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[Columns]Maizuru Today—marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II

 Materials on display at the Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum were scheduled to be added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in early October. The Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum is located in Maizuru City in Kyoto Prefecture, facing the Sea of Japan. I went to Maizuru City twice this spring, when the city was excited about the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, to visit the Museum and Maizuru Brick Park. Here I would like to report what I saw and to share my thoughts marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
 
 << At the end of the Second World War, an estimated 6.6 million Japanese people remained in various regions outside Japan. Soldiers who were on the continent at the time of Japan's defeat were disarmed and detained in labor camps (the Gulag) of the former Soviet Union. There were some 1,800 labor camps in areas ranging from Central Asia, the suburbs of Moscow, to the Arctic Circle, in addition to Siberia. Being subjected to forced labor, such as deforestation, a number of Japanese died from starvation and various diseases in an extremely cold environment under −30°C. Starting from October 1945, Maizuru Port received some 16,000 remains and 660,000 repatriates over the course of 13 years up to September 1958. Since 1950, Maizuru Port had been the only harbor to accept repatriates. They arrived at the port on the Koan Maru, Takasago Maru and other vessels. >>

 The Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum exhibits approximately 12,000 materials related to the internment in Siberia. For example, the Shirakaba Nisshi (white birch diary)—a diary using strips of white birch bark as paper, an empty can with its top sharpened as a pen, and soot as ink—describes people’s hard lives at a labor camp in essays and waka (a form of Japanese short poetry). Other exhibitions include a pair of felt shoes; a piece of warm clothing with no sleeves that a detainee obtained from a Soviet soldier in exchange of valuable brown breads; letters written by Ise Hashino, a model for the song Ganpeki no Haha (Mothers on the Quay), which describes mothers standing on the quay in the Port of Maizuru, waiting for their sons; sketches; and detainees reproduced using dolls.
 
 On my second visit to Maizuru, the Museum was under renovation in preparation to be added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Thus some of the materials were displayed in Building 3 of Maizuru Brick Park. I was very shocked to see how tragic the event was. I saw an elderly woman wiping away tears from her eyes, and a young couple watching the exhibitions seriously.
 
 One visitor, Aiko Samejima from Higashiosaka City, told me that she returned from Jongju (currently in North Korea) in 1946, the year following the end of World War II, when she was 13 years old. The 81-year-old women also said, “My father, a police officer, was taken away and never heard from again. Thus my mother, four siblings and I were left behind. Locals threw rocks at us, and burned down the nearby shrine. A while later, we chipped in money to hire three boats and escaped from there. We arrived at Inchon 20 days later. Then one of the US military landing crafts took us to Busan, and the Koan Maru took us to Hakata in Japan.”
 
 The arrival of returnees at Maizuru Port created a media circus by newspapers around Tairasambashi Bridge. “I managed to be the first to get on the deck of the Koan Maru filled with tons of people by climbing the accommodation ladder. I took a small charter boat to the ship. I took an exclusive picture of a smiling girl with a sprig of fully bloomed cherry blossom, which I carried at my side and gave her,” said Teiji Watanabe (aged 87, living in Moriguchi City, Osaka), a former photographer for a newspaper company. A man who was a budding journalist in the local news sector at the time said, “I was told by my boss based in the Soviet Union to interview a returnee who had been subjected to Communist education in a labor camp.” I think this reflects the light and dark sides of the repatriation.
 
 Maizuru Brick Park, in addition to the Museum, is a key tourist spot, on which Maizuru City places great importance. The Park comprises 12 renovated brick warehouses previously owned by the Imperial Japanese Navy. They are now used as an exhibition venue, event site, restaurants, shops, and other facilities. Eight of them are designated as Important Cultural Properties. Red brick warehouses can apparently be seen all over Japan, but those once owned by the Imperial Japanese Navy exist only in Maizuru City.
 
 Maizuru City promotes its specialties of Navy Curry and Maizuru-originated nikujaga (simmered meat and potatoes). Tradition has it that members of the Imperial Japanese Navy had curry rice every Friday. This was to prevent crew members from losing the sense of which day of the week it was. They could easily forget due to their long stay at sea. Nikujaga was created when Heihachiro Togo, who defeated the Baltic Fleet during the Russo-Japanese War, was the first Commander-in-Chief of the Maizuru Naval District. He told one of his subordinate cooks to make beef stew, which he had enjoyed while studying in Portsmouth in the UK, but no British-style seasonings were available then. Instead, the cook used soy sauce and sugar. This seems to be how nikujaga was born. However, Kure City (in Hiroshima Prefecture) has also claimed to be the origin of nikujaga. It’s said there that nikujaga was created when Heihachiro Togo was chief of staff at the Kure Naval District.
 
 Now we live in a food-infatuated era where the origin of Navy Curry or nikujaga become a topic of conversation. Seventy years ago, a number of people were chosen to return to Japan after suffering from serious hunger in the labor camps. People in Japan also went through hard times immediately after World War II due to serious food shortages. I could not help but realize how fast the world has changed over the past 70 years.
(Kojin Satoh)

 
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Returnees stepping out to their homeland from the Koan Maru (Osaka Shimbun, March 24, 1953)
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Maizuru Brick Park was constructed by renovating warehouses previously owned by the Imperial Japanese Navy.