About 30 researchers nationwide including Haruo Asai, professor emeritus at Rikkyo University, have set up a group to conduct research on the postwar history of war orphans and are interviewing those who lost their parents to air raids and other aspects of World War II.
There are estimated to be at least 120,000 war orphans across Japan, including those whose parents died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as in the Battle of Okinawa. Many other children lost family members while returning to Japan from China and the southern sea areas.
After the end of the war, various places in urban areas, including underground passages near Ueno Station in downtown Tokyo, were filled with homeless children and many of them starved or froze to death.
Some committed theft, extortion or prostitution in a desperate bid to survive. Government organizations forcibly took in some war orphans and placed them in accommodations. In some cases, such children were reportedly forced into trucks and left in the mountains.
War causes the most tragic damage to the weak. Nevertheless, the government failed to put sufficient efforts into relief measures for war orphans and few facilities were built to care for such youth. Quite a few war orphans were taken in by relatives or adopted by foster parents. However, there were those who were not allowed to attend school or were even forced into labor.
They were subjected to discrimination and prejudice and many war orphans never talked about their tragic experiences even after growing up. Since the central government has failed to conduct a survey or research on war orphans, details of their plight are not well known compared to other kinds of war damage.
Under these circumstances, a growing number of former war orphans, who have grown old, are now beginning to talk about their tragic past in interviews with researchers for fear that unless they do so now, their experiences could be buried under history. Their words carry a lot of weight.
Mitsuyo Hoshino lost her parents and siblings to the Great Tokyo Air Raid on March 10, 1945, and lived with relatives at one point. She wrote about her own and 10 other war orphans' experiences in her book, "Moshimo Maho Ga Tsukaetara" (If I could use magic...) published in 2017.
"Who willingly becomes an orphan? Instead of criticizing the children who were left behind, shouldn't we blame the war that killed their parents?" she wrote.
In 2017, a nonpartisan parliamentary league drew up an outline of a bill requiring the government to conduct a survey on damage suffered by war orphans.
Recording the experiences of war orphans will lead to passing down the memories of those who suffered to future generations.