Friday, October 17, 2014

Fascination: WW2 era Sakhalin, aka Karafuto

I wondered the other day about a place like Sakhalin, where Siberians/Russians and Japanese/East Asians have a shared history. Not necessarily a harmonious history, but I know so little of it. Maybe some long-time generational fisherman families from Hokkaido consider Sakhalin their adopted home.

But what I found in this piece by Mariya Sevela was intriguing, informative and stirred up my imagination.

Sakhalin: the Japanese Under Soviet Rule
At the time of the Soviet ‘liberation’ of South Sakhalin, it was inhabited by nearly half a million people: Japanese, Koreans (mostly forced labourers), White Russians, Poles and the island’s indigenous peoples – Ainu, Nivkhi and Ul’ta. From 1942, Karafuto had been incorporated into the Japanese home islands (naichi) and was no longer the responsibility of the Ministry of Colonisation (takumushĂ´). It thus gradually became more and more an integral part of Japan itself.

A portion of the population, mainly women, children and the elderly, managed to get off the island during August. For some of them, however, the passage across the Soya Strait was a grim one; three refugee ships were torpedoed by a Soviet submarine near Hokkaido with heavy loss of life. Nevertheless, more than 100,000 did escape, reducing Karafuto’s Japanese population to some 300,000 by the time the war was over, though figures vary according to the source.
There were 300,000 Japanese on that island?? Ainu, I can see. But who are the Nivkhi and Ul'ta? 

Some cool info about Nivkh culture and clothing is at