Kanako Kuramitsu, one of CHIBOW’s Early Career Researchers, currently conducting research on children born of Japanese fathers and Chinese mothers during and after the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), has recently completed a month long secondment with an NGO based in the Netherlands - Foundation for War Victims in the East: Japanese Archives and Contacts (‘Stichting Oorlogsgetroffenen in de Oost: met Japanse archieven en contacten’ in Dutch, or SOO) based at Arnhem, the Netherlands.
SOO is a non-profit organization established in 2012 in the Netherlands. Dr Kaori Maekawa—historian and representative director of SOO—is specialized in Japanese and Southeast Asian history as well as archival studies. SOO helps make use of Japanese archival sources for academic institutes and individuals in the Netherlands. Amongst various ongoing projects, SOO is specially engaged in the search for biological fathers of children born of Japanese fathers—military and non-military personnel—and mothers from the former Netherlands East Indies (current Indonesia) during and in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. As of 2017, SOO has conducted investigations on Japanese biological fathers for 36 individuals. Among these cases, 9 people successfully found their fathers and 4 people could reunite with their Japanese relatives.
During her secondment, Kanako mainly worked on translating Japanese text into English for SOO’s newsletter and website in an office provided especially for her secondment by courtesy of Bronbeek Museum. Bronbeek Museum is a military museum run by the Ministry of Defence that sheds light on the government’s influence on colonial society and the actions of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army.
On 19 August, a memorial service for victims of Thailand-Burma and Sumatra Railway construction was held at Bronbeek. Erik Broekroelofs, a board member and treasury of SOO, is the representative of SHBSS (‘Stiching Herdenking Birma-Siam Spoorweg en Pekanbaru Spoorweg’ in Dutch or Foundation of Memorial Service of Burma-Thai Railway and Sumatra Railway) that holds this annual memorial service.
For the participants of the memorial service, SOO set up a booth to introduce SOO’s POW Card Database which provides information on deceased Dutch POWs of Royal Netherlands Navy and merchant ship personnel. As many as 46,978 POW cards were transferred from the Japanese government to the Netherlands in 1955, but they were neither translated nor made publicly accessible for a long period of time. In 2009, Dr Kaori Maekawa has successfully received funding from the Netherlands Ministry of Health Walfare and Sport to translate these POW cards of deceased military personnel and created a public database which, since 2011, is the most frequently accessed database at the National Archives of the Netherlands in the Hague. At the information booth of SOO, Kanako could observe how SOO board members help descendants of POWs discover information about their fathers or grandfathers by making use of their database and historical knowledge. It became an unforgettable experience for her to witness translated archival documents making concrete and significant impact on the POWs’ family members.
Kanako’s secondment coincided with filming by a Japanese TV production company that was featuring Japanese-Indisch children born of war searching for their biological fathers. The production company also focused on the significance of SOO’s role in the process of their search. Questionnaires were distributed to Japanese-Indisch children born of war to understand their experiences and needs. The TV crew filmed SOO board members and Kanako making the summary of the questionnaires collected from 60 participants. The 100-minute documentary will be broadcasted on NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organization within 2017.
Dr Kaori Maekawa not only provided Kanako with valuable advice for her research but also suggested the possibility of continuing to work together to advance research on children born of war fathered by Japanese during and after the Asia-Pacific War.
Miyuki Okuyama who works as a secretary of SOO is also a photographer who is known for her award-winning photo project called ‘Dear Japanese’. Miyuki and Kanako discussed a potential photo project on children born of Japanese fathers and Chinese mothers.
Kanako was fortunate to meet withYoko Huijs-Watanuki who is one of the SOO’s board members. Yoko has long been engaged in the search for biological fathers and Japanese relatives of Japanese-Indisch children born of war in the Netherlands, and she is the author of a Japanese book (Kyōkasho ni kakarenakatta sensō: Watashi wa dare no ko? Chichi o sagashimotomeru Nikkei nisei orandajin tachi) published in 2006 that documents stories of three Japanese-Indisch women searching for their Japanese fathers.
Furthermore, Kanako had the opportunity to meet Dr Aya Ezawa, sociologist at Leiden University, who also works as one of the board members of SOO. They discussed their research projects and a possibility of holding a workshop on children born of war in Asia.
The secondment at SOO was a stimulating and fruitful experience for Kanako thanks to expertise, devotion and enthusiasm shared amongst the SOO members. She was also deeply impressed by SOO’s accomplishment especially given the tremendous workload necessary to implement their projects and the fact that only a handful of committed individuals are working for SOO on a volunteer basis.
Kanako hopes that continued cooperation with SOO could kick start a long-term collaboration with researchers who have been working on the issues of children born of the Asia-Pacific War fathered by Japanese.