(This is the Introduction of my third book (collection of haiku-style poems), “Haiku Poems III”, which is half-finished for publication and still pending due to my illness. I decided to put out its Introduction here for fear that it may disappear in case something happens to me. I hope my blog friends will read it together with the Introductions of the two preceding books, “Haiku Poems” and “Haiku Poems II”. I wish I could send you all the pdfs of them.)
Introduction (to “Haiku Poems III”)
Still vivid in my memory,
I saw it happen on the night of March 10, 1945,
The ending year of the World War II.
On that night, Tokyo exposed to the severest air raids of the war.
Almost entire city was engulfed in a fire storm burning the sky.
When the fire got close only a few blocks from our house,
My father decided to abandon it.
After he briefly told my mother where to meet again,
He started digging a hole in the front yard.
I knew he was to throw into the hole the statue of Buddha, that he worshiped every morning, a book of family history, and other things important to him.
I was then seven years old.
The statue and other things he was to save from the fire were only trinkets to me.
What was left of food was wrapped in cloths, and my mother tied them around her wrists.
She also carried my baby sister on her back.
The one end of a thick string was tied around her waist, and the other end of it was given to me.
I was told to hang on to it tightly that I might never to be lost in the crowd after we joined the horde of people who were flowing along the road in front of our house to escape away from their burning houses.
I saw some bodies lying on the side of the road.
Maybe they had to rest a while or that was as far as they could walk.
“I saw so many bodies flowing in the Sumida River.”
“There were mountains of bodies in the Hibiya Park.”
Those were what some of the people in the crowd saying to each other, that I could hear.
The ground-to-air guns kept booming.
It was then that what was burned to my brain happened.
There was a sudden, a moment of flash in the dark sky.
Apparently, an enemy fighter was hit.
Then I saw a woman in the crowd with her hands steepled in the form of prayer toward where the flash occurred.
Then, I noticed some other people followed her with their hands tightly pressed palm-to-palm in the form of prayer, too.
Todays’ world dictators tell their people, “The Americans are devils trying to invade us to take everything from us.”
I was being told the same thing then, and I earnestly believed it.
I expected a joyous shouting in unison from the crowd at the downing of an enemy fighter.
Half a word of antiwar or even a slight pacifist gesture was a subject to arrest.
But no police or vigilant agents were around.
That incident has firmly stuck to my mind for more than 70 years till now.
I have come to believe peace is truly what the people in general always want from the bottom of their heart, no matter what the dictator tells them.
“The military and government idiots,” my father used to say.
Had he been an ordinary citizen, he would be under arrest on the spot.
But he had lots of money and had connections with noble families. The police wouldn’t dare to touch him.
My father was a sailor and the source of his money was smuggling. The contrabands included the “ticks”, the tiny wrist watch for ladies, which could not be produced in Japan then.
Every time he crossed the Pacific, he returned home with pocketful of them, a piece of then could be sold for a fortune in Japan then. Strangely, the government condoned such smuggling.
Some of the “ticks” were presents to powerful families of the now-defunct nobility that had daughters.
“I was the first Japanese ever climbed to the top of the Empire State Building,” my father would boast, and I believed him.
“How can Japan lick a country that makes things like that?” he would say.
“Oh, those military idiots and demons, they placed Emperor incommunicado so that they could misquote the Emperor to deceive the people.”
When he said the word “Emperor” he straightened his back.
Every time he started saying anti-war things, people around him scurried away.
“I don’t care if you don’t go to college. But go abroad just to see Japan is not the only county in the world. America would be the best place to go,” he used to say to me.
After the air raids, that killed more than 100,000 people, the war went on some five more months during which I was separated from my family to evacuate from Tokyo.
We kids in our area were sent to the northeastern rural area, but only scarce food followed us. I guess I kept myself alive by instinct by hunting for frogs, hornet hives for grubs, or anything I thought was edible.
The war ended with the explosions of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which burned another hundreds of thousands of people to death.
The A-bomb attacks give me a mixed feeling. Without them, the war continued and I would be trained to kill or to be killed under the military government.
I didn’t go to university. Instead, by coincidences, I went to America. There the people I might have been trained to kill were very kind to me.
What I learned while I was there was that, “The people make the government; not the government, the people.”
Then how should we deal with a tyrannical government using violence to control the people?
I’m reminded of a 5-7-5 poem written by Kobayashi Issa, who lived during the Tokugawa Shognate military dictatorship:
Suzume no ko
Soko noke soko nok
Ouma ga toru
My translation of it:
Oh, sparrow chicks there
Out of the way, clear the way
A horse is passing
I feel the patience and the perseverance of the poet, trying to achieve peace peacefully through poetry.