Can you imagine life in Post-war Japan? This land my house sits on, the land I daily tread upon was ravaged. Fire bombs through Tokyo. B-25 atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Twice. Sirens and defeat that made the water into poison. Loss of life and catastrophic devastation, with 70,000 instantly dead and then 70,000 more from a radiation-related disease. Just a blitz with nowhere to go and those are just the numbers from Hiroshima.
You could have come out seemingly okay (apart from trauma), perhaps orphaned, but then die from leukemia, Tuberculosis, perhaps multiple forms of cancer, you get the picture. Okay. So Japan, crushed, Japan changed, toppled over and sprawled, surrenders. They begin the process of healing. They begin to rebuild. US troops are part of this rebuilding, repairing, even giving new things like powdered milk and formula to babies and kids. Calcium rebuilds.
Babies are born, babies out of wedlock between Japanese women and American soldiers. Babies due to the rape of women during the Allied Military Occupation. It is believed that perhaps 10,000 Japanese women were raped, especially in Okinawa. What a sad, sad thing.
In the Japanese culture that can tend to respond from a place of shame or embarrassment, pregnant women and mothers were turned out. Babies were left on streets and in trains.
These biracial children and their mothers experienced abandonment and mistreatment. There was one woman, however, who made a stand. This woman would make it her life’s work to take in, accept, and raise up these persecuted children. It all stemmed from her experience in seeing one such infant dead on a train. She decided it would have to be her; she would become responsible for protecting such children.
Miki Sawada was probably an unlikely candidate for such a benevolent, life-saving role. In fact, she was scoffed at. Sawada was the daughter of Baron Hisaya Iwasaki and grad-daughter of the Mitsubishi conglomerate founder, Yataro Iwasaki. Sawada was also the wife of a diplomat, Renzo Sawada, who represented Japan at the United Nations.
Coming from such an illustrious background, surely she did not have to do anything more than host benefits or give financially. However, as one of the rare Christians in Japan, she responded to a very present need and began taking in children. Of course, the Japanese government did not care to support her as her growing orphanage shed light on mixed-race relationships or the rape of Japanese women. The act between Japan women and the nation that utterly defeated them, producing a child would not do, no matter how it happened. No, Ms. Sawada would see little to no support from the Japanese government. No one would discuss prejudice towards these biracial babies. It must have been more tempting to sweep such “problems” under the rug, but Miki Sawada heard and recognized the call on her life to take care of these children.
She sold personal belongings left and right, articles of clothing, anything to feed and clothe her kids. Remember, she was the daughter of a Baron and heiress to the Mitsubishi fortune. She could have fit comfortably inside the cushion of wealth and society. Instead, she invested her whole self into life for others.
Sawada had, for some time, been taking in those abandoned and shunned for being of mixed-race. She utterly ran out of all of her money. The orphanage was named The Elizabeth Saunders Home, named after the English woman who served as a governess forforty yearss in Japan and who had left a sum of money to the Anglican Church. Thanks to this gift, the home officially opened in 1948, in Kanagawa prefecture.
Sawada is known as the Mother to over 2,000 children. Over two thousand children who grew up in the school, and five hundred were adopted overseas. She later created a school and farm for the children’s success and independence.
Sawada traveled back and forth between the US and Japan, raising support for her orphanage and later, school, also. She also built relationships in Monaco. Within her time abroad, seeking help for the orphanage, she also lived in France, becoming a friend to crooner and beauty, Josephine Baker. Ms. Baker adopted two children from Sawada’s orphanage. Sawada received the Elizabeth Blackwell Award in 1960 for dedicating her life to humanity in 1960.
Miki Sawada moved in such circles, friends with novelist Pearl S. Buck, who parented some of Sawada’s children. Wherever she went, she spoke up for the children, gathering resources and adoptees.
It seems clear that she affected change, that she fought for a loving, just world for these children. Imagine how many families those 2,000 children now represent.
It began at a bleak time, this idea of being a light and an advocate for children.
I am blown away.
On a personal note, I am even more in awe than I have written. I am American, married to my Japanese husband and his Japanese family. I am raising biracial children here. It was not so long ago that they would have been persecuted.
The pilots who dropped both A-bombs actually trained and flew at the tiny private airport just ten minutes from what would later be my South Florida home.
Also, it is not lost on my that I am a Jew, making my life in a nation that was allied with Nazi Germany. My Japanese father-in-law was born in 1948, the year of Israel’s declaration and establishment as a Jewish state, a haven for Jews everywhere, certainly poignant following the Holocaust.
I love stories of heroism– when people step out of their self to lead others. I love looking to women of courage and showing my children. I don’t want to be a timid woman, afraid of shadows. I want to stand as a lion. May we raise up leaders who will carry these lights and impact history.
A happy and meaningful Women’s History Month to you!
*For more: Helpful site: Japan’s Christian Heritage
* Children from this special home are reconnecting and learning of their time there.
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March 1 modernmami on Multicultural Kid Blogs: 3 Reasons Why We Celebrate Women’s History Month March 2 The Jenny Evolution: More Children’s Books About Amazing Women March 3 Colours of Us: 32 Multicultural Picture Books About Strong Female Role Models March 6 modernmami: 103 Children’s Books for Women’s History Month March 7 A Crafty Arab: The Arab Woman Who Carved Exquisite Beauty into Science March 8 Hispanic Mama: 5 Children’s Books About Latina Women March 9 MommyMaestra: Free Download – Women’s History Month Trading Cards March 10 MommyMaestra on MommyMaestra on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Celebrating Women’s History Month March 13 Crafty Moms Share: First Ladies and Eleanor Roosevelt March 14 Mama Smiles: Write Down Your Family’s Women’s History March 15 Bookworms and Owls: Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Associate Justice of the Supreme Court March 16 Creative World of Varya: 6 Quotes About Women from Various Religious Writings March 17 Knocked Up Abroad: 7 Ways Swedish Women Can Revolutionize Your Life Today March 20 La Cité des Vents on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Women in History or Women’s Stories? March 21 Pura Vida Moms March 22 Melibelle in Tokyo March 23 All Done Monkey March 24 playexplorelearn March 27 Family in Finland March 28 the piri-piri lexicon March 30 Let the Journey BeginDon’t miss our Women’s History Month Activity Printables, on sale now!