This week I was back in my hometown Shiga, where I usually spend Obon break (お盆休み, aka Buddhist vacation) with my family every year.
Since my grandmother just passed away a couple of weeks ago, it was natural for my family members to talk about how she lived 95 years of her life.
My family background is a little bit complicated. I have 3 grandmothers, 2 biologically related and 1 non-related, and 2 grandfathers. I met all of them when I was a child but it was too difficult for me to understand why there are more than 4 grandparents in my family back then.
I never heard of the complete story about how she met my grandfather so it was a good opportunity for me to listen to her whole life story. Thanks to my dad for digging the story at the last moment she passed away.
In 1943 when my grandmother was 19 years old, she was sent to Dong’an First Army Hospital near the Russian border (called Soviet at that time) as a rescue team member together with 23 nurses of the Japanese Red Cross Society.
On August 9th, 1945, Russia declared war against Japan. While thousands of Japanese soldiers were killed due to the attack by tank and fighter machine gun sweep, she took an escape route from Dong’an to Dunhua which she was told the only secure route. To avoid exposure to Russian soldiers, she had to move during night time only and she kept moving on foot for 2 months.
She and other nurses had their head shaved, painted their face with Chinese ink (墨, which is sort of mud), and made them look like a man soldier. They kept running away in the mountain with military doctors, medics, army nurses, red cross nurses and about 100 patients who were injured.
During the escape, she caught typhus and had a near-death experience. The person who took care of her was my grandfather. He was serving as a medic during the war.
Later they found that Japan was defeated, and became hostages of Russia. They were sent to different prisoner’s camps many times, transferred to Eighth Route Army (八路軍, Group of the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China) and forced to work at the hospitals while looking for an opportunity to go back to Japan.
In November 1946, my grandmother and grandfather came back to Japan. Luckily, they did not die. They got married and my father was born.
Below items were discovered when organizing my grandmother’s belongings. These are the photos of the nurses sent to the battlefield and handwritten notes about the entire rescue team activities, including the escaping part.
Long story short, my father is a by-product of the war in a sense so am I. Without war, my grandmother and grandfather never met and I don’t exist today.
I have lots of relatives who work in the medical field. I did not choose to be a doctor, but here I am. Instead, I studied computer science and now running a startup that provides AI for doctors and hospitals.
If there is something that interests you unconsciously, maybe it’s part of your family history.