Surviving two wars
Moji port was crowded with an overflow of Korean people carrying wicker trunks and knapsacks heading for their own country. Mr. Kanayama told me not to say anything except for a word “Aboji,” or “Dad.” That was because all the people around us were Korean, and they would be hostile if they knew I was Japanese. After that, I never said a word except for that. Later that day, at the port, we were made to split into groups of about 20 to 30 people, pushed onto small fishing boats one group after another, and carried to a bigger freight ship anchored offshore. In confusion, we were just driven onto the fishing boat without showing our passports or any documents at Moji port. I remember American soldiers were watching us. We slept in a huddle on a board spread on the ship’s hold next to the engine room. Although the roar of the engines was so loud, people around us happily chatted with each other even louder. They must have been very happy that they were able to return home, and felt free because of Japan’s surrender. On the contrary, I felt uneasy because I didn’t understand the language they were speaking at all. It was completely different from the language I was familiar with, and I wondered where I was being taken.
We arrived at Pusan port the next morning. Looking down the pier from the deck, I saw a lot of American military police officers inspecting people getting off the ship. I shut my mouth as Mr. Kanayama had told me to. I stuck to him tightly, never leaving him. There were so many Japanese people who were going back home from the peninsula. If my memories are correct, at both Pusan and Moji ports, inspections were conducted by American military officers.
We took a freighter train from Pusan to Seoul. In both Korea and Japan, fares for freighter trains were free as well as the freight ship from Moji. We were able to go through several inspection points from Pusan to Seoul without my being found as a Japanese, thanks to Mr. Kanayama having told me not to say anything. He gave me a Korean name, Kim Hyeong-jin. I later knew that in Korea, they have a custom called hangnyeolja, a generation name. When they name their male children, they use a certain Chinese character in accordance with the custom. The Chinese characters are designated to each clan, and the designated character to each generation must be shared with brothers and cousins. You’ll know what generation a Korean man belongs to in his family when you see his given name. Using a Chinese character Hyeong for me, who was not a blood relative, meant that I was accepted as a member of Kim family. This character would also be used for Mr. Kanayama’s son and his brother’s son. For Korean people, names are very important since they show what generation they are in their clan.
Hard to live with
Mr. Kanayama’s brother lived in Yeongdeung-po in Seoul with his family. There were four bedrooms in his house, and we were allowed to live in one of them. However, Mr. Kanayama and his sister-in-law always quarreled because he brought me, a Japanese boy, to their house. When Mr. Kanayama was out, I was often beaten by his 19-year-old nephew and his sister-in-law and was not given anything to eat. He told me to try to forget it, but I felt uncomfortable there. She must have been annoyed that she had to give a shelter to me while the police were investigating hidden Japanese people here and there.
Several months after I was taken to Korea, Mr. Kanayama and his brother consulted the local school about my attendance there. Teachers kindly looked for someone who could support me and found an anonymous donor. I didn’t know who the person was, but anyway I was able to attend school. On the first day at school, Mr. Kanayama gave a fake explanation, saying that I was from a rural town and couldn’t understand Seoul dialect. However, all I could speak and write was my name. Before long, the classmates found that I was not Korean and bullied me. I wanted to fight back, but as I was told not to speak any Japanese, I couldn’t do anything. I quit going to school and shut myself in our room. I cried every day remembering my mother. What I remembered most was going downstream in the Ota River in a boat with my mother and brother. Mr. Kanayama drank a lot of alcohol those days although I had never seen him drink before. He also must have had a difficult time between his brother’s family and me.
About a year and a half later, he got married, and we finally moved out of his brother’s house. At first, the new couple and I lived together happily, but after a baby was born to them, his wife became hard on me. Again, I felt it was hard to live with them. By that time, I was able to speak Korean fluently.
As an orphan
In 1949, at 13, I eventually left Mr. Kanayama’s house, carrying only a blanket with me. It was a really cold winter, and at that time, dozens of war orphans were accommodated in a big building which was run by the Salvation Army, a Christian organization. I became one of those orphans in the building. After a few weeks, I learned that the building was a temporary facility, where the orphans would be divided into groups of ten and sent to different orphanages around the country. I didn’t want to be sent to an unknown place, so I sneaked out of the building with two other orphan friends I had met there. I was there for less than a month.
I didn’t know where to go, so I decided to go to Dongdaemun because there was a large market there. I hung around the market to get something to eat during the day, and slept tucked up in a bag made of rice straw in a hut or a stall at night. I gradually began to go beyond the Dongdaemun market, to Namdaemun and Myeong-dong, where there were also large markets. The temperature in Seoul usually goes down to 15 or 16 degrees centigrade below zero in winter, but Korean houses have underfloor ondol heating, which makes the whole house warm. That was the only thing I missed. One night, I was stunned to see one of my right toes fall off because of frostbite. My toe didn’t hurt at all because it was numb with cold. At times like this, I felt that I was all alone in a foreign country.
My mother in Korea
In this situation, I met Mrs. Yang Pong-nyo. Her daughter first talked to me when I was sleeping in my straw bag or selling secondhand cigarettes I made from butts in front of her house. She was Mrs. Yang’s oldest daughter and as old as I was. She told her mother about me—that I had been brought from Hiroshima and was living alone in Korea, where I had no friends. Mrs. Yang had also noticed me living in the street. Listening to my story, she kindly invited me to live together with her family, although she lived poorly with four children to raise. Moreover, her husband was killed by the Japanese Imperial Army; however, she said to me, “You are not to blame for that.” Whenever people in the neighborhood, whose memories about the years dominated by Imperial Japan were still fresh, showered abusive language on me, she protected me, saying to them, “That is not his fault.” She took me in and was always very kind, even though she and her children were living very poorly with little food. They ate barley, not rice. I was grateful but felt very sorry for them at the same time. Eventually, after staying with them for less than a month, I left them without saying good-bye and went back to being homeless on the street.