Chinese who helps war-displaced Japanese starts new life in Japan

January 21, 2014

By KOICHIRO ISHIDA/ Correspondent

HARBIN, China--When Shi Jinkai was growing up in northeastern China, he had a Japanese brother his parents had taken in during the closing days of World War II.

The boy was one of thousands of Japanese children who were left in China after their parents were forced to flee from approaching Soviet forces and return to Japan.

Shi, a 56-year-old native of Harbin in Heilongjiang province, has devoted many years to helping out such people.

He has long served as a liaison between war-displaced Japanese left in China and Japanese traveling to China to meet them.

Now, he is taking his self-appointed mission to Japan, leaving Harbin on Jan. 21 in the company of his wife, 73, who is a displaced Japanese. Suffering from a disease, she decided to move to Japan to receive medical treatment.

Heilongjiang province is a part of the former Manchuria, where about 1.5 million Japanese emigrated in the 1930s. The province is home to the largest number of war-displaced Japanese, with more than 1,800 individuals recognized as such so far.

Shi's Japanese brother returned to Japan in 1986, after his Japanese family was identified.

That inspired Shi to help people still struggling to come to grips with their lives after they were altered by war, and lend a hand to displaced Japanese in search of their relatives.

Now, he wants to learn about the reunions from the Japanese side.

“I plan to visit those who went back to Japan and collect their testimonies and relevant documents,” said Shi.

In China, Shi has known more than 100 war-displaced Japanese over the years. He has assisted many of them in taking the first steps required for the recognition process. He also visited Chinese parents to take their photographs to send to their Japanese children who have returned to Japan.

His efforts culminated in China’s first exhibition in 2012 on war-displaced Japanese at a local museum, featuring photographs, clothing, daily utensils and Chinese and Japanese publications, along with a list of 1,500 Japanese and their Chinese parents.

At times, Shi's mission has been a struggle, but he has never given up.

He landed a job at the museum after being out of work for eight years. He had to subsist on his savings during that period.

“With little money left, I pretended to have a stomachache and would skip lunch,” he said.

Not all the reunions for war-displaced Japanese have happy endings.

Some returnees find themselves in anguish after being unable to cope with life in Japan, and many Chinese parents are left with a strong sense of loss after their children return to Japan.

There are some Japanese who are bitterly disappointed because they are ineligible to be officially recognized as war-displaced Japanese due to a lack of evidence.

But Shi is determined to carry on his mission in Japan to help the two countries maintain friendly ties, just as he promised his mother on her deathbed.

By KOICHIRO ISHIDA/ Correspondent
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Shi Jinkai, a resident of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, plans to gather documents and testimonies about war-displaced Japanese in Japan. (Koichiro Ishida)

Shi Jinkai, a resident of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, plans to gather documents and testimonies about war-displaced Japanese in Japan. (Koichiro Ishida)

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  • Shi Jinkai, a resident of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, plans to gather documents and testimonies about war-displaced Japanese in Japan. (Koichiro Ishida)

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