The Gods Left First: The Captivity and Repatriation of Japanese POWs in Northeast Asia, 1945-56

The Gods Left First: The Captivity and Repatriation of Japanese POWs in Northeast Asia, 1945-56

The Gods Left First: The Captivity and Repatriation of Japanese POWs in Northeast Asia, 1945-56

The Gods Left First: The Captivity and Repatriation of Japanese POWs in Northeast Asia, 1945-56

Synopsis

At the time of Japan's surrender to Allied forces on August 15, 1945, some six million Japanese were left stranded across the vast expanse of a vanquished Asian empire. Half civilian and half military, they faced the prospect of returning somehow to a Japan that lay prostrate, its cities destroyed, after years of warfare and Allied bombing campaigns. Among them were more than 600,000 soldiers of Japan's army in Manchuria, who had surrendered to the Red Army only to be transported to Soviet labor camps, mainly in Siberia. Held for between two and four years, and some far longer, amid forced labor and reeducation campaigns, they waited for return, never knowing when or if it would come. Drawing on a wide range of memoirs, art, poetry, and contemporary records, The Gods Left First reconstructs their experience of captivity, return, and encounter with a postwar Japan that now seemed as alien as it had once been familiar. In a broader sense, this study is a meditation on the meaning of survival for Japan's continental repatriates, showing that their memories of involvement in Japan's imperial project were both a burden and the basis for a new way of life.

Excerpt

THE PRINCE’S TALE

On August 16, 1945, the day following the imperial broadcast announcing Japan’s surrender, Prince Takeda (Takeda-no-miya) Tsuneyoshi was called to the emperor’s temporary residence on the palace grounds— temporary since the main residence had been bombed. Along with him, and by his testimony equally in the dark about the reasons for this summons, were three other imperial princes: Asaka, Kan’in, and Higashikuni. The purpose was soon made clear. Higashikuni was to become prime minister, though only for a matter of weeks, as it turned out. Asaka, Kan’in, and Takeda were each to be sent to different theaters of the just ended war. There they were to convey to the theater commanders the emperor’s “sacred will” that all those who had fought in his name now put down their arms and surrender peacefully to the representatives of the Allied forces. For Kan’in, the mission was to the South Pacific, and Asaka’s to China. Takeda was to be sent to Manchuria, that is, to the Kwantung Army.

Like the others, Takeda, at the time a lieutenant colonel, combined imperial rank with full military credentials. Both rank and credentials, it is fair to speculate, must have been thought necessary to ensure the mission’s success. The entire situation was without precedent. On the one hand, Japanese forces had never before been defeated—had never surrendered to an enemy—on such a scale. On the other hand, over the . . .

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