Monday, August 23, 2010

Burning in Moonlight

Hachirô Sasaki 1922-1945, was a graduate of the Imperial University of Tokyo, volunteered to be a tokkôtai (kamikaze) pilot in February 1945. He died the following April, a navy ensign. He was 22 years old. His diary was titled, A Testament of the Youth: Diary and Love, in the Absence of Life.

From his diary…

‘Finally I will join the Navy on December 1. In anticipation, I have trained my body by swimming, gymnastics, and target practice. I am confident about my strength. We must now be the shield to protect the eternal life of our nation by going to the front to prevent the enemy’s advance as much as possible…Even if I fall, society does not rely on one individual. I am not concerned and shall eagerly go to the front.

If one thinks of a young life who dies in a state of purity and beauty one even regrets that a human being is essentially a political animal. I know it comes from sentimentalism, but if one must die, one wishes to die beautifully.’

Quoting writer-poet Kenji Miyazawa, Sasaki writes a passage echoing his own thoughts…

‘I don’t know if I am supposed to win this war but I will fight as much as I can, leaving my fate in your hands…I pray that we will see the day as soon as possible when we welcome a world in which we do not have to kill enemies who we cannot hate. For this end, I would not mind my body being ripped innumerable times.’

Tadao Hayashi 1922-1945, attended the Third Higher School and then the Imperial University of Kyoto. He was drafted as a student soldier in December 1943. He died at the age of 23, shot down by an American fighter plane. His diary was titled, My Life Burning in Moonlight.

From the diary…

‘I feel I have to accept the fate of my generation to fight in the war and die. I call it “fate,” since we have to go to the battlefield to die without being able to express our opinions, criticize and argue pros and cons of issues, and behave with principles, that is, after being deprived of my own agency…To die in the war, to die at the demand of the nation—I have no intention whatsoever to praise it; it is a great tragedy.

I do not avoid sacrifice. I do not refuse the sacrifice of my self. However, I cannot tolerate the reduction of the self to nothingness in the process. I cannot approve it. Martyrdom or sacrifice must be done at the height of self-realization. Sacrifice at the end of self-annihilation, the dissolving of the self to nothingness, has no meaning whatsoever.

The hard part is not death, but to live. At the height of life, life is terminated, the curtain goes down. Maybe it is splendid. After the climax the messenger of death arrives without notice. This is a splendid scenario. But it is unbearably miserable if one dies after a life in which one cannot devote oneself to one’s task and one cannot express oneself.’

Norimitsu Takushima 1921-1945, was drafted into the Imperial Navy out of Keio University in September 1943. He died in April 1945, a lieutenant, age 24. After his death, his father titled his son’s diary, The Writing Left Behind: Cape Jasmine—for the Beloved People of My Homeland. The Japanese for cape jasmine translates as “flower without a mouth” or perhaps more aptly, “flower without a voice.”

From his diary…

‘The Japanese are very sentimental. It is quite convenient for the dictators. The idea that one is patriotic and thus would sacrifice oneself is a thought for the stupid masses. It is a type of narcissistic mania…I advocate free contacts and exchange among the peoples of the world. I hate the rise of nationalism…According to my view, the nation now takes absolute control over individuals. Turning around 180 degrees from the Romantic to the Realist, I am looking at the moon and smiling.

With the rise of nationalism, people start to emphasize their superiority. The Germans do so. There is no way to judge the superiority of one people. That is nothing but self-deception or self-indulgence…

To the other world where my mother lives all alone,

I shall bring the honor from the battlefield.’

Photo: Female students waving blooming cherry blossoms as tokkôtai planes take off, April 1945.

The diary entries and photos (yesterday and today) all come from the outstanding book by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2006.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America