Sunday, December 2, 2012
Nurse reveals role of postwar clinic
Nurse reveals role of postwar clinic
BY ICHIRO KAWAHARA THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Masako Muraishi at the Jizo statue in the Futsukaichi hot springs area of Chikushino, Fukuoka Prefecture (KEN MIZOKOSHI/ THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)
CHIKUSHINO, Fukuoka Prefecture--A former nurse may be the only living witness to a horrific abortion clinic that was established soon after the end of World War II.
Today, about the only connection to that clinic is a statue of Jizo, the bodhisattva believed to save the souls of children. The statue holding a baby to its chest stands behind a welfare facility in the Futsukaichi hot springs area of Chikushino, Fukuoka Prefecture.
For about 18 months from March 1946, a government-approved recuperation center was set up at the site to perform abortions on women returning from mainland Asia. Many had been raped by Soviet soldiers in the waning days of World War II.
Masako Muraishi, 84, was 20 years old when she was assigned to the center with nine other nurses. She worked there for three months.
"The doctors told us, 'Never allow the women to hear the first cry of the baby because that could trigger their maternal instincts,'" Muraishi said. "That is one reason I strangled a newborn."
The center was set up after doctors at the former Keijo Imperial University in Seoul made a request to the then Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Located about 15 kilometers northwest was Hakata Port, where 1.39 million Japanese repatriates landed before 1947.
Whenever a ship carrying returning Japanese docked, women would be taken by truck to the center.
"They had cut their hair short trying to disguise themselves as men," Muraishi said. "They were skinny and dirty."
Because of a shortage of medical supplies, the abortions were carried out without anesthesia.
"When I held their hands while standing by their head, they grabbed my hands so hard I thought my fingers would break," Muraishi said.
Women who were found to be more than five months pregnant had labor induced, and the infant was immediately killed.
Muraishi herself strangled an infant at noon one day. As she was leaving for lunch, she heard one woman calling for a nurse.
The infant's head was visible, but all the doctors were on a break. Without thinking, Muraishi strangled the infant, which had red hair and a long nose. When a doctor finally arrived, he stabbed the baby's head with a scalpel, as was the usual procedure.
"Even though those babies were unwanted, a life is a life," Muraishi said. "However, all we were focused on at that time was returning those women safely to their hometowns."
The babies were buried under five or six cherry trees near the recuperation center.
Between 400 and 500 women were operated on until the center was closed in autumn 1947, according to the account of a former doctor, which was included in a pamphlet compiled in 1998 by a group concerned about those who returned to Japan through Hakata Port.
Muraishi married and raised three daughters while continuing to work as a nurse.
For 50 years, she told no one about the center, not even family members.
However, around 1996, she heard from a former colleague that a Jizo statue had been built at the site of the center.
At a memorial ceremony in spring 1997, she revealed her experiences for the first time.
On Sept. 18, she plans to talk about her experiences at a symposium at Kyushu University. It will be the first time for her to talk before a large audience of young people.
While recalling her experiences is not easy, Muraishi said: "Those women were unable to tell anyone about their pain. When I think about that, I feel that I have to talk about what they endured.
"Women and children suffer the most during a war."