Japanese war pilot finds peace in remote Russian village

In one of Russia’s most remote provinces, in an isolated village of only five hundred people, Yusitero Nakagawa is the only person with a Japanese name.

Nakagawa is a war veteran and retired pilot. He now calls what was once enemy territory his home.

“I am just a simple Japanese farmer’s son. I never knew I would end up here,” he says.

Yusitero was drafted into the Japanese Air Force during World War II. He fought against the Americans, and shot down many planes.

“They told us, if you run out of bombs or fuel – just ram your plane into the enemy. Most pilots knew they would never survive the war,” the veteran recalls.

Yusitero did survive, but when Japan surrendered, he was captured by Soviet soldiers. He tried to commit hara-kiri, but was saved by a Russian doctor, and then sent to a labor camp.

“At first the guards beat me, but then they eased off. Although, me and the other Japanese prisoners did not speak Russian, we slowly accepted our fate,” he added.

Yusitero was eventually released and began earning a living. Soon, a turning point came within his life.

“The authorities offered me an opportunity to return to Japan, but I just couldn’t. I had a pregnant wife, and I felt sorry for her.”

His work took him everywhere: he was a carpenter in Siberia; and a builder in Uzbekistan.

After traveling around the Soviet Union first as a prisoner of war, then as a laborer, Yusitero Nakagawa settled in the windy steppes of Southern Russia – a place that is nothing like Japan.

Here, he became simply Uncle Sasha, and the neighbors called him Kamikaze. Married a second time, Yusitero still looks after his household at the age of 91.

Although he has been reunited with his Japanese relatives, Yusitero says he has no desire to return: “I have two homelands. One here, and one in Japan. But here is the place I want to die.”