Over 60 years after her Japanese husband left her in Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Xuan still sleeps with a body pillow made from his military uniform.
She is one of many Vietnamese women who fell in love with Japanese soldiers occupying Vietnam in World War II.
Less than ten years later many of those men abandoned them, leaving their families impoverished and accused of treason for living with the enemy.
Xuan has nothing to hold against the Japanese, especially not her husband. She still misses him, she says. She can’t forget him because he was so nice to her.
Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will meet with families in Vietnam. The visit is historic for the enemies turned allies since restoring diplomatic relations in 1973.
Xuan’s husband, Shimizu, left while she was pregnant with her fourth child in 1954. She received no support from either government.
“I don’t know how we overcame that period. I still feel scared thinking of that difficult past,” she said.
She met Shimizu in 1943 while Japan was occupying Vietnam, which had been under French colonial rule prior. They were soon married, able only to afford biscuits and sweets for their wedding guests.
After Japan had been defeated in World War II, approximately 700 soldiers remained behind. Many of them joined with Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary forces fighting against their French rulers.
When France lost that war in 1954, Shimizu was one of the first group ordered to come home by the Japanese authorities. Only the soldiers were allowed to return, though, they couldn’t bring their wives or children.
Xuan made a pillow from his military jacket and a Vietnamese flag. “It means he is with me all the time, in my sleep,” she said.
She lost track of Shimizu until 2006 when Japanese journalists reunited the couple. He had remarried, but she had stayed single, working as a nurse, nanny and farmhand to raise the children.
It wasn’t easy for her half-Japanese children. There was discrimination and bullying.
Today, Japan is a major investor in Vietnam. It is also the top aid donor to the country. Thousands of Vietnamese students study in Japan every year. Many are fluent in Japanese when they return.
The visit by the royal couple follows’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit last month, Herald Live reported.
Even though no one in her family has visited Japan, her life has still been shaped by it. She sings Japanese ballads she has learned by heart. She looks forward to meeting the royal couple next week and holds no grudges against their country.