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The Gods Left First

The Gods Left First: The Captivity and Repatriation of Japanese POWs in Northeast Asia, 1945–1956

Andrew E. Barshay
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt46n49k
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  • Book Info
    The Gods Left First
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95657-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Maps and Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Note on Names and Terms
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. MAPS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. Prologue: The Gods Left First
    (pp. 1-7)

    At the time of Japan’s surrender to Allied forces on August 15, 1945, some six million Japanese were left stranded across the vast territories of a now vanquished empire. Overnight, imperial authority had dissolved. In Korea, the Shintō priests of the Chōsen Jingū shrine, founded in 1919 and dedicated to the combined worship of the sun goddess Amaterasu and the emperor Meiji, hurried to conduct the rites that would send their spirits safely back to the imperial palace in Tokyo. The mirror and other visible symbols of their presence were returned by airplane ten days later.¹

    The return from Korea...

  8. The Siberian Internment in History
    (pp. 8-45)

    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.¹ 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...

  9. Kazuki Yasuo and the Profane World of the Gulag
    (pp. 46-80)

    When the war ended for him, Kazuki Yasuo (1911–74) was a corporal in Japan’s doomed Kwantung Army. In April 1943 he had been sent to Hailar in Manchuria’s far northwest, at the edge of the vast Mongolian desert. Assigned to the 19th Field Operations Cargo Works, Kazuki’s duties were to maintain and repair military equipment: he never saw combat. By June 1945, with the army assuming a defensive posture in anticipation of a Soviet assault, roughly half of the Cargo Works’ personnel—some one thousand men, Kazuki among them—were ordered to move south. Their first destination was Zhengjiatun,...

  10. Knowledge Painfully Acquired: Takasugi Ichirō and the “Democratic Movement” in Siberia
    (pp. 81-120)

    Knowledge Painfully Acquired is a late work of Luo Qinshun (1465–1547), a neo-Confucian philosopher of the Ming dynasty and contemporary of the great Wang Yangming. It is a collection of reading notes and reflections of a lifetime concerning the questions that centrally preoccupied the neo-Confucians. Concerning Luo’s reflections, I have nothing useful to say; I just like the title and the attitude. It fits well with the story I am about to relate.

    On May 20, 1949, a TASS press release announced that the “remaining 95,000 Japanese POWs will be repatriated by November of 1949.”¹ The wording was important:...

  11. Ishihara Yoshirō: “My Best Self Did Not Return”
    (pp. 121-164)

    Ishihara Yoshirō spent eight years in Siberian captivity, the last four as a “twenty-five-year man” convicted of anti-Soviet activities and espionage. Drafted in 1939 at age twenty-four, he had soon been selected for Russian language training. From fall 1941 until his capture in 1945, Ishihara was attached to the Kwantung Army’s intelligence section in Harbin. With this background, Ishihara was no mere internee, but rather (in Soviet parlance) a “war criminal.” Late in 1953, thanks to the general amnesty that followed Stalin’s death earlier that year, he returned to Japan. A photograph taken on his arrival at Shinagawa rail station...

  12. Coda
    (pp. 165-188)

    “The Greatest Genius of the Human Race and Guiding Star for the Workers of the World”: this was the crowning epithet used in the “Letter of Thanks to Marshal Stalin” signed by some sixty-six thousand Siberian internees and sent to the Kremlin in September 1949. I discussed this letter earlier, in chapter 4, in order to convey both the somewhat surreal fervor of Siberia’s democratic movement at its height and the various ways internees engaged with it. Here, I turn to the letter again, to recall its invocation of Stalin’s “care” in placing the internees under the “guidance of his...

  13. Appendix: How Many?
    (pp. 189-192)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 193-219)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 220-230)
  16. Index
    (pp. 231-239)