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Japan museum highlights memories of Siberia detention


    Visitors passed through the 123 torii gates that line the entrance to Motonosumi Inari Shrine at the Kazuki Yasuo Museum in Nagato. Visitors can enjoy the view of Senzaki Bay and Omiujima island from the museum’s observation deck. At left, the museum sits on a hill in the hot spring district. The walls are decorated with motifs from Kazuki’s “Siberia Series.”


    The Kazuki Yasuo Museum in Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. The museum is on a hill in the hot spring district. The walls are decorated with motifs from Kazuki’s “Siberia Series.” Visitors can enjoy the view of Senzaki Bay and Omiujima island from the museum’s observation deck.

NAGATO, Japan >> One of my relatives was once detained in Siberia during World War II.

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 yet he was beaten by his family when he asked them whether the damage Japan suffered from the war had been small.

So when I heard of the story of Painter Yasuo Kazuki (1911-74), who was from the Misumi district of Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and returned home from Siberia through the port in May 1947, I was intrigued.

Kazuki later produced the “Siberia Series” of paintings based on the memory of his detention. The series is owned by Yamaguchi Prefectural Art Museum.


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, about 410,000 people had returned home through Senzaki Port.

Nearby temples and schools were used to house detainees, while others stayed in the homes of nearby civilians.

A memorial at the port honors the detainees who landed there, while a photography studio nearby exhibits pictures that show the conditions of the bygone era.

His small works which were the basis for the “Siberia Series” were on display at the Kazuki Yasuo Museum in Misumi, along with his sketches.

The exhibition, titled “Watashi no Shiberiya, Sore zore no Shiberias” (My Siberia, each of our Siberias) was on exhibit through Oct. 14, as part of a collaboration with the Memorial Museum for Soldiers, Detainees in Siberia and Postwar Repatriates in Tokyo.

Though Kazuki is known for his earth-toned abstract paintings and portraits of people with blank looks, he also created contrasting works — wood-block prints of soft-colored pretty flowers.

Kazuki, who traveled to Europe and throughout the South Pacific, produced dolls from wood offcuts, rusty iron plates and other waste materials.

The museum features a skylight, designed by his architect son to create an environment similar to the artist’s light-filled studio.

“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.

Near the museum is Yumen onsen, one of the hot spring areas that is sustaining the bathing culture of Nagato. Legend has it that a wounded rabbit cured itself with spring water at this hot spring.

After taking an outdoor bath at Yumen Fureai Center, an onsen facility, I headed to the Seifu Murata Memorial Museum. Murata was a prominent figure in the reformation of the Choshu domain 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,” a roadside rest area, was opened on the beach side of Senzaki in the city of Nagato. Called Senza Kitchen, it comprises a variety of eateries including those selling the local specialties of yakitori or himono dried fish.

“Nagato is now enjoying some momentum,” said Yoshiko Nono, 45, of the Nagato Tourism Convention Association.

The number of tourists sharply increased at Motonosumi Inari Shrine after it was featured on CNN in 2015. Last year, 1.08 million people visited the shrine, which overlooks the Sea of Japan.

As I arrived at the shrine in the evening, the red torii gates looked beautiful against a backdrop of the sky and sea.

According to shrine priest Yoriki Okamura, 70, the line of 123 torii gates was completed three years ago. “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 affixed 16 feet off the ground 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.

A sunset visit to the Higashiushirobata Tanada rice terraces yields views of the isaribi fires burning on fishing boats, luring the glowing squid to fishermen.

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