The last Japanese man remaining in Kazakhstan: A Kafkian tale of the plight of a Japanese POW in the Soviet Union

Tetsuro Ahiko photographed at his apartment in Aktas, Karaganda, in central Kazakhstan, on Jan. 4, 2011.

Richard Orange, noted foreign correspondent and Ikuru Kuwajima, a photojournalist in Central Asia and long-time contributor to Japan Subculture Research Center, worked to put together this this fascinating piece about one Japanese POW trapped in the Soviet Union after the end of the Second World War. It differs slightly from our usual subject matter but it’s a fascinating story that we hope you’ll enjoy. ●Marina Gorobevskaya  also greatly contributed to this article.

By Richard Orange and Ikuru Kuwajima, photos by Ikuru Kuwajima

Tetsuro Ahiko has his eyes closed now.  The vodka has begun to affect him, and he rocks a little towards the battered cassette player from where the music―a shrill chorus of young girls’ voices―is coming. He starts to sing along under his breath: “Shoulder to shoulder, I walk to school with my brother, thanks to the soldiers… thanks to the soldiers that died for the nation, for the dear nation.” As the last voices die away, the room, in a cramped Soviet flat in a crumbling block in a impoverised town in the middle of the icy, windswept steppes of Kazakhstan, comes back into focus. “I forgot Japanese,” he says. “But I didn’t forget the songs that I listened to in my childhood.”

This cassette of World War II military songs, long since forgotten as part of a shameful past back in Japan, is one of the handful of tokens he keeps of a life that was snatched away from him one day in 1948, when, instead of repatriating him from his military school on Sakhalin Island, Soviet troops put Mr Ahiko on a train to the Gulag work camps. More than 60 years later, Mr Ahiko is still here.

“Now I’m the same as all the people here,” he says. “I’ve got used to it.”

Tetsuro is the last Japanese man still remaining in Kazakhstan out of the hundreds of thousands Stalin shipped to the most desolate parts of the Soviet Union, putting them to work in mines, in construction, and in factories. More than a tenth of them died due to the brutal working conditions.

“I think all the Japanese have gone back apart from me,” he says. “There was one from Lake Balkhash, who went to Japan because his wife was ill, and there was also one in Almaty. I think there are no other Japanese here now.”

Continue reading The last Japanese man remaining in Kazakhstan: A Kafkian tale of the plight of a Japanese POW in the Soviet Union

Is Shibuya Tokyo's new sin city?

Since the tightening of regulations against fuuzoku sex industry businesses in Shinjuku’s Kabuki-cho last year, there have been voices of concern about whether or not the neighborhood will lose its character along with its seedy image.

And it now may have a new competitor. Adult-themed businesses have been sprouting up in the Shibuya area over the past few years as the ever-changing cityscape has begun to take on a pink glow from these:

Two men walk past a "free information center" on Shibuya's Dogenzaka. The sign advertises aroma relaxation, ¥4,000 for 40 minutes.
Two men walk past a "free information center" on Shibuya's Dogenzaka. The sign advertises aroma relaxation, ¥4,000 for 40 minutes.

Once known as the teen-fashion capital of Asia, Shibuya is being slowly overrun by muryo annai-sho, or “information centers” that are the new gateways to adult entertainment.  While the Tokyo Police Metropolitan Police Department has focused its efforts on Shinjuku ward, the Shibuya flesh merchants have taken up residence in this relatively overlooked area–just as they have done in Akihabara and Uguisuidani.  Shibuya, because of its reputation as a teen mecca, also tends to attract a certain type of Japanese man with a fetish for young, and even underage women–so called loli-con or “lolita complex bearing men.”

Continue reading Is Shibuya Tokyo's new sin city?