Manshū Jizō for Japanese Orphans & Their Chinese Parents

From Memory Maps: The State and Manchuria in Postwar Japan, Mariko Asanoi Tamanoi (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 113-114 (inline reference citations omitted):

In 1998, I was introduced to Kōji, a repatriate from Manchuria and a volunteer who assists [Japanese] orphans [left behind in 1945] and their [Chinese] families [who adopted them]. When I visited him at his home in downtown Tokyo, he showed me some fifty tiny figurines of Jizō, placed neatly in a box. Jizō, one of the most important Buddhist deities in Japan, is believed to comfort the souls of dead children while simultaneously comforting their mourning parents. Jizō statues are found throughout Japan, and the deity is “perhaps the most ubiquitous, popular, and widely loved in Japanese religion.” Kōji makes these little figurines. He starts by collecting tiny stones on the beach or by the roadside. Using his artistic skills, he smoothes the surface of each stone, paints a child’s face on it, and transforms the stone into Jizō. Each Jizō represents an immigrant child who died in Manchuria, as well as the sorrow of the child’s parents. According to Kōji, however, each Jizō also represents an immigrant child who has survived in China, as well as the devotion of the child’s Chinese adoptive parents. While the postwar Japanese state regarded orphans as “the dead” for quite some time, Kōji resurrected them in tiny stones and made the compassion of their adoptive parents known to the Japanese public. Kōji also took me to a gallery near his home. Located in the posh Roppongi district of Tokyo, the small gallery attracted many young women and men. There he displayed his figurines—called Manshū Jizō (Manchurian Jizō)—and sold them to gallery visitors. The money he made from the sale of these statues, Kōji said, would go into a fund to support another project: a stone monument to be built in China to express gratitude to the Chinese adoptive parents of the Japanese orphans. Indeed, by the time I met Kōji, the project was already well under way; a well-known artist, himself a repatriate from Manchuria, was already building a monument of a Chinese couple and their adopted son, a child of the Japanese agrarian colonists.

In 1999, Kōji and his group finally completed this grand project. When I read the newspaper report of this event, it surprised me greatly that they had built the monument in Liutiaogou, the very site of the Japanese invasion into Manchuria on September 18, 1931. In addition, they held the ceremony celebrating the completion of this monument inside the September-Eighteenth Museum, which is known for its displays condemning Japan’s imperialism. The monument, then, embodies more than the suffering of the orphans. It embodies the pain of their adoptive parents and, by extension, the pain of the people in China who suffered not only from the departure of their adopted children to Japan but also from the Japanese invasion in the age of empire. Representing the orphans, Fumio spoke at the ceremony to an audience of about two hundred, including his eighty-four-year-old adoptive father. He is reported to have said the following: “After the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, my adoptive father saw me off to Japan while crying. … My adoptive parents made me eat steamed rice every other day while they ate corn and kaoliang.” Fumio now lives in Japan as a Japanese citizen and yet has never forgotten the adoptive parents he left behind in China.

Kōji and his friends, who erected the monument and organized the ceremony in Liutiaogou, represent the parental generation of Japanese colonists. I later learned that Kōji, along with Satoshi, was one of the key figures who helped the orphans stage their protest march in downtown Tokyo. These volunteers, who themselves experienced tremendous hardships during the journeys of repatriation, are now keenly aware that the suffering of the orphans belongs not only to the past but to the present and the future as well. They are also aware that to understand their concerns and worries, they must go back to the past, and that is why they traveled to Liutiaogou. By so doing, they went far beyond Japan’s national space to understand not only the fates of the orphans and their adoptive parents but also their own involvement in Japanese imperialism. Are the children of orphans, being Japanese-Chinese, no longer Japanese? Is it necessary for the Japanese public to distinguish orphans and their families from Chinese “economic refugees”? I will leave these questions unanswered for now, but note that the wisdom of people such as Kōji gives us the hope that people, regardless of nationality, can learn the value of humanism from a past that they once shared in some ways.

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Filed under China, Japan, migration, nationalism

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