Records of interviews with Japanese settlers in the former Manchuria region of northeastern China and Inner Mongolia are not found in 13 prefectures and have been discarded in one prefecture, according to a national survey of all 47 prefectures by the Mainichi Shimbun.
The interviews with senior members of settler groups were conducted shortly after World War II, and experts say that the records were rare primary sources of historic information. As storage periods for the papers at the remaining 33 prefectures vary, it is possible that the records could be discarded in the future.
Japan sent some 270,000 farming settlers to its puppet state of Manchukuo in northeastern China from 1932 through 1945. The settlement was designed to ease the hardships of local farming villages in Japan following the depression of 1929, as well as decrease the pressure of population growth in Japan, increase food production and guard against a potential Soviet invasion on the frontier of Imperial Japan's influential area.
The missing documents include records of interviews conducted in 1950 by prefectural governments under the instruction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as questionnaires on some 86,000 young settlers in China's northeast aged between 15 and 19.
Questions included those about the timing and location of settlements, the population of settlement groups, the situation at the time of the invasion by former Soviet Union forces into the regions on Aug. 9, 1945, as well as the movement of settlers after the end of the war on Aug. 15 the same year and the numbers of people who returned to Japan and who didn't.
Of the 47 prefectures questioned by the Mainichi, Nagasaki in southern Japan replied that the records had been discarded. The government did so after its policy of permanent storage was changed in 2000 out of consideration for the protection of personal information, and the maximum length of safekeeping was set at 30 years.
Thirteen other prefectures answered they did not know where the records were. Of them, Toyama and Gifu in central Japan responded that the papers were "considered to be disposed."
Meanwhile, 33 prefectures said the interview records are in their storehouses. Of the total, nine were holding the papers in unlimited storage, while 24 prefectures may throw out the documents when the limit on the storage duration is reached.
Twenty prefectures open the records to the public. Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo moved the papers to the prefectural archives of public records in 1995, and began to provide public access from October last year. An official in charge of the documents explained that although the papers include personal information, the prefectural government decided to make them public because substantial time has lapsed since their creation.
Ten prefectures keeping the records in closed storage cited the protection of personal information as the reason for their treatment of the papers. The prefectures of Niigata, Aichi and Mie in central Japan replied that they would consider releasing some of the documents if requested.
Of the prewar Japanese settlers in northeastern China and Inner Mongolia, up to 80,000 people died because of the Soviet military invasion and other causes. Records of interviews with returnees kept by Yamagata Prefecture in northern Japan contained detailed descriptions about the settlers' conditions when the war was over, including a group suicide.
Primary records of such settlers rarely exist at municipal governments, even though they were ordered by the central government to dispatch allotted numbers of settlers. A digested record of prefectural interviews in several pages and lists of settlers are kept at the Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Archives in Tokyo.
Kiyofumi Kato, associate professor of the National Institute of Japanese Literature who specializes in those settlers and management of historic documents, says that the records are the only primary sources of information left by the settlers themselves. "Leaving the records discarded means an obliteration of history. They should not be left to prefectural departments. The documents should be kept permanently at public archives."
(Japanese original by Ryoichi Sato, Yonezawa Local Bureau)