Leaving Manchuria

In 1931 the Japanese invaded and occupied Manchuria. Nobuyo Avery spent her childhood there where her father was a Japanese businessman. The family had to stay in Manchuria for the duration of World War II, and tensions were high when the war ended and the Japanese were forced to leave. Nobuyo recounts a harrowing journey as she was sent with her younger brothers on a train to evacuate the children first. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns As the war approached its end, we had more frequent air-raids by enemy planes. The bombs dropped far from where we were, and we did not have severe war experience where we lived.

About a week or so before the end of the war my two younger brothers, Kozo, 14, and Shinsaku, 12, and I, who was 15 years old at the time, had to evacuate from Shenyang, an industrial city that was likely to be a target of enemy bombing.

This could be around the time that Tokyo was almost turned to ashes.  We understood that the Japanese forces were defeated terribly.  Japan was trying to save the younger generations as much as possible. The authorities gave orders to let children between the ages of infant and fourteen be evacuated to a safer town to preserve their lives in case of the worst situation.

They allowed the very young children to be accompanied by an adult.  But my brothers were too old to ask mother to go with them. I was chosen to go, not my older sisters, but poor me. I did not want to go and be separated from my parents.

Even if we were safe at the remote town, what could be a life without parents! But they begged me to go with my brothers and take care of them as a big sister. They did not wish to let two boys go without me. I did not want the responsibility of looking after two brothers if I could have had a choice. My parents persuaded me of how important this evacuation was and I had to give in.

We were so sad when the large truck packed all of the evacuees and left the dear old town. The tears were rolling down my cheeks as I wondered if and when we would see each other again.

There was a beautiful full moon that night that looked as if it was comforting us with a warm smile. The bright stars, being consolation to our wounded hearts, were twinkling with soft, gleaming light, as if they were trying to ease our pain of departure from loved ones.

However, luckily, or unluckily, that night we got to go home!  The train that was supposed to take us to a remote town did not operate for unknown reasons. We had ridden a truck to go to the train station, but there was no transportation for evacuees returning home.  Some people must have taken horse carriage rides home.

We, being young children, were afraid of strange people and decided to walk home. The three of us cried again, and walked all the way home about midnight. The streets were quiet, and it must have taken us about an hour to walk.

We surprised mother when we knocked on the door and told her what had happened. We had one more night with our beloved parents and sisters.

The second night we again rode the truck and this time the train was waiting for us. The cargo train carried us to a remote small town of about a few thousand or so Japanese. Most of them were women and children because nearly all of the male population was taken to the war front.  Needless to say, it was very quiet and peaceful there.

My two brothers were placed next door to the house where I stayed with a pregnant woman and her two-year-old daughter. A week or so went by quickly.

One clear, hot day, when I was strolling with the two-year-old in the park, I saw people gathered at a spot around a radio. They said that there would be a very important message from the Emperor at noon.  That was the announcement of the surrender of the Japanese forces to the U.S. and its allies.

Most of us could not believe at first what we were hearing. My brothers and I were relieved that the war was over. That meant that we would go home where our parents were waiting.

In a few days, the Red Chinese army marched into the city and we Japanese were asked to leave the town immediately. The next morning my two brothers and I were carrying our belongings and were walking the street together with the group of Japanese refugees.

At first we were among the people we knew, but soon we realized that we were among all strangers.  Our feet were too slow and the adults walked faster.  Everyone was silent, just walking quickly.

The native people, young and old, were standing along both sides of the street watching and staring at us.  A Japanese man put a suitcase on the ground to rest a moment.  A Manchurian man ran out and stole the suitcase. It happened so fast that we could not believe what we saw.

None of us said a word. My brothers and I were so terrified, fearing that they might pull us kids out of the procession and make us stay in Manchuria as their slaves.  Everyone was quietly walking as fast as he or she could.

We had been walking for several hours when we heard shouting, “The train is here and waiting for us!” We had passed several stations along the way, but no sign of a train.  My brothers and I were overjoyed that we made it!  We ran with all of our strength.

Finally, when we sat on the train floor (there were no seats left), we held our hands, cried, and rejoiced that we made it to catch the train to Shenyang where our parents were waiting. Being hungry and tired, yet happy, we fell asleep.



Published: April 24, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 02