Japan from the inside out

Nihonjin no Senso

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 6, 2009

ON SUNDAY, I served as one of the judges for the Saga Prefecture English speech contest for high school students. It was held at Imari, a country town that was once famous as the port for shipping Arita ware overseas. The views of the forests and mountains are beautiful, and I thought it would be an excellent place to spend one’s high school days.

The students might have a different view, however, especially as they get closer to graduation and either university or the workaday world beckons.

The room reserved for the judges was the school library, and when I had some free time I looked at their book selection. A student could learn quite a bit by exploring the books in that room.

Prominently displayed on a table next to the librarian’s desk was a book called Nihonjin no Senso (The War of the Japanese), edited by Donald Keene. He described the book in a recent interview in the Japan Times:

You recently published a book titled “Nihonjin no Senso” (“The War of the Japanese”). What is its theme?

It’s about what the Japanese people did during the five years from 1941, when World War II broke out, to 1945, when the Allied occupation of Japan began. That was an extremely interesting subject, because during the war my principal duty was translating handwritten Japanese documents, and though other people had great trouble reading them, I taught myself to do so. I read many diaries that were written by ordinary soldiers or sailors, not literary people. But for the book I decided to examine the diaries of literary people who could express their feelings adequately and who had kept their diaries faithfully during the war years. Their attitude was totally different and proved what I’d always believed — that the Japanese were not fanatics eager to die on a battlefield. There were such people, certainly. But there were a lot of people who were terribly unhappy about the war going on and had very strong thoughts about it. The importance of the book, I hope, will be to show the diversity among Japanese people even during the war, when everyone was expected to conform to everything the government said.

I’ll emphasize again that this book was not stuck on some shelf in a back corner, but placed on a table in the open where everyone would see it.

Some people–in East Asia, the West, and even in Japan–would have you believe the Japanese consider topics such as that off limits in schools.

Now you know how much credibility they have.

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