Culture, Globe, Pages, United Kingdom

With Japan behind them

Audrey left Japan at four years of age. She left school in Canada when she was nine. In her book “A Tale of Two Japans, 10 Years to Pearl Harbor”, she reveals little-known details about the experiences of an English family in Japan before and after the second world war.


De japon (1)Edith Tacusi Oblitas


Shortly before turning five, Audrey left Japan. She and her older brother Christopher were born there, but her younger sister Helen was born in England. After Japan entered the Second World War, the English were told to leave Japan in November 1940, then warned again in January of 1941, but her family did not leave until May of that year because her father was a priest at the British embassy in Tokyo.

“My name is Audrey Talks, but I was born Audrey Sansbury. I was born in Tokyo in 1936. I’ll never forget that when we were sailing aboard the NYK, we were looking back to Yokohama and there, on the dock, were two Japanese women: our nanny Furusawa-san and our cook Takahashi-san. They both stood dressed in kimonos with tears streaming down their faces because we were leaving Japan,” she says.

When the Sansbury family arrived in Canada, Audrey’s father Kenneth set up a home for them. Audrey and her siblings started school in Toronto. Her father joined the Canadian air force as a chaplain. Then he sailed to England to serve at the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire bomb depot, while Audrey and her siblings stayed behind in Toronto with their mother Ethelreda.

“My father came back to Toronto when the war ended in Europe,” says Audrey. She remembered having a father, but it felt strange to her to see a tall man in an air force uniform in the kitchen. For Audrey, her father was not part of the family in Canada.

De japon (3)Having left Japan shortly before turning five, then leaving school in Canada at nine years of age, and finally arriving in England, Audrey felt that her childhood was fragmented. “Socially, we didn’t know where we fit in; we had no sense of belonging, but I enjoyed studying at boarding school, which was very structured. Afterwards, I trained for my first profession at St Andrew’s University in Scotland.”

“We knew how hard it was for your brother, but you were always so articulate, we thought you were OK,” Audrey’s mother told her. “But I wasn’t OK,” replied Audrey.

“I feel that my childhood ended when we left Japan. After that, I couldn’t trust my farther who took us to a foreign country and left us there,” she explains. In her 20s, dark thoughts of the past floated to the surface and she started living with these emotions on a daily basis. Later, in her 40s, she remembered the pain she felt at five years old when her father took them from their home to a foreign country and left them there, and then the painful memory of her father coming home when she was nine and seeming like a stranger. She adds that, for her, “the father I had in my childhood never came back from the war.”

When Audrey met her husband David, she instantly knew two things: that he would stay by her side and that they would have children.

ADe japon (2)fter marrying and having four children, Audrey was a teacher at a boarding school where she taught English to Chinese children. She started to feel comfortable because the Asian faces reminded her of the faces of her childhood. She began to think more and more about the Far East. “It was at that moment that I realized I was ready to go back to Japan.”

As she says, “Life is like a circle.” She and her husband went to live in her parents’ house, where the living room featured prominently in her memories of Japan.

Audrey wrote a book entitled “A Tale of Two Japans: Ten Years to Pearl Harbor” based above all on her father’s letters and reports, and letters from friends. It was published in England in 2010 and then translated to Japanese and published in Japan in 2013. The title of the book refers to the peacetime Japan Audrey knew in her childhood and the military Japan of the Second World War.

Audrey is now writing her second book, in which she primarily discusses the churches with which her father was connected in Japan. When she and her husband returned to Japan in 2013, they realised that these churches had no history because their buildings were destroyed and the documents within were lost during the war.

There are two aspects of the war that Audrey absolutely cannot confront: the Holocaust and Japan’s treatment of prisoners in the Far East. “I started to read lots of books about the Holocaust and the experiences of prisoners of Japan and I still read books about those two topics,” she says.

(Translated by Roz Harvey)

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