70 Years Ago, the War Ended

A dark night of the ending year of the war

70 years ago and I was 7 when the major air raid attacked our town

I was hanging on as I was told to the one end of a rope

The other end was tied around the waist of my mother

So that I would not be lost in the crowd as we walked

A dark night but there was light in the sky

It was the reflection of fire storm on the ground

There was nothing they could do

But abandon their houses and flee from them for their lives

A dark night and the fire was only about 100 meters from our house

When my father decided then that we leave the house and join the crowd

But he said he would stay on in the house to do what he could

To save whatever he could in a hole he dug in front of the house

He was to burry a statue of Buddha and other things of value to him in it

In the dark of the night my mother carried my baby brother on her back

Some food and other things we might need if we could survive

Were wrapped in cloths and they were hanging from her hands

I walked as fast as I could so I won’t be left from the crowd

The people in the crowd do not speak a word but only walked

A dark night and they don’t seem to know where they are going

They were only walking from their burning houses

They aren’t sure if they will have places to return when the air raid is over

They are walking only because they don’t want to die

We only followed the crowd

Then I saw what I’ve never forgotten for the past 70 years

In the sky of the dark night, there was a flash of light

One of the booming cannons must have hit a plane

It was no doubt an enemy pane

What appeared to be a parachute jumped out of the plane

The white object quickly disappeared in the darkness

Some people in the crowd who saw it stopped walking

They steepled their hands toward the plane bowing their heads

Other people also stopped walking  pressing their palms together

I felt strange because from what I heard people talk about “American devils”

A joyous shout from the crowd in union seemed to be more in order

But all the people were bowing their heads in prayer

At 7 I was too young to know anything

But instinctively knew they did not want the war

They were simply forced to follow what the military ordered them

In those days, I knew even a slight hint of an antiwar word

Or a praise for an enemy in the war

Would be subject to arrest by special police

There were always the vigilante in the neighborhood

But my father was dangerously outspoken

As a sailor on oceangoing ships, he had seen the enemy country

“America is not a country that Japan’s military can lick,” he would say

I was too young to understand the words he uttered

But the words still ring in my head today

“I was the first Japanese to be on the top of the Empire State Building”

That’s what he often boasted and I believed him

He talked of the Paramount Theater, Gone with the Wind, Golden Gate Bridge, etc.

“The carpet in the theater is so thick my shoes were buried in it,” he’d say

“They can make that kind of a color picture. How can anyone beat them?”

“Those idiots in the military,” he would shout

“If they had been to America and seen things there

“They wouldn’t even think of a war like this

“They are simply idiots. Just because they have big ships and guns

“They think they have all the power in the world”

Our neighbors would scurry away whenever he shouted things

They were afraid they might be caught by the vigilante and taken to the police

But my father was free from such arrest

My father had lots of money

Smuggling was how he made sumptuous amount of money

His main contrabands were tiny wrist watches called “ticks” for ladies

Wealthy noble families of those days would pay fortunes for them

Japan then had not the technology to produce such things

They were ideal items for the ladies of the noble families to flaunt

My father brought home a pocket-full of them after each sailing

For some reason, the government connived at such smuggling then

The money made him an outstanding person in the neighborhood

The “ticks” also helped him to make connections with powerful families

So neither the special police nor the vigilante could touch him

“Those military idiots have the power of violence to control others”

His words still sound in my mind, with some meaning now

“The military must always be under the rule of the Emperor and the government

“But once a conflict breaks out with other countries, they overpower

“They are now keeping even the Emperor incommunicado”

He would bow his head every time he said “Emperor”

“Don’t you ever join the military when you grow up,” he’d say to me

“I don’t care if you don’t go to school, but go abroad – America, for instance

“And learn that Japan is not the only country in the world

“There are other people there. Their culture is different from ours

But the people are just like us”

More than 100,000 people died in the air raid on our city on that night

While walking in the crowd, news went around from mouth to mouth

Many people jumped into the Sumida River to escape from the burning houses

There was a mountain of dead bodies in the Hibiya central park

They were all people who did not want the war

Five more months the war went on killing many more hundreds of thousands

The explosions of atom bombs over two cities put an end to the war

Another hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians died in the explosions

They were the same sort of he people with whom I walked in the crowd

They would steeple their hands and bow their heads even at the death of enemy fighter

Had the war continued, I would have forcibly been trained to be a soldier to kill and die

Instead, even in those distorted days after the war, I had a chance to go to America

My father was right.

No mothers and fathers of those killed in the war held enmity toward me

They didn’t want the war themselves in the first place

I met a mother of a fighter pilot who went missing and found dead decades later

She talked to me about her son in so many occasions

She sounded extremely angry

But not to me though I was a person from the former enemy country

Her anger was directed to someone, or something, else that I want to know

(Aug. 2015, AshiAkira)

49 Responses to 70 Years Ago, the War Ended

  1. This is incredible. I can feel everything through your words. Thank you for sharing such a personal, priceless memory.
    I had 5 uncles who served in that war. One was shot down over the Sea of Japan. He was rescued by an allied sub. But that was all I knew. None of them talked about the war, the tales were too terrible to tell.
    Thank you again for sharing this. I’m honored to read your words.

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  3. Lori Lipsky says:

    Thank you for sharing from the heart this revealing story. I’m deeply touched by it, and will not soon forget your words.

  4. Bill Bisgood says:

    Ashi, My heart goes out to you, such a lot to carry.
    Regards
    Bill

  5. Spine tingling. What a time to have lived through.

  6. Heartafire says:

    This experience that you have shared brings tears to my eyes, Ashi. When I imagine the innocents suffering and dying It is heartbreaking, and still the innocents die in wars around the globe. Thank you for sharing this, it reminds us that war touches us all and the collateral damage is intolerable. Much love to you!

  7. inavukic says:

    So powerful, so poignant – so enriching. All the more, Ashi, from the perspective of knowing such terror and helplessness when in the same “community” some want war and others don’t…the very best in this is to know that for the “lucky” ones life can offer control of destiny and peace. THANK YOU FOR THIS! I am touched.

  8. hsampson says:

    あきらさん、これを共有していただきありがとうございます。
    私は深く感動します。
    私はあなたのために尊敬の多くを持っています。
    がんばってね!

  9. gigoid says:

    Powerful and intimate, my friend. Your experiences shaped you; it is no wonder to me now you have such a fine touch with haiku….

    我々 は、私たちは永遠に、彰さんの間の平和があります。

    gigoid, aka, Ned

  10. コメントが重複してしまいまして申し訳ありません。
    貴重なお話を聞かせて下さり心から感謝申し上げます。何度読み返しても涙を流してしまいます。戦争を知らない私ですが、戦争を知らないからで、知らない(知りたくない)、ということは、情けないことだと思います。本当はぜひ機会を見つけ、お会いしたりして伝えきれない感謝の気持ちをお伝えしたいです・・。「伊奈葉くん」を読ませていただいたこと、光栄に思います。

    • AshiAkira says:

      お手数かけて申し訳ありません。読んで頂き、私の方こそ深く感謝、感激しております。コンピューターは苦手で、ミススペルや多少手を入れたいところがあっても、もうこのままにしておきます。カメラにfoolproofというのがあるのですから、コンピューターにもあって良さそうなものだと思うのですが。。。(押し付けるようなことはしたくないのですが、「伊奈葉さん…」のほうも読んで頂ければ幸いです。)

  11. Mustang.Koji says:

    What a powerful story told in a poem, Akira-san… Much thought, feelings and remembering of horrible moments… Superb.

    Humanity is so peculiar. Here, our two countries were deadlocked in a vicious war 70 years ago. While a minority understandably harbor Ill will towards a once enemy (on both sides of the ocean), Japanese Jieitai now train alongside the same 1st Division US Marines they fought against in the Pacific. If they had to go to war now, I am positive one would give their life to protect the other.

    I apologize for missing your wonderful story until now… 宜しくお願い致します。

    • AshiAkira says:

      Thank you for reading the story. Very much appreciated. Wars are unnecessary severe suffering for the weak, and they are still going on in many parts of the world. Makes me so sad.

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  13. jfwknifton says:

    An outstanding piece of work. Thank you for sharing it with us. Most memorable line?
    “There are other people there. They are just like us”

  14. This poem tells it all. So many of the Syrians struggling to get to Europe, or any place of safety, are your men who do not want to be soldiers or have to kill people, they would rather study and earn a living.

    • AshiAkira says:

      I wish all of them good luck. They are victims of the greedy dictator. I’m worried that the same sort of thing might happen here The history is likely to repeat itself. This time, not against America, but with America.

  15. missmonsoon says:

    Mr Ashiaki this poem is itself a story of heartful cries.. i couIn’t help wondering how you must feel. I worry for you. Thank you for being alive and sharing this.🙂

    • AshiAkira says:

      Thank you Missmonsoon for reading the poem. What I’m worried about now is that the government-proposed bills that allow Japan to send armed forces overseas were passed by the parliament just this morning in disregard of our Pacifist Constitution. This is tantamount to dictatorship. The history is now becoming likely to repeat itself.

      • missmonsoon says:

        Human minds can never be understood Mr Ashiaki. There are some who worry war and its consequences, some who want revenge….But that act will only be a doom. i wish there was a way, one could get into thick skulls of thoses…

      • AshiAkira says:

        You are right. Trying to understand your mind is trying to look at your face with your own eyes. You have to settle with looking at your face reflected on a mirror. But still we must be intelligent enough by now to settle out disputes without the use of violence. Charlie Chaplin said in his movie, “Violence begets violence.” I think he is right. We have to stop being so primitive.🙂

      • missmonsoon says:

        Very true but alas…there are many who don’t get this. They will spread the fire, few of us who are willing to splash the water will only vaporise.
        I hope everyone reaches out for your blog. A tale from a survivor ought to start a ripple of effect🙂

      • AshiAkira says:

        Knowing there is at least one person who reads my stuff so seriously gives me the encouragement of a million people.🙂

  16. Ashi, I am speechless. I’ve read and re-read this bit words don’t come to me right now. this is such a raw piece that’s come from the very depths and I can almost visualise the intensity of that night. Bravo! And I hope never again, anywhere else in the world…

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    • AshiAkira says:

      You caught it well and expressed it well
      A great poem
      It reassured me that there will always a way open
      In a right direction
      As long as there is the determination in the core of your heart
      That you will live a right life

  18. Your poem is so beautiful, poignant and wrenching, Ashi. I can’t believe Japan has made the decision to re-arm, but I know darn well the US pushed it into this because of China’s huge increase in military spending and financial crises, and North Korea’s insane sabre rattling. I’m afraid a lot is going on behind the scenes with alliances and mis-alliances. China has imperial ambitions, no oriental nation is safe, And they have the largest standing army in the world. Putin is playing a role stirring things up, he was just in China. WHEN will we learn to live in peace? So distressing. So futile. You have a blessing and talent, Ashi, to persist in hope, throwing at these ugly beasts cherry blossoms, butterflies and the exquisite insufferable pangs of the human heart. Anger, hatred, violence in the name of a worthy cause are our fatal flaws as a species. Thank God for the redemption of the beauty of poetry and its persistence in the human heart against all odds.

    • AshiAkira says:

      Thank you so much for taking the trouble of writing such a helpful reply.
      I think everything you said about the current world condition is true. To cope with such a condition, I suppose the contents of the bills forced through the parliament are acceptable to some extent. But manipulating and ignoring the constitution in order to pass the bills make me feel cold water run through my spine. The US drafted the Pacifist Constitution for Japan in those days. It was to pull the teeth out of Japan so that it would never become a fish bone in the throat again. But Japan became a loyal ally to the US, and the US needed Japan on its side. This is more so militarily in the today’s world. Those “idiots” surrounding us can think of nothing but satisfying their greed, and violence is the only means they can think of to get what they want at the cost of the peaceful lives of the weak.
      Though nothing is wrong with Japan’s siding with the US for policing this dangerous part of the world. But I feel much more danger if the government takes over the ability to freely interpret the constitution as it likes in order to use the military force in the world theater again.
      If you think Japan is a democratic country, I’m afraid you are only half right. Our head of the government is elected indirectly through the parliament. And the current ruling party has held the majority seats in the parliament almost all the time since the end of the war. This happened because our electoral system is made up of small electoral districts in each of which the residents know each other, including who would vote for whom in elections. And the ruling party keeps the strong control grip on most of the districts.
      So it is easy for ambitious politicians to lead the country to a military power again. The Pacifist Constitution is the decisive safety catch to prevent this. The intention of the US to write the constitution as it was written might have been to keep Japan militarily weak and obedient. But it perfectly reflected the desire of most of the people who refused ever to have another war.
      Thus the Pacifist Constitution is the greatest gift ever given to us in our history. We had the “idiots.” So why not “brilliants” this time to keep the constitution alive for another 70 years to come. After all it should be the job of our leaders to lead the world to peace and prosperity. I don’t know of such a leader in our world history, but it does not mean we can’t have one.🙂

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