Table Speech

Legacy Left by the Taisho-era Born Youth to the Japan of Today 

June 6, 2012

Mr. Ryusho Kadota
Non-fiction Writer

 I published the third-volume Sinking Battleship Yamato from Shogakukan Inc. on April 20th, which concludes with The Pacific War: Last Testimonies series, following the first-volume Suicide Attacks by Zeros and the second-volume Honorable Defeat of the Army. I engaged myself in this series all because I wanted people to know what the “Taisho-era born generation” left to the Japan of today.

 My aunts and uncles were born during the Taisho era and I have been impressed by their resolute attitude from my early childhood. They toiled away in silence, with great diligence and self-giving manners. Such Taisho-era born young men were the main forces of the Pacific War.

 I feel strong resentment toward the postwar journalism that took a one-sided view and targeted those young soldiers as evil criminals or aggressors. I have long questioned the basis of their argument, because all the Taisho-born people I know are of noble character, far from being like criminals.

 Some take an opposite view and advocate that the Greater East Asia War was a war of justice. I don’t support this argument either. Justice has diverse factors, and therefore, war cannot be simply classified as being just or evil. The essence of an issue is multifaceted and good aspect can turn evil when viewed from a different perspective. It is regrettable that postwar journalism in Japan has regarded soldiers sent to deadly battles in the Pacific War as criminals and demeaned their dignity.

 I interviewed more than 100 war veterans across Japan to get their true feelings and published The Last Testimonies series. There were 13.48 million males born during the Taisho-era, of which 2 million were killed in the war. One-seventh of them lost their life, making it the most tragic period in the Japanese history. Taisho-born youth kept advancing by making charges at the forefront of hellish battlefield. War survivors kept making courageous advances for economic development even after the war, filled with deep sorry for their lost comrades. We should not forget their unrelenting efforts brought high and rapid economic growth to this country, a miraculous achievement of the 20th century.

 What happened to Japan when the Taisho-born generation started to retire from the forefront of society around the 1990s? With their retirement, the most superior quality of the Japanese got lost, including high moral standards, diligence, perseverance and determination. As a result, the so-called “Lost Decade” extended to over 20 years, and now we have entered the third decade. Japan seems to follow a path of permanent decline.

 The Taisho-born generation had a “sense of shame” handed down from their parents born during the Meiji era. An American female cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote “Japan has a ‘shame’ culture” in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, by making comparison with the Western ‘guilt” culture. I think Ruth Benedict’s analysis is correct. The Japanese people have been taught to have a “sense of shame.” Countries around the world were astonished to know no looting broke out in a chaotic situation after the Great East Japan Earthquake last year.

 I learnt through my interviews with many Taisho-born fighters of the Pacific War that they were not brainwashed militarists, but they were just determined to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their family and nation. For those who had a sense of shame, it was a natural course to die for his country and family in crisis. They fought for their family, and kept working hard in silence to keep their family safe.

 I published the three-volume The Pacific War: Last Testimonies, because I knew there was not much time left to get the real feelings from war veterans who are about 90 years old. There were 3,332 crewmen on board the battleship Yamato, proud to fight for Okinawa. Overwhelming air attacks by the US brought a tragic end to Yamato and only 276 crewmen survived. They still regret today for not being able to safeguard Okinawa.

 I interviewed Mr. Kameyama (90 years old) currently living in Gifu Prefecture:
 “I shouted ‘banzai’ as Yamato sank, standing near the main cannon. I heard many shouts of ‘banzai’ from here and there. Right before Yamato capsized, I managed to reach the waterline on the starboard side. Yamato kept sinking but it was still moving.”

 As Mr. Kameyama lapsed into unconsciousness, his mother’s image appeared before him. When he regained consciousness, he found himself floating in the sea of fuel oil. Yamato exploded and he was blown away and barely escaped death.

 After returning to Kure, Mr. Kameyama dedicated himself to sorting out letters sent from families of soldiers. Every soldier wrote the last letter to his family in the morning he departed for an attack. Families sent back letters which were never opened. Mr. Kameyama read and classified those letters. He said quietly, “As I read those letters, I learnt the souls of the deceased went back to their loved ones, even though their flesh passed out of existence. Their thoughts reached the loved ones.”

 We should keep in mind the legacy left by the Taisho-era born youth to us living in Japan today. It is my sincere wish that we listen to the remarkable achievements made by our “proud seniors” and learn from their pride, resolute attitude, determination as well as a sense of mission and responsibility. I believe learning from them will enable a revitalized Japan to emerge from its protracted turmoil.