Paul Maruyama grew up in Tokyo with three other brothers who were always fighting each other. His mother, a Seattle-born Nisei, was fed up and said, “if you’re going to fight, then fight at the dojo.” She dragged the brothers to a neighborhood judo dojo, where the brothers all started their journey to black belt. For Paul, his journey would continue as member of the US Judo Olympic team in 1964, and Head Coach of the 1980 and 1984 US Judo Olympic Teams.
Competing at the Olympic level is a challenge. But Paul Maruyama readily acknowledges that his efforts and accomplishment pale in comparison to those of his father.
After the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria, where the Japanese had a significant colonial population. The Soviet army captured Japanese Imperial Army soldiers and sent them to labor camps in Siberia, while non-combatant Japanese who were in many cases pioneer families who volunteered to cultivate farmlands in Manchuria, were trapped on the Asian continent, denied exit by the Soviet Union.
Maruyama’s father, Kunio Maruyama, had made his way to Japan with two other men, Hachiro Shinpo and Masamichi Musashi. As Paul Maruyama describes in his book, Escape from Manchuria, the three men maneuvered covertly out of Manchuria. They were on a mission to inform the government in Japan that some 1.5 to 1.7 million Japanese were unable to leave the former Japanese colony, where thousands were dying daily due to disease and starvation, as well as at the hands of Soviet soldiers, and revenge-seeking Chinese and Manchurian mobs.
The three then had to convince the head of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), General Douglas MacArthur, that an urgent rescue was needed. It took over two years, but by August 1948, three years after the end of the second world war, American warships had repatriated over a million Japanese. So many more remained – children abandoned or taken in by Chinese families, Japanese women married to Chinese and their children who were not considered Japanese citizens, as well as men who were imprisoned in Siberia.
What a legacy! Think about it. The greatest growth in Japan’s population was the 1950s, at 15.6%. Not only were a million Japanese returned, there were likely another 150,000 born of that million. And then there’s the grand children born in the 1970s and 1980s, and the great grandchildren born in the new millennia…
Paul Maruyama was one of those children rescued. His achievements as an Olympian, and as an a lecturer in Japanese at Colorado College, and as a cultural bridge between the US and Japan was recognized by the Japanese government when he was awarded “The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette” in May of 2013. His father, Kunio, received a similar recognition 30 years prior posthumously. But Paul does not believe there is any basis of comparison. “I don’t consider myself worthy to follow in my father’s footsteps.”