Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The War After the War

"There was a war before you were born. Many Japanese died because of that war. So, the Japanese declared no more wars. Despite the pledge, we may be drawn into another war. Mind you, it may come anytime! Let's examine what life is like in war time and post war time. You are fortunate being surrounded with an abundance of food. However, almost all food in Japan is imported. Once war is triggered, incoming food supplies will be stopped. How can any nation survive without food? When I was a child, country farming flourished. People were always conscious of the labor of farmers and were thankful for their harvest. 'Itadakimasu' means true appreciation before enjoying a meal. It is important to remember that many Japanese died from starvation during and after the war. Many of us abhor wars. The best advice is to never engage in war. I strongly emphasize that war is always destructive, never constructive. Above all, respect one another. Those of us who experienced war will be gone by the time you grow into adulthood. Please heed our advice. Please mull over the information received from this book. Discuss war with your friends. Discussion amongst yourselves is absolutely essential. Learn the importance of negotiation. Pay attention to what's happening all over the world and strive to make it a better place. Namaste"

So wrote Akiyuki Nosaka, in the epilog of the Grave of the Fireflies in 2006. It was in l967 that Akiyuki Nosaka, a Conte (short story) writer, singer, essayist was awarded with the "Naoki" Award, a Japanese literary award for his Grave of the Fireflies along with America Hijiki.

40 years have passed since then. As I was in the U.S., I didn't know until recently that he became a politician. He campaigned to serve in the lower house, failed in his first try, won the second campaign and served one term, then went back to his original literary profession. He also won awards around the turn of the century, including the Kyoka Izumi Award. He is a controversial, sometimes quite obnoxious person. I learned he suffered a stroke in 2003 and was in rehabilitation. I saw his latest photo with a cane and his trademark dark glasses and a white hat. He stands erect and looks vigorous. I saw his column in the Mainichi Newspaper entitled "With 7 Falls and 8 Rises." Actually he said he had rolled down 7 times and fell down 8. He admitted that the title was his wishful thinking. Now he has just started writing his Will to Japan. I'd like to read it.

He was slightly older than me but we were part of the same generation who lived through WWII and hungry young days. "Grave of Fireflies" is his biographical story. Seita and Setsuko were brother and sister who lost their mother in the air-raid of the Allies and were taken to live with their aunt's family. Their father was a naval officer, gone to war. Seita and Setsuko were mistreated by their aunt, so they made the lakeside cave shelter their home away from their aunt's house. There were no lights in the shelter at night except for fireflies caught in their mosquito net. Abused and neglected by kin and undernourished, Setsuko died first. Diarrhea ridden Seita followed shortly thereafter wandering out at half destroyed Sannomiya Station, Kobe. An empty "Sakuma" brand can was held in Seita's hand and contained only a piece of Setsuko's small bone. It was a can used all the time by Setsuko. When she found it empty, she put water in and drank saying "so sweety". This story haunts me whenever I pass through Sannomiya.

My father was drafted into the army at age 40 as a coast guard in Kochi. I remember, in the 1940's (not a teenager yet), I used to ride my bicycle to the countryside to ask farmers for crops - rice and wheat (impossible to obtain as they were rationed items), carrots, daikon (radish), green peas, sweet potatoes, Japanese cabbage, etc. Green peas were grandpa's favorite. I always rushed home with whatever I got, but I particularly hurried when I had green peas just to see grandpa's smile. There were days I came home without any harvest. Strangely enough, I don't remember how I paid. I'm sure I paid. Mom gave me some money from her purse. After my father's homecoming, we rented a tiny plot of land in Sakurai about 25 kilometers away from our home, and planted sweet potatoes. Our entire family walked all the way with a cart full of hoes and spades to cultivate the land for our survival. Alas, I will never forget the delectable taste of the first year crops.

Wishing Nosaka's health and recovery, I look forward to reading his Will to Japan available soon to us. Let us be happier without war and without nuclear bombs.


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