Japan’s defeat in WWII left over six million Japanese stranded in all corners of its ill-fated empire. Between 1945-1956, thousands of Japanese found themselves in the USSR and China, unable or unwilling to return. Drawing on Soviet, Chinese, Japanese and Western archives, we compare Soviet and CCP policies toward these Japanese from the end of WWII to the early Cold War years. The two nations’ distinct pathways from WWII to Cold War via the Chinese civil war led to significant differences in how the Soviet Union and CCP managed the day-to-day lives of the Japanese, the methods and messages of propaganda they adopted, and how they dealt with the repatriation issue. We demonstrate that the early Cold War did not represent a neat, settled division between two ideological camps, but was instead a much messier set of relationships embedded in East Asia’s recent wars.