After spending about eight years ministering in Molokai's Kalaupapa valley to victims of Hansen's Disease (leprosy), my grandfather and his family moved back to Japan. After a couple of years they moved to north Korea and built a Zen temple there. Korea was occupied by Japan at that time. While there, WWII erupted. My mother understands the anger that must have been felt by many Koreans at that time. However, I'm pleased to know that my grandfather and family must have treated the Korean people kindly because they did everything they could to help his family once the war ended and chaos ensued.
My grandfather was drafted into the war just a month before it ended. He was then captured by the Russians and became a Prisoner of War in a Siberian work camp. He was kept there for 2 years. In that time, my grandmother had to somehow get her family back to Sendai, Japan. It was an escape fraught with danger from marauding Russian soldiers intent on killing or rape and the constant threat of starvation. Many people died making that trip or committed suicide.
My grandmother had four daughters and a baby son to care for. A train took them only so far and then it was all on foot. The journey took nine months. In preparing for their journey, one of the things my grandmother told her daughters was that they could get what they needed in Japan but their memories were irreplaceable. So they packed away their more precious photos that they could carry and managed to bring them the entire way.
Then each daughter left Japan to make their way back to the islands of their birth where they would find a way to support the rest of the family who was now destitute. One of the few things they brought with them was a portion of those priceless photos. This photo is of my grandmother, mother, sisters and a family friend in Sendai, Japan.
Now that we've had several of those Cousins Parties, it occurred to me that it would certainly be a treasure if I could get all the photos together again after some 65 years, scan and share them with all the aunts, uncles and cousins. There is such rich history here and so many stories.
I thought I could do this relatively quickly... maybe a week or two. Yikes! It took on a life of its own. From just those photos in Japan and Korea, I began adding photos of cousins from Hawaii. Then there were the photos of us reconnecting with those faraway relatives.
It's been a life puzzle that I'm now making sense of. My brother, cousins and I have always heard the snippets of stories from the lives of our mothers but we couldn't quite put it together. It was often too painful for them to talk about. We knew they were in Molokai but when were they in Sendai? When were they in Yokohama? How did they lose their wealth? How long in Korea? How did our grandfather end up in Siberia? How did they end up eating locusts? How did he survive? Why did it take nine months to make that terrible journey back to Japan?
There are still quite a few questions but it's becoming clearer. Art suggested I make a timeline and that has really organized my understanding. Through the wonder of technology and email, my cousin in Japan (Thank goodness! She is able to understand English) has been able to fill in some missing pieces of information.
There's quite a bit to do yet but I'm seeing the light shimmering at that proverbial end of the tunnel.