Shibaraku | Experiencing World War II in Japan

Shibaraku is available on Amazon or from the publisher, Outskirts Press, Inc. http://outskirtspress.com/webpage.php?ISBN=9781432779351
Shibaraku is available on Amazon or from the publisher, Outskirts Press, Inc. http://outskirtspress.com/webpage.php?ISBN=9781432779351

The early years

Author, Lucille Apcar, can still visualize details of her grandmother's Victorian style house where she grew up in prewar Japan.


She remembers the carefully tended outdoor gardens, the turret room with it's lush potted ferns and the broad wooden banister that she and her siblings used for speedy transit to the lower floor .


"Shibaraku - Memories of Japan 1926-1946", is her new book published by Outskirts Press. In it, Apcar recalls a happy childhood in Japan and the contrast of that time to her family's subsequent struggle to live through the war years.


Started by her Armenian grandparents in the early 1900s, the family had a prosperous import/export business. At one time, at least six company cargo ships traded in antiques, fine art, and quality goods from around the world.

Diana Agebeg Apcar

The author's grandmother, Diana Agebeg Apcar ran the  import/export business  after her husband passed away. She also was also a humanitarian, writer  and the first woman to enter diplomatic service as Consul for the Republic of Armenia to Japan.
The author's grandmother, Diana Agebeg Apcar ran the import/export business after her husband passed away. She also was also a humanitarian, writer and the first woman to enter diplomatic service as Consul for the Republic of Armenia to Japan. | Source

The Good Years

There were servants, social gatherings, lots of books, music lessons, and occasional excursions to the nearby colorful markets. The elegant home stood on a bluff overlooking the harbor at Yokohama, with its park-like waterfront.

Neighbors in their international community were in business or diplomatic service. Children attended a convent schools where the local priest skated across polished hardwood floors in his protective shoe coverings, much to the dismay of the teaching sisters who hoped he would set a better example.

Picnic outings to the countryside and visits to the seashore separated days of serious study in the steadfastly regimented school, where Apcar admits she had a reputation as a bit of a mischief maker.

Life Changes

"My passion was music," she says, and she still enjoys her piano . "I was also the bookworm of the family. Still am, but I hated math."

She and her brothers and sisters were taught certain subjects in French, others in English or Japanese.

But all of that was before the war.

Nationalistic fervor began to grow in the island nation during those years. The agreeable life the family had known in earlier times, began to slip away as their export and shipping business went into steep decline.


Things changed drastically in December, 1941. Within hours of the Pearl Harbor attack, her father and scores of other non-Japanese men were imprisoned.

Homes were ransacked. Wives and children were left to fend for themselves. Personal restrictions were imposed on anyone who was suspected of opposing Japan's nationalistic cause. Food medicine and other necessities were rationed, especially for the foreigners.

Yokohama From the series "36 views of Mt Fuji"  This work was created a few decades before Apcar's grandparents arrived in Japan.
Yokohama From the series "36 views of Mt Fuji" This work was created a few decades before Apcar's grandparents arrived in Japan. | Source

Without a Country

Many non-Japanese families returned to their own countries, but the Apcars had no country of their own.

Armenia, their ancestral home, no longer exited as a political entity, after the Turkish genocide and annexation by the USSR.

Their family, like other surviving Armenians, had fled their decimated country to live in countries like Burma and India many years before.

Even so, they had clung to the traditions of their homeland, retaining their Christian religion, their devotion to family, their predisposition for hard work, and their determination to survive.

The Outcasts

By August 1943, Apcar's father was released from jail to be relocated with his family and other non-Japanese residents to a hilly, isolated region , about 100 miles north of Tokyo.

Restricted to an area called Karuizawa, they were among Danes, White Russians, Norwegians, Finns and others who were caught in what Apcar describes as "a kind of limbo".

By nationality they were not exactly enemies, and not quite neutrals in the global conflict. They were isolated and almost forgotten in an area designated for foreigners, some of whom had been their former neighbors.


Most, including the Apcar family, were only allowed to go in and out of the village by strictly regulated permits.

Japanese authorities forbade the gathering of wood for fuel or even the killing of a pigeon for food. Everyone dealt with plagues of crickets and rats.

Winter brought below zero temperatures and several feet of snow mixed with the grimy lava ash of a nearby erupting volcano.

Deprivation

Even newsprint to use as toilet paper or for stuffing worn out boots, was scarce. Water needed to be hauled in and was only available by inching down a treacherous ravine, and climbing back up with heavy buckets. Her father was severely injured in a fall during one of these excursions.

At first they were provided with a meager ration of oatmeal. They ignored the accompanying worms.

Sometimes there was one slice of bread for the day, but finally there was almost nothing to eat but a little cabbage, without even salt to season it.

Japanese view of prewar Japan.

The End of War

Surviving the miserable conditions with little food or fuel, minimum shelter and no medical attention, the family's health was painfully damaged. They suffered sickness and chronic sores because of malnutrition. Despite the hardships and deprivation, Apcar says that those from "enemy nations" in the internment camps were in even worse shape, by the war's end.

Finally, in August 1945, rumors of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki reached the remote area where the family lived. A few days later an announcement was circulated that Japan had finally surrendered.

Apcar believes that the atom bombs certainly saved her family as well as many others. If the Emperor had not been convinced to surrender when he did, they would not have survived another hard winter. The family celebrated by committing an illegal act --they cooked a chicken.

One of the hard realities of the war's aftermath was learning that their house, along with most other homes, businesses, and public buildings in Yokohama did not survive the fire bombing. "In one way, I suppose we were lucky that we were not allowed to stay." says Apcar, recalling the horrible destruction of the once beautiful city.

show route and directions
A markerYokohama, Japan -
Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
[get directions]

B markerKaruizawa, Japan -
Karuizawa, Kitasaku District, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
[get directions]

C markerHiroshima, Japan -
Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan
[get directions]

Author, Lucille Apcar with a piece of silver that belonged to her beloved grandmother.
Author, Lucille Apcar with a piece of silver that belonged to her beloved grandmother. | Source

A New Country

The Apcar family eventually came to the U.S. and settled in the San Francisco Bay area. Apcar and a friend formed a tour and travel agency. She spent 35 years guiding tours throughout the U.S. and Asia. Her personal travels covered most of the rest of the world, as well.

She became familiar with the Sierra foothills while escorting tours to Yosemite. She liked the area so much, she bought a home where she is active in a local garden club and keeps up with community affairs in the small town where she lives.

Getting involved in a local freelance writers group, she found great encouragement to complete her unique memior. The group members were amazed at Apcar's ability to to recall details of the devastation that her family lived through, and said the group found her story to be both unique and captivating.

She has also published an earlier book transcribed from her grandmother's manuscripts. It is a collection of short stories from the Armenian culture.

Apcar describes herself as "a tough, opinionated old dame, somewhat crabby at times," though her elegant manner and genuine laugh seem to belie that image. She is not shy about expressing ideas that come from experience.

While she has several fond recollections of her early years, Apcar says it was hard to revisit the horrible experiences her family survived during World War II.


"The thought that going to war is a glorious ideal, is wrong . It's mean and cruel, disrupting homes and lives." she says, "Most people have no idea what war is, it is no fun. The people who suffer most are NOT the ones who deserve it."

She speaks with the conviction of someone who has been there.

More by this Author


31 comments

drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

Ms. Apcar describes a fascinating, revealing picture of her life in Japan during World War II. She was fortunate to survive considering the deprivations she and her family endured. And you, Rochelle, wrote a fascinating, revealing review of her book. Thank you. Voted up.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Wow....this was great history, a piece from the world war II. I learning many things from this hub. This happened close to Indonesian independence day in August 1945. You have done a great job here. Thanks for share with us. Rated up!

Prasetio


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, drbj. I thought it interesting that we hear a lot about Japanese internment camps in the US during WW2. They were not pleasant, but I had never heard about people being detained in Japan.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I appreciate your comment, prasetio. It is a piece of history that few have heard about. I'm glad she got a chance to publish the story.


Frances Frank 5 years ago

This was fascinating as well as educational. I, too, had no idea that the Japanese was their own internment camps for foreigners. Thanks so much for posting!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you for posting your thoughts, Frances. The first time I heard about this I was quite amazed, also.


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 5 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Wonderful history! Very fascinating. I love the photos and the map. Memoirs tell us so much more than history and the news. On the one hand it's such a shame that they come so late in life, on the other, there's a better perspective when they do. Love this hub Rochelle.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Interesting that you should mention the perspective given by time. In fact, the author mentions this in the preface, admitting that she was reluctant to bring back some of the bitter memories. The process of doing so finally began to bring about an understanding she didn't have before.


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

War is hell. To put a human element into war gives a rounded personal touch. Thanks for sharing.

Flag up!


carcro profile image

carcro 5 years ago from Winnipeg

Japan is a beautiful country, it must have been difficult in Japan as everywhere else. War is always a terrible thing for all peoples of the earth...


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Amen, Dallas93444. Sometimes it is forgotten that people are the ones fighting and dying-- or sometimes just dying.

You are right, carcro, much damage was done there, and there has been war almost everywhere.


Lucille Apcar 5 years ago

Thank you so very much for your kind words, Rochelle. What I wanted more than anything in writing this memoir was to bring out the suffering of the innocents. We hear much about the heroics of the soldiers, and that is important too. But so little is ever told about the misery suffered, the orphaned children, the disrupted lives. There is nothing glorious about war.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, Lucille. Your book makes that very clear.


Chasing Riley profile image

Chasing Riley 5 years ago from Los Angeles

This is fascinating! So many things I never knew about the war like the internment camps for foreigners in Japan. I thought that only happened in the US. It's also amazing that the bomb actually helped someone in the midst of such devastation. I've been to Japan and most of the history I read about came from a much earlier period. Thanks for the information!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Yes-- my reaction was similar when I first heard the story. The Apcar family was not literally inside a barbed-wire enclosure, but they were restricted to an isolated, remote area requiring official passes for any travel. It was an ersatz prison.

The Atom bombs, though horrible in their effect, did stop the war.

My Uncle, who survived being in Pearl Harbor in '41, and was later poised to be part of the Japanese invasion force. He wrote a letter to his sister, designating who should receive his insurance money. Luckily, he didn't invade, but later became part of the occupation forces. I often have wondered if he might have seen Lucille in Japan.


Brian Weekes profile image

Brian Weekes 5 years ago from Queensland, Australia

A very good hub. I hope that one day her memoirs are made into a major film. It would be very interesting. On a side note, not many people know that the flight commander who led the attack on Pearl Harbour became an active peace advocate after the war and one day was even invited to the Arizona Memorial.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you for your comments, Brian Weekes. I think it would be an interesting movie, too.


Lucille Apcar 5 years ago

An interesting side note just verified by a Japanese historian who corresponds regularly with my brother Mickey: The two music teachers that I studied under during WW II had a daughter Beate Sirota, attending Mills College in the SF bay Area during the War, was recruited by the committee forming Japan's new Constitution under MacArthur. She is responsible for establishing Women's Rights in Japan.

When I was a youngster it was a common sight to witness Papa and his kids strolling through some of the parks, with the wife a respectful distance behind, as though she was a serving girl. Hopefully such practices are no more.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

After reading this hub, the first thing I did was enlarge the picture of Lucille. I wanted to look into her face, into her eyes. She is a beautiful woman. Having lived through the war years, having told her story (to tell one's story is to relive it and that is never without pain), she is breathtakingly beautiful and vibrant. She is testament to the ability to thrive in the present despite hardships in youth that would have, could have, and did crush others.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

She is certainly a special person. I have been pleased to know her for a few years and I was especially pleased about her book preface comments.

Yes, reliving the experience was painful and difficult for her, but writing through it changed her personal perspective.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

The author is now writing on HubPages as "Pennypines". Look for her hubs.


Pennypines profile image

Pennypines 4 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

I have now posted a Hub attempting to tell what it was like trying to write a memoir of those years. And about the tutors who helped me to whom I am everlastingly grateful. Unfortunately, two of them died within three weeks of each other, but I have learned to take these shocks, something I think that comes with advancing age.

It is the young people I worry about, to send our young to fight and die in a war or come home disabled, is something I can never reconcile myself to.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I haven't been able to locate your new hub, Lucille, even though I did see a comment you posted about writing.

The two you speak of were certainly good encouragers. Perhaps the most valuable thing we can do for others --especially when it comes to writing-- is to offer a little encouragement. It goes a long way in helping the process.


Pennypines profile image

Pennypines 4 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

Maybe I'm just doing something wrong, Rochelle, I have posted a few more Hubs, but all that happens is a listing that I have to click on and the hub appears. I don't seem to have a full page such as yours.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I'll send a suggestion.


old albion profile image

old albion 23 months ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi Rochelle. A first class hub touching many bases in those terrible years. Thankfully the family found safety in the end. A lovely presentation all round.

voted up and all.

Graham.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 23 months ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, old albion. With all of the WWII stories we have heard all of our lives, this was a perspective I had not heard before meeting Lucille.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 23 months ago from Tucson, Arizona

Fascinating Hub. Your review of the author's tale gave an interesting view of life and conditions in Japan during World War II. It was also interesting to note that the U.S. was not the only nation during the war to intern people from other nations. Fear and suspicion of strangers during wartime seems to be universal. While that doesn't make the practice right at least we can try to learn and understand this better.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 23 months ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, Chuck. The Japanese internment camps in the US were nothing to be proud of, and many of those families lost a lot of material assets unjustly. They had pretty rough conditions, even though they were provided with minimal basic necessities.

The situation for non-native people in Japan was much tougher. Many were deported, but some, for instance the Armenians, had nowhere to go. These were people who had a generation or two doing business in Japan, providing jobs and income to the local economy, yet they would have starved if the war had not ended when it did.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 22 months ago from Ontario, Canada

Such a beautiful story. I always admire people who go through adversity and come out of it beautifully. I feel bad for the Armenians as it is really good to have a country you can call your own.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 22 months ago from California Gold Country Author

Yes, their people were almost totally wiped out, but their culture has been somewhat preserved by those who managed to escape to various parts of the world. I know there is a pretty large group of Armenians in Fresno, California. But, as the saying goes "there's no place like home."

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working