By Ako Sasaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterNAGATO, Yamaguchi — One of my relatives was once detained in Siberia. He returned to Japan through Maizuru Port in Kyoto Prefecture in the mid-1950s. He had no opportunity to see the devastated state of Japan, and I heard he was beaten by his family when he asked them whether the damage Japan suffered from the war had been small. It is a story about a person I never met.
Painter Yasuo Kazuki (1911-74), who was from the Misumi district of Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, returned home from Siberia through the port in May 1947.
He later produced the “Siberia Series” of paintings based on the memory of his detention. The series, his representative work, is owned by Yamaguchi Prefectural Art Museum.
Kazuki is known for his earth-toned abstract paintings and portraits of people with blank looks on their faces. But one day, I encountered a wood-block print of soft-colored pretty flowers, leaving me with a completely different impression.
His small works on which the “Siberia Series” was based are on display at the Kazuki Yasuo Museum in Misumi, along with his sketches. The museum, designed to allow outside light to enter through a skylight, is said to have been designed by his architect son with the sentiments of the artist in mind, as he produced his work in a light-filled studio.
The exhibition, titled “Watashi no Shiberiya, Sore zore no Shiberias” (My Siberia, each of our Siberias), is now on show at the museum until Oct. 14. It is an exhibition done in exchange with the Memorial Museum for Soldiers, Detainees in Siberia, and Postwar Repatriates in Tokyo. Among the displays are a petition to Josef Stalin for the return of Japanese detainees to their homeland, Kazuki’s oil painting “Goka” (Hellfire) and a postcard he sent to his family.
From his handwritten notes for painting “Shicchi” (Marshes), I could feel the acute sensitivity that made him say a “sickened land” can be a good painting.
Kazuki, who later traveled to Europe and nations in the South Pacific, painted pictures with a positive atmosphere too. He also produced dolls that have an uplifting feeling using wood offcuts, rusty iron plates and other waste materials.
“I feel affection and warmth in his works,” said Ito Maruo, 42, a curator at the museum. “Kazuki must have been a sensitive person, and he had his own joyful world, too,” Maruo said.
Painting Siberia is believed to have been a mission for him.
Charms of the area
Near the museum is Yumen Onsen, one of the hot spring resorts that is maintaining the balneal culture of Nagato. Legend has it that a wounded rabbit cured itself with spring water at this hot spring.
I headed to the Seifu Murata Memorial Museum after taking an outdoor bath at Yumen Fureai Center, an onsen facility. Murata was a prominent figure in the reformation of the Choshu domain duties at the end of the Edo period (1603-1867).
Misumi Sanso, the former residence of Murata, is a national historical site. The main building with a thatched roof has a unique charm.
In April, the first michi no eki roadside rest area in the city of Nagato was opened on the beach side of Senzaki. Called Senza Kitchen, it comprises a variety of eateries including those selling local specialty yakitori or himono dried fish.
“Nagato is now enjoying some momentum,” said Yoshiko Nono, 45, of the Nagato Tourism Convention Association.
At Motonosumi Inari Shrine, the number of tourists sharply increased after it was shown on CNN in 2015. Last year, 1.08 million people visited the shrine, which overlooks the Sea of Japan.
I traveled to the shrine by car. Arriving in the evening, the red torii gates looked beautiful against a backdrop of the border between sky and sea, which was diminishing by the minute.
According to Yoriki Okamura, 70, of the shrine, the line of 123 torii gates was completed three years go. “We increased the number of gates as a way to show our gratitude to people who helped with weeding at the shrine before the Bon season.”
An offering box is set up at a height of about 5 meters at the torii gate located at the highest point. It took me four tries to get my five-yen coin to land in the box.
I waited for sunset at the Higashiushirobata Tanada rice terraces. While enjoying the view of the isaribi fires for luring squid at night, I realized I hadn’t enjoyed a morning view of the Sea of Japan. I decided to check the train schedule for the next morning when I returned to the hotel.
410,000 returned through Senzaki Port
Senzaki Port in Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, was one of the ports chosen to receive ships carrying people detained abroad after the war. Maizuru Port in Kyoto Prefecture and Hakata Port in Fukuoka were other such ports. By the end of 1946, the year the port had completed its role of receiving former detainees, about 410,000 people had returned home through Senzaki Port.
Nearby temples and schools were used for their accommodation back then, and many people also stayed in civilians’ homes.
A cenotaph honoring the detainees who landed there is located at the port. Some exhibits at a small photography studio nearby show what conditions were like at that time.
This trip taught me anew about the period right after the war.
It takes about four hours on the Sanyo Shinkansen line’s Nozomi train from JR Tokyo Station to Hiroshima Station. Change to a Kodama train at Hiroshima Station and travel another hour to reach Asa Station. From there, take the JR Mine Line for one hour to Nagatoshi Station.
For more information, contact the Nagato municipal government’s tourism section on (0837) 23-1137 or the Nagato Tourism Convention Association on (0837) 27-0074.
To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&dSpeech