Diplomas for elderly former students in Japan who missed graduation due to war

Diplomas for elderly former students in Japan who missed graduation due to war
Drafted students gathered in the rain at the Meiji Jingu Gaien stadium for a farewell ceremony 72 years ago, in this file photo taken on Oct. 21, 1943.
PHOTO: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Former students who were unable to attend their graduation ceremonies due to wartime student mobilization will receive their graduation certificates at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies in Fuchu, Tokyo, on Saturday. Similar initiatives were undertaken at other universities around the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, but few have taken place in recent years as wartime graduates reach old age.

"This is truly the last chance. We hope the graduation ceremony will be an opportunity for current students to carry forth graduates' memories of the tragic war," a university official said.

Twelve individuals will receive diplomas, including two who have died. All graduated between 1944 and 1946, but were unable to attend their graduation ceremonies because of they were drafted or were caught up in the chaos that followed the surrender.

The university's buildings in what was then Takinogawa Ward, now a part of Kita Ward, Tokyo, were razed in a major air raid in April 1945. No graduation ceremony was held in 1944, and few students could attend the ceremonies in 1945 and 1946.

The university conducted an investigation for the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. As a result, 123 former students whom the university was able to contact were able to receive their graduation certificates in 1994 or 1995.

Another investigation was conducted for the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, and 10 graduates who could not be reached 20 years ago have been found. The university was also contacted by relatives of the two deceased graduates, who said they wanted to offer the diplomas at their graves.

The ceremony will be held on Oct. 31 to coincide with the October start of student mobilization 72 years ago.

All 10 former students are over 90 years old, and only two will be able to attend the ceremony. University President Hirotaka Tateishi said he wanted "to present the diplomas with appreciation for the hardships they endured," and is planning an opportunity for current students to meet with the elderly graduates.

Among other universities, Keio University awarded diplomas to its wartime graduates in 1969, while Hitotsubashi University did the same in 1974. Hosei, Chuo, and Rikkyo universities also presented diplomas on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.

Remembering lost friends

"It's quite a gift to be able to mark a chapter of my life at this age," says Taichi Sasaoka, a 91-year-old resident of Toshima Ward, Tokyo. He is eagerly awaiting his "graduation" ceremony on Sunday, 70 years after the end of the war.

Sasaoka entered the Chinese-language department of Tokyo School of Foreign Languages, the predecessor to Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, in April 1943. He was drafted in January 1945, and was posted to a cadet corps in charge of army shipping in Kagawa Prefecture.

He was expecting to be deployed in September that year, but the war ended and he was discharged. He returned to Tokyo and graduated from university in March 1946, but was unable to attend the graduation ceremony amid the chaos of the postwar era.

Struggling to make ends meet, he dropped out of the graduate course at the university and entered the Education, Science and Culture Ministry, predecessor to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

This year, Sasaoka received a letter inquiring as to whether or not he had received a graduation diploma from the university. "Some friends died without being able to receive a diploma, and others had wanted to study more. I will be thinking about them when I receive my diploma," he said.

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