be observed on the Taira and Gojo quays. They were mothers waiting for the return of their sons, and wives waiting for their husbands. These women were called either Ganpeki no Haha (mothers on the quay) or Ganpeki no tsuma (wives on the quay). A songwriter composed Ganpeki no Haha, depicting such women standing on a quay and looking at the sky in the direction of Siberia. This song became a great hit since it evoked the deep sympathy of the people nationwide.
Mrs. Hashino is regarded as the symbol of the “mothers on the quay.” Her only son, Shinji, was on the list of the missing. Although she lived in Tokyo, based on her firm belief that he was still alive somewhere, she traveled the nearly 600 km distance to the Port of Maizuru each time a repatriation ship entered the port. Even after receiving the announcement of his death, she continued to await his safe return until she died in July 1981 at the age of 81.
Repatriation promotion movement (Petition written by Eiichi Oki and his portrait); documents/armband/photographs of the Students’ Association; photographs related to the Japanese Red Cross Society; and books and photographs of Haruo Minami, Sosuke Uno, Tadayoshi Sato, and Kunio Saito
History of the Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum (books and photographs)
Association of Manga Artists Who Returned from China “My Manchuria”
Original drawings (Fujio Akatsuka, Kenichi Kitami, Toshiko Ueda, Joji Yamauchi, Kenji Morita, Takao Yokoyama, Kenichiro Takai, Mitsutoshi Furuya, and Tetsuya Chiba)
Photographs of the friendship cities agreement ceremony and letter of thanks
Messages to future generations (by Haruo Minami, Sosuke Uno, Tadayoshi Sato, and Kunio Saito)
Association of Manga Artists Who Returned from China “My Manchuria”
“My favorite time in Manchuria was when I was looking up at the sky and dozing off” by Kenji Morita
Photographs of groups of people visiting graves in various parts of the USSR, and stones and sand brought from cemeteries in the USSR