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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 16-18

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from Requiem

Ishigaki Choko

Editor's Note

In a sequence of 113 tanka, Requiem explores the author's search for the identity of her father, whom she never met. Throughout Ishigaki Choko's childhood, her mother kept her father's name hidden from her, just as she also kept from Ishigaki all photographs, news clippings, and stories about him. Further erasing evidence of her father, Ishigaki's maternal grandparents were officially registered as her parents, and her mother was registered as her older sister.

When Ishigaki was in primary school, she searched the house to see if any photos of her father might be hidden there. Leafing through the books on her mother's shelves, she at last found two photographs of a young man in a Tokyo University uniform and another of the same man standing with her mother in a park. Her mother and the man were smiling happily.

"I took the photographs and put them away in a book of my own," Ishigaki writes in her notes to Requiem, "spending days fearing that my act would be discovered. More than ten years passed, and it was not until the night before my wedding that my mother said, 'Can I have those photographs back now?'"

At the age of fifty, Ishigaki began a full-scale search for her origins. Knowing her father had graduated from Tokyo University, she searched for traces of him there and discovered a dissertation written by a graduate student named Liu Xinchun and dated 29 February 1928. The author was her father. From this point, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.

Ishigaki's mother had been an only child, adored by her parents. She entered Jissen Women's Vocational College, one of the country's top educational institutions for women. At the same time, Liu Xinchun was a poor student from northern China studying at Tokyo University on a scholarship from the Japanese-sponsored South Manchurian Railway Company. These two young people happened to live near each other and probably met while commuting on the train. Liu Xinchun was then in the process of becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen.

Events in Manchuria overtook whatever plans the young couple had for a life together. Liu Xinchun was called back to China, and Ishigaki's mother went with him to the provincial capital of Fengtian, now called Shenyang. There, in 1931, she gave birth to Choko, just before the outbreak of the Manchurian Incident. Ishigaki would learn many decades later that a half-sister was born three months after her: [End Page 16] the daughter of her father and his legal Chinese wife. The sisters would not meet until 1995, when Ishigaki was sixty-four years old.

Over time, Ishigaki discovered that during the Manchurian Incident, her father had been asked to be an interpreter and accompany a group of Japanese soldiers to Lukouchiao Bridge to negotiate a surrender with Chinese forces. But the negotiations were broken off, and her father was shot, together with all the Japanese soldiers. Their corpses were thrown into the Liao River. The Chinese resistance leader, Lao Beifeng, later returned Liu Xinchun's corpse to his relatives because he was Chinese.

Today in China, Lao Beifeng is an admired anti-Japanese hero while Liu Xinchun is regarded as a traitor. When Ishigaki met her half-sister in 1995, she found that her sister suffered the stigma of being regarded as the daughter of a villain. The two women formed a bond and together visited Lukouchiao Bridge and the grave of their father. Both had suffered a lifetime of grief and secrecy because of the war.

Ishigaki originally intended to write Requiem in memory of her father and to have it translated into Chinese, but anti-Japanese feelings in China have made such a translation impossible.


step by step
I cross Lukouchiao
where the long long battle
of the anti-Japanese movement


and did
those stone lions
of Lukouchiao
watch the bloodshed
on 7 July 1937?


on the River Liao
where my father died
the ice is...