Realizing “Dream of Visiting Japan” After 60 Years13 children of Japanese soldiers left in Vietnam, some don’t know father’s name or gravesite

A briefing with 13 children of Japanese soldiers, who were left in Vietnam when their fathers were repatriated to Japan as Cold War tensions intensified after the end of World War II, was held at The Nippon Foundation headquarters in Tokyo on October 19. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko met with these second-generation families during their visit to Vietnam in March 2017, and this brought renewed attention to their situation. More than 60 years have passed since these children were separated from their fathers, and many do not even know their father’s full name or where his gravesite is located.

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Group photo of the 13 Japanese descendants

Approximately 80,000 soldiers of what was then the Imperial Japanese Army were in Vietnam when World War II ended. Of these, roughly 600 remained and fought alongside the League for the Independence of Vietnam (“Vietminh”) in the battle for independence from France, and married Vietnamese women and started families. As the Cold War began to take shape, however, these soldiers had no choice but to return to Japan. In particular, at the time of the first repatriation, in 1954, they were not allowed to take their wives and children with them, and as a result they became separated.

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Hong Nhat Quang (at microphone), the group’s leader, at the briefing

The fathers of all 13 members of the group that visited Japan were repatriated at that time. The group arrived in Japan on October 18, together with Miyuki Komatsu, who heads a group that has supported their visit. This was the first visit to Japan for 10 of the group’s members, and one member, Nguyen Van Phi, was accompanied by his Vietnamese wife. At the briefing, members expressed deep emotion, saying, “It has been my dream to visit the country of my father’s birth,” and “I hope that my grandchildren’s generation will be able to receive educational support from Japan.”

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Group members show their emotions at the briefing

All 13 members of the group also attended the reception with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in Vietnam earlier this year. Hong Nhat Quang, the group’s leader, recalled that meeting, saying, “I was moved by their kindness, and I am thankful that that led to our being able to visit Japan.” Mr. Quang’s father, Takeshi Sugihara, now 96 and a founding member of the Japan–Viet Nam Friendship Association, resides in Osaka; his son has visited him in Japan several times and they were able to meet again after some time on this occasion.

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Hong Nhat Quang (center) with his wife Le Thi Sang (left), who is also the daughter of a Japanese soldier, and father Takeshi Sugihara (right)

Another member, Phan Hong Chau, learned several weeks ago where his father, Tokuji Kamo, who died five years ago at the age of 92, is buried, and was able to visit his father’s gravesite. On the other hand, five members of the group do not know their father’s family name and / or first name, and many of those who do know their father’s full name do not know where his gravesite is located.

The group’s oldest member, Ngo Gia Khanh, is 72. He visited the Japanese Embassy to record his condolences after the earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan in March 2011, and his father, Katsui Yukawa, visited his home in Hanoi around 1981, but Mr. Yukawa died in 1990 and his son does not know where his father’s gravesite is located.

After the briefing, the group toured the Imperial Palace grounds and attended a welcoming reception hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on the 21st they moved to the Kansai area. There they toured the Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum at Maizuru Port, where their fathers landed when they returned to Japan. This was a very emotional visit for the group, and Mr. Quang expressed his thanks to the museum on behalf of the group. Comments from other members included: “I feel like my father has come down to the port,” “I am thankful that this museum for my father was built,” “I can see how my father struggled,” and “This reminded me of the importance of peace.” They also had exchanges with the Japan–Viet Nam Friendship Association and tried to learn whatever they could about their fathers. The group returned to Vietnam on October 24.

The Nippon Foundation is engaged in a variety of activities to support persons of Japanese descent who live outside Japan, primarily in Brazil, Peru, and other countries in Central and South America, and also to assist second-generation descendants in the Philippines to obtain Japanese citizenship. The support for this visit is part of this program, and arose from a visit to Vietnam by The Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasekawa in July 2017.

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