During World War II, Tatsuo Osako worked aboard a Japanese passenger ship, the Amakasu-maru, which brought hundreds of refugees on the three-day journey from the Siberian city of Vladivostok to Tsuruga, Japan. Most were Jews who had fled to the Soviet Union from areas controlled by the Nazis, or were fleeing from the Soviet Union once Hitler invaded. Throughout his life, Osako kept photographs of seven people he had rescued, which they had given him as a small token of appreciation; after his death in 2009, his friend Akira Kitade went about tracking them down. Hillel Kuttler writes:
From September 1940 to June 1941, the Amakasu-maru and other vessels ferried refugees from the Nazis to shelter in Japan. According to a nine-page memoir Osako wrote in 1995, he worked more than twenty such voyages. Kitade said Osako estimated that there were 400 passengers aboard each. . . .
This incredible story reaches . . . all the way to Chiune Sugihara, Japan’s consul in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas. It was thanks to Sugihara that most of these passengers reached Vladivostok, likely on the Trans-Siberian railway. Beginning in the summer of 1940, Sugihara, defying his foreign-ministry superiors in Tokyo, issued what Yad Vashem . . . later estimated to be 3,500 transit visas, with which refugees could cross the Soviet Union and reside temporarily in Japan.
The Amakasu-maru’s staff likely didn’t know of Sugihara. The Japan Tourist Bureau, for which Osako, then in his mid-twenties, worked, contracted with an American company and several Jewish organizations to handle the sea crossings. His tasks included checking names and visas against the manifest and disbursing funds forwarded for each traveler. The work was complicated, he wrote, by the pitching boat that often relegated him to bed with seasickness, particularly during winter storms.