Birthday: January 1, 1900
Died At Age: 86
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Born Country: Japan
Born in: Kozuchi Town (now Mino, Gifu Prefecture), Japan
Famous as: Diplomat
Spouse/Ex-: Yukiko Kikuchi (m. 1936), Klaudia Apollonova (m. 1919–1935)
father: Yoshimi Sugihara
mother: Yatsu Sugihara
children: Chiaki Sugihara, Hiroki Sugihara, Nobuki Sugihara
Died on: July 31, 1986
place of death: Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
Cause of Death: Cardiovascular Disease
education: Nagoya Shiritsu Heiwa Elementary School, Waseda University
awards: Order of the Sacred Treasure
Righteous Among the Nations
Who was Chiune Sugihara?
Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese government official who had served as the vice consul for Japan in Kaunas, Lithuania. He was the first Japanese diplomat in Lithuania. During World War II, Sugihara had assisted thousands of Jewish refugees to escape the German-occupied Western Poland and the Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland, by providing them visas for transit through Japan. He thus risked his life and job. Some Lithuanian citizens were also among those who got the transit visas. The refugees called him “Shempo.” He was awarded the honor of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Israel, for his work, and is still the only Japanese to have received the honor. Following the war, he retired to Japan. He then worked in Russia for a considerable time, before his death in 1986.
Childhood & Early Life
Chiune Sugihara was born on January 1, 1900, to Yoshimi Sugihara and Yatsu Sugihara, in Yaotsucho, between Gifu City and Nagoya, on the island of Honshu in Japan.
His father, Yoshimi, worked at a tax office in Kozuchi. Sugihara was the second son of his parents and had four brothers and a sister.
Due to his father’s job, they moved to various places, such as Asahi Village in Niu-gun, Yokkaichi City, and Nakatsu Town.
He attended many schools, such as the ‘Nakatsu Town Municipal Elementary School’ in Gifu Prefecture, the ‘Kuwana Municipal Kuwana Elementary School’ in Mie Prefecture, and the ‘Nagoya Municipal Furuwatari Elementary School.’
In 1912, he graduated from the ‘Furuwatari Elementary School,’ with top honors, and joined the ‘5th Secondary School’ of Aichi.
His father wanted Sugihara to become a doctor and urged him to appear for the entrance exam for a medical college in Seoul, but he skipped writing the exam.
He then joined the ‘Waseda University’ in Tokyo in March 1918, where he planned to major in English language. However, he was there only for a year. He had also joined the ‘Yuai Gakusha’ to brush up on his English.
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He cleared the ‘Foreign Ministry Scholarship’ exam in 1919. He then served in the ‘Imperial Army,’ from 1920 to 1922, where he was a second lieutenant in the ‘79th Infantry’ in Korea (then a Japanese colony).
He resigned in November 1922. Following this, he cleared the foreign ministry’s Russian-language exam. He earned a job at the Japanese foreign ministry and was assigned to Harbin, a city established by Russians, in the northeast of China. There, he learned both Russian and German and became a Russian-affairs expert. He attended the ‘Harbin Gakuin,’ which was a training center for Soviet experts.
In 1932, he negotiated with the Russian government for the acquisition of the stretch of the ‘Chinese Eastern Railway’ crossing Manchuria. The stretch was renamed ‘North Manchuria Railway’ in June 1933.
In 1935, he criticized the Japanese army and their means. As a mark of protest, he quit his post in Harbin and went back to Japan.
His Stint in Lithuania
Since he was well-versed in Russian, the Japanese sent him to Kovno, the capital of Lithuania, in November 1939. His job was to provide information to Japan on German and Soviet army movements in the Baltic.
Sugihara also provided information to the Polish underground agencies in Lithuania and arranged visas for their transit through Japan in the year 1940. After the Soviet invasion of Lithuania in June 1940, the Soviet secret police started making arrests in large numbers.
Sugihara realized that the best escape route for the Jewish refugees in Lithuania was through a Japanese route that also passed through the Soviet Union.
In 1940, he was approached by refugees with fake visas for Curacao and other places in America. With no clear order from Tokyo, he gave them 10-day visas for passing through Japan. Before the closure of his consulate in late 1940, Sugihara also made visa arrangements for refugees who could not provide travel papers.
Sugihara asked the refugees to call him "Sempo" the Sino-Japanese version of the Japanese characters of his name, to make it easier for non-Japanese people to pronounce.
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After issuing around 1,800 visas, he received an order from Tokyo to only issue visas to those who had completed proper procedure and had enough money to sustain during their stay.
Sugihara responded by saying that he had already issued visas to people who did not have papers because Japan was the only available country for safe passage for refugees who wished to go to the United States, and his visas were crucial for their exit from the Soviet Union.
When Sugihara left Lithuania, he had already issued 2,140 visas. However, not all who had the visas could leave Lithuania before the Soviet Union stopped issuing exit visas.
Sugihara left Lithuania in September 1940. Japan first transferred him to Prague in Bohemia and then sent him to Bucharest in Romania (an ally of Germany). He stayed there till the end of the war.
After the War
After the Soviet invasion in 1944, Sugihara and other diplomats from enemy nations were arrested. The Soviet held Sugihara and his family for the following 3 years. After his return to Japan in 1947, the foreign ministry made Sugihara retire with a small pension.
In his later years, Sugihara lived with his family in Fujisawa in the Kanagawa prefecture. He worked many menial jobs, which included door-to-door sales of bulbs. From 1960 to 1975, he worked for a Japanese export company located in Moscow, leaving his family back in Japan.
He subsequently received the title of the "Righteous Among the Nations" for helping the refugees in Lithuania during the war, from ‘Yad Vashem,’ the ‘Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority’ in Israel. The title was conferred in 1984, and in January 1985, a ceremony was held in Jerusalem for the same. Owing to Sugihara’s deteriorating physical condition, his wife and his youngest son, Nobuki, accepted the titled on his behalf.
Family, Personal Life & Death
During his years in Harbin, he got acquainted with a Russian lady named Klaudia (or Klavdiya) Semionovna Apollonova. They got married in 1919 but divorced in 1935.
In 1936, he married Yukiko Kikuchi, who was 13 years younger than him. Yukiko was a writer and poet. She was the eldest daughter of a school principal in Kagawa. She was also a member of the ‘Kanagawa Prefecture Poetry Committee.’
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They had four children. Their eldest son, Hiroki, was born in 1936. Their second son, Chiaki, was born in Helsinki in 1938. Both studied in California.
Their third son, Haruki, was born in 1940 in Kaunas. He died of leukemia at age 7. Their fourth son, Nobuki, was born in 1949. He is the head of ‘NPO Sugihara,’ which is based in Belgium and focuses on peace in the Middle East.
Sugihara died on July 31, 1986, in Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan. He was survived by his wife, children, nine grandchildren (eight of whom are still alive) and seven great-grandchildren.
The Sugihara Street in Lithuania, the Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara Street in Israel, and the asteroid ‘25893 Sugihara’ were named in his honor. The ‘Sugihara Chiune Memorial Hall’ in Yaotsu, Japan, was opened in 2000.
The ‘Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum’ in Tsuruga, Japan, and the ‘Sugihara House Museum’ in Kaunas, Lithuania, recognize his efforts.
A sakura park consisting of 200 trees was opened in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2001, as a celebration of Sugihara’s 100th anniversary.
The ‘Chiune Sugihara Memorial, Hero of the Holocaust’ in Los Angeles hosts a life-sized statue of Sugihara on a bench, with a visa in his hand.
He received the ‘Commander's Cross with the Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta,’ posthumously, in 2007.
He was also awarded the ‘Commander's Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland’ in 1996. In 1993, he received the ‘Life Saving Cross of Lithuania.’ He was also given the ‘Sakura Award’ by the ‘Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre’ in Toronto, posthumously, in 2014.
A number of books, TV programs, and films have been inspired by his work. One such piece, the book ‘Visas for Life,’ was written by his wife, Yukiko, and translated into English by his son Hiroki.