Aug. 23 will mark 72 years since a Soviet Union order was issued to detain roughly 600,000 Japanese soldiers in Siberia after the end of World War II. This month, a Siberia-based Japanese ballet dancer is performing an original work dedicated to the some 6,000 soldiers who died during their internment.
"The internment was an unfortunate event, but I would like to show gratitude for what the detainees left behind," said 46-year-old ballet dancer Morihiro Iwata about his performance, which includes a scene inspired by a survivor.
Iwata, who was a member of the world-renowned Moscow Bolshoi Ballet, became an artistic director at the Buryat State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in Ulan-Ude in eastern Siberia in 2012. The theater itself was constructed after the war, and the interned Japanese soldiers had been mobilized to lay the bricks and perform other construction work on the building.
Based on these events, Iwata held a memorial service at a local Tibetan Buddhist temple in May of this year for the Japanese detainees who died, and began engaging in other activities related to the internment.
At the beginning of August, Iwata performed a self-composed act in Tokyo. The title was "Internirovannyj," which means detainee in Russian. The performance included a scene where Iwata tries to grasp the stars in the night sky like the interned Japanese soldiers who were suffering from cold and hunger. The inspiration came from an article in the Mainichi Shimbun two years ago that featured an interview with one of the soldiers who had experienced the internment.
The detainee was 93-year-old Yoshiya Kojima of Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture. In 1945, he was a soldier belonging to a supply unit of the Kwantung Army, part of the Japanese Imperial Army in then-Manchuria, in northeastern China. He was captured by the Soviet Army immediately after the end of the war and sent to Ulan-Ude. He was interned there until the summer of 1948, sleeping in a harsh prison camp at night and spending his days working in the forest or a canning factory.
However, Kojima found solace in his view of the stars at night. "The sky was an amazing blue, and the Big Dipper was right in front of you," he recalled. "To this day I still remember the scene clearly."
"The people of Ulan-Ude are living happily because of all your hard work," Iwata told Kojima when they met for the first time in mid-August. Hearing the words of thanks, Kojima nodded his head in delight.
Iwata and his acquaintances are currently working together to plan the construction of a memorial facility for the Japanese soldier who died during internment on the outskirts of Ulan-Ude. Based on the experience of Kojima, Iwata is thinking of having these words inscribed in a stone monument there:
"This monument is for the people who looked up at the sky with hope in their hearts even during difficult times and believed in themselves."