Paul Maruyama and Roy
The author and Olympian, Paul Maruyama, and me.

Paul Maruyama is an Olympian, a member of the judo team, representing the USA at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Paul Maruyama is also an author, and the story he has to tell is personal…and incredible.

This is the story of the approximately 1.5 million Japanese who were essentially abandoned in the northern part of China, then called Manchuria, after the Pacific War. Overrun by the military of the Soviet Union, which had just declared war on Japan, Japanese military men and civilians alike were rounded up and sent to labor camps in the Soviet Union, while women and children were left in highly insecure and unsafe circumstances, including robbery and rape.

Seiyo Uchino and Yoshino Kimura

Maruyama wrote about this time in history because his father actually played a major role in ensuring safe passage of the 1.5 million Japanese in China back to Japan. In his book, Escape from Manchuria, Maruyama tells the incredible story of how his father, Kunio Maruyama, and his friends, Hachiro Shinpo and Masamichi Musashi worked together to get to Tokyo and meet General Douglas MacArthur, and convince him to send military ships to China and repatriate their countrymen.

When producers from NHK, the giant government broadcaster, read the Japanese version of Paul Maruyama’s book, they recognized the incredible human drama amidst the geo-political churn of post-war China and Japan, and decided to produce a two-part dramatization of those events.

On consecutive Saturdays of March 24 and 31 of 2018, NHK will broadcast their dramatized version of “Escape from Manchuria.” The Japanese title of the drama is “Doko ni mo Nai Kuni,” which I suppose can be loosely translated to “A Country that is Nowhere.”

Taizo Harada and Misako Renbutsu

In addition to filming in China, NHK has invested in talent, recruiting some of the biggest names in Japanese television and film. Seiyo Uchino (内野聖陽) will play Paul’s father, Kunio Maruyama, while Yoshino Kimura (木村佳乃) will portray Paul’s mother, Mary Maruyama. Other well known actors like Taizo Harada (原田泰造), Misako Renbutsu (蓮佛美沙子), Shinnosukke Matsushima (満島真之介), Tsurutaro Kataoka (片岡鶴太郎), and Kenichi Hagiwara (萩原健一) fill out the all-star cast.

Prior to a recent trip to Japan, Maruyama made a sortie to Shanghai, China, where he was able to observe filming on a studio lot. A street was re-created to look like a Japanese community in Shenyang, complete with store front signs in Japanese and Chinese, filled with despairing Japanese citizens, and aggressive Russian soldiers. Maruyama, who was in Manchuria with his family at the age of six, took on the scene with wonder and pride, filled with emotion.

“When I see this set and the recreation of streets of Manchuria, the actors, all the extras, the staff, here because of a book I wrote, it’s kind of overwhelming. But I’m happy because we’re able to tell a part of Japanese history that is not well known.”

Shinnosuke Matsushima Tsurutaro Kataoka Kenichi Hagiwara

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Team picture of 1964  US Judo Team from DC Judo; from left to right: Paul Maruyama, Jim Bregman, George Harris, Ben Nighthorse Campbell)
Team picture of 1964 US Judo Team from DC Judo; from left to right: Paul Maruyama, Jim Bregman, George Harris, Ben Nighthorse Campbell

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.

Escape from Manchuria coverThe 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