Imperial Japan university unites graduates decades after war

Sep 27, 2022, 7:09 AM | Updated: Sep 28, 2022, 7:24 pm
Shigeru Imaizumi, a 96-year old graduate from Kenkoku University, points to himself in a school pho...

Shigeru Imaizumi, a 96-year old graduate from Kenkoku University, points to himself in a school photo, Sept. 16, 2022, in Toyokawa, Aichi prefecture, Japan. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (Kenkoku University via AP)

(Kenkoku University via AP)

              In this image taken from video, Fumina Oka, right, and Haruo Murata, former Kenkoku University student, look at the grave of Oka’s grandfather Qiu Laizhuan, also a former student, in Matsudo city, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, Nov. 16, 2019. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (Asahi Television Broadcasting Corporation via AP)
            
              Documentary reporter Fumina Oka, right, and Shigeru Imaizumi, former Kenkoku University student, walk together in Toyohashi city, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, June 24, 2022. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (Asahi Television Broadcasting Corporation via AP)
            
              Shigeru Imaizumi, a 96-year old graduate from Kenkoku University, stands before a monument commemorating the school and other international universities at the Aichi University in Toyohashi, Aichi prefecture, on Sept. 16,2022. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (AP Photo/Chisato Tanaka)
            
              Fumina Oka, a 28-year-old reporter for Japan's Asahi Television Broadcasting Corporation, talks about her Kenkoku University documentary project, Sept. 22, 2022, in Osaka, Japan. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (AP Photo/Chisato Tanaka)
            
              A photo shows documentary reporter Fumina Oka in November, 1997, in Funabashi city, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, dressed up in a traditional kimono with her Taiwanese grandfather Qiu Laizhuan, a former Kenkoku University student. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (Nobutoshi Oka via AP)
            
              Shigeru Imaizumi, a 96-year old graduate from Kenkoku University, points to a photo taken at the former school in China, Sept. 16, 2022, in Toyokawa, Aichi prefecture, Japan. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (Kenkoku University via AP)
            
              A photo album displayed in Toyokawa, Aichi prefecture, Japan, on Sept. 16, 2022, shows students studying at a library at Kenkoku University in Manchuria, northern China. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (Kenkoku University via AP)
            
              Shigeru Imaizumi, a 96-year old graduate from Kenkoku University, looks through an album of classmates in Toyokawa, Aichi prefecture, Japan, on Sept. 16, 2022. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (AP Photo/Chisato Tanaka)
            
              Shigeru Imaizumi, a 96-year old graduate from Kenkoku University, points to himself in a school photo, Sept. 16, 2022, in Toyokawa, Aichi prefecture, Japan. Kenkoku University was established in northern China in 1938 as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan's prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia, but in recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. (Kenkoku University via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — Growing up, Fumina Oka knew little about the mysterious university her Taiwanese grandfather attended in northern China’s Manchuria during Japan’s occupation in the early 20th century.

But as the 28-year-old journalist studied the little-known Kenkoku University, she became fascinated about a place that started out as a grand piece of imperial propaganda meant to celebrate Japan’s prewar colonization of large swaths of Asia.

In recent years, the dwindling number of surviving students, their families and those who have researched its history have come to share a sense of cross-national unity. It is built on sometimes surprising friendships forged at the Japan-run university, which glorified official notions of pan-Asian harmony even as imperial troops brutalized much of the region.

The university is a unique footnote in the rocky relationship between Japan and China, which are celebrating their 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations this week.

Kenkoku University operated from 1938 to 1945. It selected elite male students from Japan, China, Korea, the then-Soviet Union and Mongolia, according to a book by Hideyuki Miura, a reporter for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. The students lived and studied together in Manchuria under the banner of “the harmony of five ethnicities.”

Among the university’s 1,400 or so graduates were some who played major roles in Asia’s rise over the last 80 years, including former South Korean Prime Minister Kang Young-hoon.

Eager to learn more about her late grandfather, Qiu Laizhuan, Oka began a documentary project aimed at finding alumni now in their 90s and 100s in Japan.

Through a graduate-list book and a pile of letters Qiu exchanged with his classmates, she managed to find and meet seven alumni living in Japan.

Her work has encouraged growing friendships between Japanese and Chinese family members of the graduates.

Among them is Shigeru Imaizumi, 96, who entered the university the same year as Oka’s grandfather, in 1944.

Imaizumi said in an interview with The Associated Press that he exchanged a few words in Japanese with Qiu whenever he ran into him at the school.

The students, about half of whom were Japanese, were encouraged at first to debate each other in an atmosphere of free speech, something that was at odds with the strict, ultranationalist atmosphere in wartime Japan. The university library even gave the students access to then-prohibited books written by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.

By the time Imaizumi was attending the university, just before the end of World War II, life was much less lively and full of discussion. The atmosphere was tense, he said, as students worried about an uncertain future and speculated about the war’s end.

“Although I didn’t want to believe it, all the Chinese students seemed to know that Japan was going to lose, and so we talked very little about the situation or our beliefs compared to the first batch of students,” he said.

Imaizumi said he was also bewildered by a gap between the “harmony” praised by the Japanese government and the discrimination by Japanese people against other ethnicities he witnessed daily outside the school.

“My Chinese classmates once told me there are two different kinds of Japanese — those like us and the others they encountered in the city” outside the university, Imaizumi said.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Imaizumi developed a strong friendship with a Chinese classmate who invited him to a final dinner just a few months before the war’s end.

Soon after, Imaizumi was deployed to southern Manchuria as a soldier. After the war ended, he was held prisoner in Siberia for nearly two years before returning to Japan at age 21.

After broadcasting the documentary, Oka began receiving dozens of letters from family members of Kenkoku University graduates. They provided her with new documents supporting the graduates’ recollections.

With those in hand, she has produced another documentary featuring the children of Kenkoku alumni, many of whom had studied in Japan. She also interviewed the son of a Chinese student who later contributed to the 1972 normalization of ties between Japan and China and became the first consul general to Japan in Hokkaido.

Two of the seven Kenkoku graduates she interviewed died after the documentaries aired, and Oka became determined to advance the university’s legacy of friendship.

Oka also says the work has deepened her understanding of her multicultural past. Spending much of her childhood in both Japan and China, Oka grew up between cultures.

“One time, a classmate in China accused me of being Japanese and hit me, but in Japan I was treated as Chinese. I felt like I did not belong to any society, and it was very sad,” Oka said.

She takes strength, however, from her grandfather’s experience.

“My grandfather didn’t really care what his nationality was and lived by a motto that anywhere in the world was his home. I want to respect that and keep this spirit of his within me,” Oka said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

murders...
Associated Press

Appeals court upholds most Eyman campaign finance violations

A Washington state Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld most of the campaign finance violations that longtime anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman was found liable for last year.
8 hours ago
A Washington State Department of Agriculture worker displays an Asian giant hornet taken from a nes...
Associated Press

No northern giant hornets found in 2022 in Washington state

Citizen trapping of northern giant hornets in northwest Washington ended Nov. 30 without any confirmed sightings of the hornets this year, state officials said Tuesday.
8 hours ago
Law enforcement at Hudson Road and Earl Street in St. Paul, Minn., after St. Paul police shot a per...
Associated Press

Community seeks bodycam video in St. Paul police shooting

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Community members are calling for the quick release of body camera video after a Minnesota officer shot and killed a man, who police say had a gun. Family members have identified the man as 24-year-old Howard Johnson. He was shot by a St. Paul police officer on Monday, police said. […]
1 day ago
FILE - Boys play soccer among trash that litters the sand of Yarakh Beach in Dakar, Senegal, Nov. 8...
Associated Press

Africa forum hails ‘circular economy’ solutions for climate

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — Reducing waste while boosting recycling and reuse, known as the ‘circular economy,’ will be vital for halting the loss of nature by meeting growing demand with fewer resources and will make communities more resilient to climate change by encouraging more sustainable practices on the African continent, organizers of the World Circular […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Superintendent fired after investigation into assaults

A northern Virginia school board has fired its superintendent after a special grand jury accused him of lying to the board about the sexual assault of a student. The Loudoun County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to fire Scott Ziegler after holding a closed session. Ziegler had been under fire after a student sexually […]
1 day ago
The container ship Ever Libra (TW) is moored at the Port of Los Angeles on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. T...
Associated Press

As supply chains unclog, consumers enjoy (tentative) relief

Back in January, 109 container ships waited off the California coast to unload cargo in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s two largest ports. Consumers, stuck at home amid the pandemic, had unleashed an avalanche of orders for goods that overwhelmed factories and ports. Importers were paying $20,000 to send a single container from […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Imperial Japan university unites graduates decades after war