75 years later, Japan war orphans tell of pain, recovery

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Kisako Motoki, 86, speaks, looking though a red cellophane depicting what she saw the atmosphere of the night of the Great Tokyo Air Raid on March 10, 1945, during an interview with the Associated Press at the Center for the Tokyo Raids and War Damage in Tokyo Wednesday, July 29, 2020. In Japan, war orphans were punished for surviving. They were bullied. They were called trash, sometimes rounded up by police and put in cages. Some were sent to institutions or sold for labor. They were targets of abuse and discrimination. Now, 75 years after the war's end, some are revealing their untold stories of recovery and pain, underscoring Japans failure to help its own people. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO – For years, orphans in Japan were punished just for surviving the war.

They were bullied. They were called trash and left to fend for themselves on the street. Police rounded them up and threw them in jail. They were sent to orphanages or sold for labor. They were abandoned by their government, abused and discriminated against.

Now, 75 years after the end of the Pacific War, some have broken decades of silence to describe for a fast-forgetting world their sagas of recovery, survival, suffering — and their calls for justice.

The stories told to The Associated Press ahead of Saturday’s anniversary of the war's end underscore both the lingering pain of the now-grown children who lived through those tumultuous years and what activists describe as Japan’s broader failure to face up to its past.


Kisako Motoki was 10 when U.S. cluster bombs rained down on her downtown Tokyo neighborhood. For decades she kept silent about the misery that followed.

On March 10, 1945, as the napalm-equipped bombs turned eastern Tokyo into a smoldering field of rubble, Motoki and her little brother hid inside a shelter her father had dug behind the family home.

She eventually fled with her brother. She never saw her parents again.