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“Advancing Soviet Soldiers, Fleeing Japanese”

February 19th, 2007 . by Gerry-Bevers

The above map shows the northeastern section of North Korea. I have marked two places on the map. One is Cheongjin, which is where Yoko Kawashima Watkins, the author of “So Far from the Bamboo Grove,” said she and her family lived in 1945. The other place I marked is Iweon, which is where Kim Byeong-geul lived. Mr. Kim wrote an autobiography entitled, “Failed Literature, Failed Life” I mention Mr. Kim because there is one section of his book that reminds me of Ms. Watkin’s experience. Here is my translation of that section of his book:

Advancing Soviet Troops, Fleeing Japanese

On the second day (after Liberation) a rumor spread that Soviet troops had advanced as far as Dancheon (a military installation in the extreme northern part of South Hamgyeong Province), so I waited all day for Soviet troops to appear. What kind of heros would they be? What would these liberators look like? But none came. I wonder if the tough Japanese troops pushed them back? I was impatient and anxious. No, my heart was pounding double time.

However, there was no doubt that the Soviet troops were, in fact, advancing because the Japanese in the Village of Iweon were flowing by like water toward the local police and railway stations, intending to take the train south. The policemen at the station were already desperately gathering their documents together, putting them in a hole by the well, and setting them afire.  It was a fire of secret documents.

The Japanese who had fled to our village were as white as sheets. In fact, their whole bodies were deadly pale, and they were like rats in a panic, even the men. The women and children, especially, were frantically trying to change into Korean clothes, the shabbier the better.

Yes, the Korean clothes that they had regarded with comtempt for thirty-six years. The tattered Korean clothes that had been their greatest object of scorn were now their salvation, a treasure like no other on earth. The value of the clothes had completely changed. But that was not all. The young women were shaving their heads, fearing that they would be raped by the advancing Soviet troops. In addition, on their marble white faces, on their plumb faces, on their elegant, egg-shaped faces, on those faces they were smearing soot, making themselves into beggars.

The Japanese, as arrogant as they were, as ruthless as they were. For thirty-six years they had treaded on our land, given us orders, ruled us, and plundered everything, yet there was no one in our village who harmed them.  They were downcast, frightened human beings. Who could raise a hand to pathetic people trying desperately only to survive?

Even my mother, who had been serverely tortured by them, took pity on them by giving them some old tattered clothes of hers. We hoped they would make it back to their country safely, and they left our village without incident. However, I wonder if they made it safely across the 38th parallel? I could not help feeling pity for them.

Is it really so hard for people to believe the story Ms. Watkins tells in her book, “So Far from the Bamboo Grove”?

Kim Byeong-gul was born in Iweon, South Hamgyeong Province in 1924. He graduated from elementary school in 1939 and then went to Tokyo to study at Mejiro (目白) Industrial School, where he graduated in 1943. In 1946, he crossed over into South Korea, alone. When his autobiography was published in 1994,  he was working as a publisher at Naeil Newspaper.

UPDATE: In the comments section, Jion 999 has provided a link to a story that talks about the suffering of not only Japanese Refugees, but also Koreans, after the Soviets came into North Korea.

Many Japanese civilians were trapped in North Korea when the Japanese Empire collapsed in 1945. Our former rulers were housed in a school building a few blocks from my home in Hamhung. They were free to move around but very few dared to venture out. The Korean People’s Militia guarded the Japanese by agreement with Gen. Abe, but the Militia had no jurisdiction over the Soviets. During the night, drunken Russians openly walked past by the Korean guards and raped the women, young and old. All Japanese men shaved their head as was their custom during World War II, and so the Russians sought people with hair. Any Japanese with hair was raped. Soon, the Japanese women and children shaved their head, which was also good for controlling lice.

Gen. Abe, The Japanese Governor General of Korea, had stockpiled six months’ provisions for his people. but the Soviets eagerly confiscated the stockpiles for their own use. It was painful and sad to watch Japanese men, former teachers, neighbors and medical doctors, going around the Korean neighborhood offering menial labor for food. Most of us did our best to help these former lords of Korea, but some Koreans stoned the poor Japanese. Countless Japanese died of starvation and disease.

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14 Responses to ““Advancing Soviet Soldiers, Fleeing Japanese””

  1. comment number 1 by: ponta

    On the second day (after Liberation) a rumor spread that Soviet troops had advanced as far as Dancheon

    So there was a rumor. Then Ms Watkins’s story makes sense, doesn’t it?

    yet there was no one in our village who harmed them. They were downcast, frightened human beings.

    Why does he bother to mention it? And does it
    means he knew in other village, there was someone who harmed them? is that why he bother to mention it?

  2. comment number 2 by: kjeff

    Ponta,

    “Why does he bother to mention it?”
    Hmm… That he mentioned it, does that make it harder for you to say otherwise?
    “And does it
    means he knew in other village, there was someone who harmed them?”
    Or, are you simply bother Mr. Kim’s overall sarcasm in his writing?

  3. comment number 3 by: empraptor

    ponta,

    I think his statement makes sense in the context he has presented. He gives reasons to expect general resentment of the Japanese. The passage shows that despite this, the villagers did not mistreat the evacuees.

    It’s natural that he would limit the statement to his village. He cannot say that Koreans in other locations acted similarly under the same situation.

  4. comment number 4 by: seouldout

    Another criticism of the book is bamboo–I believe this has been seized on to debunk the whole work.

    When I first moved to Korea almost 20 years ago my yard in Hannam-dong had bamboo growing. Over the years I’ve visited just about every place of significance here, and at one location I distinctly remember bamboo. Not because it was bamboo, but because the sign beside it stated it was a rare bamboo (black striped I recall my Korean host telling me) that ONLY grew in Korea. A quick google about bamboo tells me there are 2 species indigeneous to NORTH Korea: http://www.inbar.int/publication/txt/INBAR_Working_Paper_No42.htm –scroll down about half of the page.

    Is this yet again an episode where Koreans state something as fact, and because they are Korean it’s readily accepted? Some of the worst informed people about Korea are the Koreans themselves.

    This Korean gov’t website tells us about Korea’s love for the 15 species of bamboo that grow here: http://www.heritage.go.kr/eng/tou/tou_spe_07_sce.jsp

    You know, “bamboo has been deeply rooted in the people’s mentality since antiquity.”

    It’s entirely possible the bamboo has never grown in Cheongjin, but I doubt it.

  5. comment number 5 by: bishamon

    Some good folks from Naver has already discovered the very believable document of bamboo growing in North Korea. It came from UN.
    http://photoimg.enjoyjapan.naver.com/view/enjoybbs/viewphoto/teconomy/2788000/20070219117182133941069500.jpg

  6. comment number 6 by: Matt

    Some good folks from Naver has already discovered the very believable document of bamboo growing in North Korea. It came from UN.
    http://photoimg.enjoyjapan.naver.com/view/enjoybbs/viewphoto/teconomy/2788000/20070219117182133941069500.jpg

    Interesting link, bishamon. I count myself among those that find it hard to believe there is no bamboo growing in that area. Rare perhaps, but none at all?

  7. comment number 7 by: bishamon

    I’ve seen

  8. comment number 8 by: bishamon

    Sorry. I’ve seen a folk art with bamboos done by Siberian tribal people, so I see no reason it won’t grow in the northern part of the peninsula. Some species of bamboos are edible, so knowing the situation in the region, it might be eaten up by now?:)

  9. comment number 9 by: jion999

    Mr. Beverrs.
    There is a better example than Kim’s book to show the tragedy of Japanese in N.Korea, which was written by Korean American.

    http://cache.yahoofs.jp/search/cache?p=Kapsan+chapter+7&ei=UTF-8&fr=slv1-tbtop&fl=0&x=wrt&meta=vc%3D&u=kimsoft.com/2001/abook09.htm&w=kapsan+chapter+7&d=NFCh3uxsOAEE&icp=1&.intl=jp

    “The Korean People’s Militia guarded the Japanese by agreement with Gen. Abe, but the Militia had no jurisdiction over the Soviets. During the night, drunken Russians openly walked past by the Korean guards and raped the women, young and old. ”

    “Most of us did our best to help these former lords of Korea, but some Koreans stoned the poor Japanese. Countless Japanese died of starvation and disease.

  10. comment number 10 by: jion999

    There is no bamboo in N.Korea? Yoko’s father belonged to Unit 731? The laughable fabrication of Koreans. In short, if they don’t like her story, they shout “It must be a lie.” It is the Korean way.

  11. comment number 11 by: Gerry-Bevers

    Concerning bamboo, here is what Wikipedia says:

    There are 91 genera and about 1,000 species of bamboo. They are found in diverse climates, from cold mountains to hot tropical regions. They occur from Northeast Asia (at 50°N latitude in Sakhalin), south throughout East Asia west to the Himalaya, and south to northern Australia. They also occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Americas from the southeast of the USA south to Chile, there reaching their furthest south anywhere, at 47°S latitude. Major areas with no native bamboos include Europe, north Africa, western Asia, northern North America, most of Australia, and Antarctica.

    Link

    Notice that the article says that bamboo grows as far north as Sakhalin, at a northern latitude of 50 degrees. Ms. Watkins lived in Cheongjin, which is much farther south at between 41 and 42 degrees. I think that means that Koreans are wrong when they say bamboo could not grow in Cheongjin.

  12. comment number 12 by: hana

    From August 1945 to July 1946
    3801 Japanese died at 平壌(平壌日本人会報告)
    A place name of 富坪 1431 died from
    Decmber 1945 to April 1946.
    It was more than half of the people
    of the place.
    「韓国、朝鮮と日本人」若槻泰雄 著、原書房
    この本は出版当時、朝鮮総連、共産党、創価学会の池田大作
    等が買い占めをしたらしい。

  13. comment number 13 by: bishamon

    This might be a good topic for Dan to research for his next project. Not even Koreans seem to know about it.

  14. comment number 14 by: hana

    bishamon-san
    Not only Koreans but also many japanese do not seem to know about this, I think。

    威鏡南道人民委員会検察部、李相北情報課長によるソ漣将校
    への報告 

    ・・・彼ら(在留日本人)の大部分は、途中において衣類、
    寝具等を剥奪され、零細なる金銭と着衣のみにて感興市内
    に殺到したるも・・・

    我われは、36年間の日帝の非人道的支配に反発し、立場が
    逆になった日本人全般に対する民族的虐待という、ごく無意識
    のうちにファッショ的誤謬を犯したことを告白せざるを得
    ない。(森田芳夫著「朝鮮終戦の記録」)

    歴史を知り過ちを繰り返さない。大切なことだと思う。