Finding friends 56 years later

As shown in the Oban Times and Sunday Post articles below, one of our most pleasing successes was managing to put a Scottish ex-soldier back in touch with a girl he had known in Japan over 50 years before. It was also without doubt the most challenging job we have yet had to handle — details below the pictures.

Oban Times article about Peter McKillop and Emiko Asayama
Sunday Post article about Peter McKillop and Emiko Asayama

 

How we found 'Ruriko'

Right from the start (back in 2004), we had a problem in that the letter we were sent to translate appeared largely illegible and incoherent. After a while we realized that it must have been torn in half at some stage, and the various pieces stuck together in the wrong order before photocopying it to send to us. There followed some careful on-screen editing as we sliced the scanned images along their probable tear lines, then realigned them correctly.

The letter appeared to be from a young lady called "Ruriko" to a man called "Peter", and was quite affectionate. Peter McKillop was our original client's father: he had spent about one year in Kure (near Hiroshima) in 1950-51 as a Machinery Operator in the Royal Army Pay Corps. He said the letter was from Emiko Asayama, a girl he had gone out with at the time, and kept in touch with for a few years afterwards.

Having received the translated letter, Peter then asked us if we could attempt to find Ruriko/Emiko for him, or to find out what had happened to her, and we said we would. He had no idea why Emiko had signed herself Ruriko; we surmised that Ruriko might have been her real name, and she had just used the nickname Emiko as it was easier to pronounce, but Peter did not think this was the case. This meant we had two names to search for; and an additional problem in that we did not have the official characters for her name, which is essential for accurate identification.

Over the next few years we tried a variety of methods, including the following:

Understandably, we doubted we were ever going to find out any more, let alone find Ruriko/Emiko. Considering the respective ages of her and Peter, there was also a significant chance that she would have died during the intervening period, although Peter was quite aware of this possibility. Every time that Peter called, we felt quite awkward at having to tell him 'still no news' or 'yet another dead end' — particularly when we received the report that 'her name was deleted from the register' — but we did keep thinking of other routes that could be pursued, partly also to keep his spirits up.

Finally, in September 2007 we again looked at local detective agencies in the Hiroshima/Kure area, and after some discussion chose Fortune Japan, who appeared to be reasonably priced and have a positive attitude. As one example, they suggested asking local rice merchants — on the basis that any local family would have placed regular orders for rice. After we engaged them and sent the down payment, their agents spent several days carrying out a thorough investigation of all possible avenues, including door-to-door enquiries at hundreds of addresses in Kure.

Finally, they were successful!

Mr Shigekawa from Fortune then produced a detailed report of their search. An abbreviated version is included here, which gives a good idea just how difficult it was...

Wed-Thu

No Asayama families listed in that area. Asked locally, no luck. Checked tax records at government office: no hits in 1950-1975. Confirmed address no longer exists. Asked locally again, found Mr Shitaya, whose family had lived there since around 1925; mother aged 93 but had no memory of the name "Asayama". But this family had a friend at the govt. office who said he would check the current address corresponding to the old one.

Sat

Old address exists but no info on where it was. Hired lawyer to get access to family register (needed due to recent privacy law).

Tue

Went with lawyer to govt. office, got official records. No original family register. Looked at tax records, found addresses 100-116, appeared to be dotted around foot of mountains on West side, so currently in the area of [...] 7, 13, 14, 17, 19, 20, 27.

Wed

Visited all the above addresses, nothing useful. 50 years ago was all isolated farms etc., all moved out, bought out by current residents. Older residents moved into town area (fewer hills). Nobody there now knows the old addresses etc. Asked around the area (312 houses out of around 530: 186 were out, 126 gave useful answers), but again, nobody knew "Asayama" or the old address.

Thu

Worked on remaining 230 houses and those who were out yesterday; also other old houses. Visited Shitaya household again, who suggested Ms Hirata (age 80), but she also knew no Asayama, acupuncture clinic, or [...] 110. They also suggested Mr Maruki, not that old but interested in local history etc.; but he was now in Hiroshima hospital, children also no longer in area. Visited Shitaya house yet again; suggested Mr Mizuguchi, friend of Maruki — he was out too, but in the evening we managed to meet him. First potentially positive information: someone called Asayama used to live in house behind Maruki (now Mr Yamamoto). That Asayama family lived in Kure during war, but lost their house due to the fire bombing and moved to the house where Mr Yamamoto is now. The 2nd or 3rd son remained there even after the others moved out, and eventually married into the Yamamoto family, taking their name. He died decades ago, but his wife is still alive, living there. When the Asayama family lived here there were only about 10 houses, and none of the other residents are still in the area. Tried to revisit Mizuguchi and Yamamoto but both were out.

Fri

Visited Yamamoto house early in morning, obtained following information.
Yamamoto family adopted [...] Asayama (3rd son as referred to above), now deceased. He had no sister called Ruriko. He did have a sister Emiko, who married, moved to Tokyo, but for various reasons later came back to Kure to run a pub / restaurant.
Investigator decided this might be the Emiko we were searching for, so visited her house...
Emiko is currently 73, and remembers Peter well. Whenever she hears the name Peter on TV she recalls "Peter from Scotland". [...] When the investigator told her that Peter had been searching for her, she burst into tears, saying "If you live long enough, you can have wonderful surprises like this, bringing back happy memories!" It seems that she had thought of Peter just a few days before the investigator's visit, and "wondered how strange it was to recall such an old story at this time... maybe it was a herald of what was to come".

 

Aftermath

Since Peter and Emiko have been put back in touch, they have been renewing their friendship via somewhat tortuous correspondence — Emiko sends letters and photographs to Fortune Japan, who forward them to BJ Translations, who translate and forward them to Peter... and the same in reverse. Both Fortune Japan and BJ Translations are providing their services free of charge, due to the exceptional circumstances.

In December 2008 the couple were able to hear each other's voices for the first time in several decades via a 3-way international phone call, assisted by Ben Jones as interpreter. The event was recorded and broadcast on Christmas Day by Hiroshima Home Television, as shown below:

 

Then in November 2009, with the aid of the BBC (and again Ben Jones as interpreter), they finally managed to have an online video conversation! See this BBC report (WMV video) in Gaelic, and Hiroshima Home Television report (WMV video) in Japanese.

Peter and Emiko conversing online via ooVoo

The story was also covered by the Asahi Newspaper on 6 September 2010 (see image below), and featured in the Japanese book HAPPY NEWS〈2010〉. Asahi Shimbun report on Peter and Emiko

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