As a Japanese war orphan in China, Takayoshi Ishihara's life was one hardship after another. First his family was killed before his eyes at the end of World War II. Then he endured years of beatings by his adoptive father and taunting as a riben guizi, or Japanese devil.

Ishihara finally returned to Japan after 30 years, only to face more suffering -- shunned by his remaining relatives as an unwanted burden, in a land that scorns him as a foreigner.

Now 70, he and some 2,000 others are venting their frustrations in a series of lawsuits demanding about $280,000 each in compensation from the state.

"The Japanese government is responsible for creating orphans like us, who had no way of returning home," said Ishihara, who lives alone in bleak public housing in Tokyo. "Had the government brought us back soon after the war ended, we wouldn't have had such difficult lives."

In the first ruling on the cases in July, the Osaka District Court said the state had no legal obligation to pay compensation. But the cases have at least drawn attention to a painful human legacy of Japan's conquest and colonization of East Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

An estimated 2.8 million Japanese returned from China by ship after the chaotic collapse of Tokyo's empire, most of them in 1945 and 1946. Another 5,900 came after normalization of ties between the two states in 1972, including some 2,500 who had been abandoned in China under the age of 12.

The sons and daughters of Japanese military officials, bureaucrats and businessmen, many were too young to remember their Japanese names. But many yearned to return to their homeland.

"All I wanted was to come back to Japan," Ishihara said. "I thought I could even cope with severe poverty if I could only come back."

But coming home, the Japanese returnees faced a grim reality.

Government programs helped to match many of them with long-lost relatives and to pay their resettlement costs. But they were often shunned by families fearful of taking on financial burdens and suffered from Japanese prejudice against orphans and Chinese. They earned far below the national average, and even their children face bias.

Ishihara's ordeal began in 1944, when he was brought to Manchuria with his farming family. His father was soon drafted into the Japanese army and died of illness. At age 10, Ishihara said, he saw Soviet troops who were raiding his village kill his mother and his three little brothers.

A Chinese family took him in and named him Li Lianyu. But his adoptive father forced him to work on their farm, forbidding him to go to school and beating him frequently.

Ishihara was also picked on by village children for being Japanese. Over the years he tried to blend in, and at 23 he married a niece of his stepmother's and fathered six children. But he never forgot his Japanese background.

His chance finally came in 1977, when he arrived in Tokyo only to find that the uncle who was supposed to pick him up had backed out of the agreement, leaving the Ishihara family in the hands of two volunteer social workers.

Forced to live in low-cost housing, Ishihara worked as a dumpling factory worker and a translator before opening a small Chinese restaurant. He retired last year.

A government survey this year showed that more than 60 percent of returnees say life in China was easier than in Japan, or the same.

The government says it is doing what it can. Returnees get a one-time payment of $1,360 and are eligible for aid if they are jobless or have an exceptionally low income.

In April, the government plans to start enhancing support programs for elderly returnees, such as providing interpreters for those needing medical care.

"Those returnees are getting old," said Masaru Sasaki, a ministry official in charge of war-displaced Japanese. "Many lack language skills and are having trouble fitting into society."

Iwao Ioriya, who lived in Manchuria during the war and now helps other returnees, said the government failed them.

"Other Japanese who survived the war could at least become part of Japan's postwar recovery and its economic growth," he said. "These orphans were left behind abroad and neglected."

Takayoshi Ishihara shows a hand-drawn map of China, where he spent 30 years known as Li Lianyu, after being orphaned there during the war.Iwao Ioriya has helped others displaced by war return to Japan.