This story begins with a single photo bearing the message "To a wonderful Japanese". It is kept in an album belonging to JTB employee Tatsuo Osako who transported a large number of Jewish refugees to Japan to escape from disaster during the Second World War. The girl in the photo was Sonia Reed, one of the so-called "Sugihara Survivors" who safely made passage from Vladivostok to the USA via Japan with "Visas for Life" in hand that Japanese Consul-General to Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, had issued by his own authority and discretion. This spring, Sonia's two daughters visited Japan with thoughts of their now deceased mother in their hearts.
[Return to Japan 76 years later]
Sisters Shelley and Deborah came to Japan for a visit this spring. Their mother, Sonia Reed, was one of the Jewish refugees who sought refuge in the USA by transiting through Japan from Vladivostok during the Second World War. The fact that these two women were even born owes in part to Tatsuo Osako, an employee of JTB's predecessor Japan Tourist Bureau who accompanied the refugees and served as their guide on the passage from Vladivostok to Japan. Those that made the passage through rough seas gave Osako a photo with a message of their gratitude for the self-sacrificing efforts he made onboard the ferry to quell their fears and fatigue. One of those photos was of Sonia Reed who, on the back, wrote, "Please remember me. To a wonderful Japanese." And, that is what Osako did; he kept all of the photos, without losing a single one, in an album that he guarded for the rest of his life. The album today is on display at the "Port of Humanity" Tsuruga Museum where it was donated.
Having fled to Japan from Vladivostok, Sonia travelled from Tsuruga to Yokohama and from there to the East Coast of the USA where she would eventually settle down and have three children, Shelley and Deborah being two of them. These two sisters had long wanted to visit Japan, having heard from their mother how beautiful it was. (Before they were born, Sonia travelled to Japan several times on account of her husband's work.) Their dreams came true as the two made their first trip to Japan.
[A business card found by chance]
The two sisters' trip to Japan this year was at the invite of Tsuruga City, which is where the fleeing Jewish refugees first landed in Japan. After seeing Tsuruga, they toured various sightseeing spots in different parts of the country and eventually ended their trip with a visit to JTB's headquarters in Tokyo. Accompanied by Akira Kitade, a journalist who has traced the footsteps of Tatsuo Osako as his life's work, the women made it to the office in Tennozu where they exchanged pleasantries with President Hiroyuki Takahashi in a reception room overlooking Tokyo Bay.
President Takahashi asked, "So, after what must have been a long and tiring first trip of yours, what do you think of Japan?"
To which Deborah replied, "This trip has been far more wonderful than we ever imagined. Every place we went was beautiful and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. The gardens in Okayama, Philosopher's Way in Kyoto … every time, I thought I had never seen anything as beautiful as this, the next day they took us to an even more fantastic place. We were amazed every single day."
She added, "There's something I want to give you," and pulled out a business card.
"Just before we left on our trip, I had pulled out my parents' things wondering if there might be any family photos I could show everyone, and, low and behold, amongst the ferry ticket and mom's photos was this business card. I hadn't recalled ever seeing it before, so it took me by surprise," told Deborah.
In all likelihood, Osako gave the business card to Sonia on the ferry from Vladivostok as a gesture of gratitude for her giving him her photo. The front of the card had faded and browned, but the corners were still sharp and otherwise undamaged. The good condition it was in after 76 long years speaks to how dearly Sonia took care of it. On the back, Osako wrote his full name in Japanese characters. The reserved but strong strokes indicate exactly what kind of person Osako was.
Shelley added, "My mother rarely told us kids about the war and the time before we were born, so we had no idea that the card even existed. When I saw the card, I realized how important it was to my mom. She kept it for over 70 years. When my sister found the card, everyone in the family was ecstatic. I truly hope this business card will inspire everyone at JTB."
President Takahashi commented, "At JTB, we are always trying to do the best we can for our customers under our brand slogan of "Perfect moments, always", but we now know that that thought was started long ago, 76 years ago, by our predecessors. This business card is proof of that. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving us such an invaluable treasure that your mother preciously held onto. I will take good care of it and will tell the next generation of employees about the message it bears."
Deborah had still yet another surprise for President Takahashi -- a white teacup with pictures of the ferry that transported the Jewish refugees to Japan and her mother Sonia in her younger days. Deborah made it by hand, working from photos she discovered.
Deborah told, "Tatsuo Osako overcame rough seas and diligently carried out his job without getting discouraged by all of the difficulties he faced. Having received no help from anyone and having barely escaped from Europe with their lives, I can't even imagine how grateful those Jewish refugees were to find such kindness from a person they met on the ship. For that reason, we are more than happy to return Osako's business card to JTB. We're OK without it. Our thoughts of Osako will always be in our hearts just like our memories of our mother. So, by returning the business card to JTB, we are in effect straddling decades and generations."
＊Company name and titles are those of the time of coverage.