Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"One Man's Justice" by Akira Yoshimura

One Man's Justice by Akira Yoshimura  (1978-trans. by Mark Ealey)

One Man's Justice by Akira Yoshimura presents a vivid finely detailed portrait of how life was for the
ordinary Japanese right after the end of WWII.  Post war Japan was a horrible place.   The newspapers were predicting that ten million or more will starve to death in the next winter.    All the cities are in near total ruin.   Everyone seems to be doing all they can to ingratiate themselves to their new American masters.   Prior to
surrender the Japanese people had been told that the Americans would be sending in special "Rape Squads" of all black soldiers.   (Of course the Japanese media never covered what happened to the women of  China under the Japanese rule.)   As it turns out, it appears to many conservative Japanese  that the women of Japan are eager to  form bonds with the American soldiers.    Many sell themselves to the Americans.    American soldiers are free to treat the Japanese citizens with utter contempt.   Famine and Plague are lose on the land.   

     As the novel opens I feel myself with no sympathy or concern for the sufferings of the people of Japan or the characters of the book.  I know what they did to the Philippines and other countries they
conquered. The central character in the novel, Takuya, was an officer in the Japanese imperial army.   He was attached to an antiaircraft unit in south Japan.   This was a critical area of defense for the Japanese as this is where they predicted the American invasion would begin.   Takuya witnesses first hand the terrible destruction caused by the raids of the American heavy bombers     Much of the bombing is concentrated on nonmilitary targets and is calculated to kill women and children.   Massive raids  with fire bombs are carried out on cities with nearly all wooden housing.   Takuya sees the charred bodies of babies and goes with one of his subordinates looking for the man's mother.   They find her burned to death.   To Takuya the deliberate killing of civilians in an area with no military importance seems to be a war crime.   Of course he knows nothing about the actions of the Japanese military outside of Japan.   Takuya's unit has in its control a  number of  Americans who became captives when their  B-52s were shot down.   He resents greatly the need to feed them.   

   " Subsequent reports described citizens who had fled during the night returning to survey the smoldering embers of what had been their houses that morning.   Later several dozen people gathered around the front
gate of the headquarters complex, clamoring for the execution of the captive fliers.   There were said to be a large number of women among the crowd, and some of them were weeping as they screamed for crewmen to be killed."

Takuya agrees with the crowd.   His superiors make a decision to execute all of the captive American.   Before this can be done every thing changes in a few terrible seconds.

   "Western Command staff tried to contact the Central Regional Command Head Quarters in Hiroshima..they received an update from Imperial Command in Tokyo to the effect that Hiroshima had been completely devastated, and tens of thousands of people had been killed or wounded...Takuya and his colleagues realized that this bomb must possess a fearful destructive power far exceeding that of a normal bomb" .

The Russians now decide to declare war on the Japanese and clearly intend to invade from the north.   Another unfathomable explosion takes place over Nagasaki.   To Tayuya the Americans seemed intent on removing all Japanese from the face of the earth, as if they were the lowest of vermin.   Remember, he does not know what the Japanese have done to those they conquered or what there plans were had they won.

Then his superiors tell everyone to assemble.   At first he does not believe it when he hears the 
Emperor announce that Japan is surrendering unconditionally    A man thought a god  says the unthinkable over the radio (and evidently in what some have said was a very high pitched voice).   Japan has been defeated.   At first Tayuga thinks it may be a ploy to get the Americans to come  ashore where they could then be destroyed by the millions of Japanese raised since birth to die for their Emperor.

The commanders of his unit decide to carry on with the executions of their American captives even though Japan has surrendered to the Americans.   The defining and proudest moment of Tayuga's live comes when he is able to remove the head of a captive American with one swipe of his sword..

Within a few days Americans are everywhere.   Some lucky women find American boyfriends, to Tayuga's great shame.   No one can be found who supported the war effort.   Everyone takes as their official position that the Japanese people were the victims of the leaders of the Imperial Army.   The Emperor, for whom they would once have gladly given their lives, is seen as either as a pawn and fool or a war criminal.     Their living God is a figure of jokes.    Tayuga reads some horrible news.   Japanese soldiers who merely slapped an American soldier are being sent to the gallows.   (Japanese officers routinely slapped their own soldiers for minor offenses.)   Through out Japan the Americans aided by a legion of Japanese officials (all of whom, of course, had nothing to do with any even slightly improper behavior) are relentlessly looking for thousands of people classified as war criminals.   Tayuga knows he is among them as the Americans have arrested the commander of his old unit as a war criminal.   He denies giving an order to execute the Americans and says his lower officers acted on their own against his policy in carrying out the executions.  Dishonor is everywhere.  People score points with the Americans and settle old scores by turning in neighbors.   People who had planned to die fighting the Americans run eagerly after their trucks hoping the Americans will throw them some food.

Tayuga knows he has to go underground to avoid death on the gallows.   The story is so well told that I begin to feel a vestige of sympathy for him.    At first he stays with old army friends but their wives do not want him around bringing danger to the family and eating their short in supply food.   He assumes a false name and life history.   We come to see what the samurai imperial tradition has been reduced too.   I began to almost wish that Tayuga will escape capture.  (This is a leap for me as my Father served with the U S Army during WWII in the Philippines and New Guinea and if captured Tayuga would have been proud to execute him.)    I do not wish to detail any more of the plot as I really hope that others will read this book.

The story is wonderfully told.   It is in part a universal tale of a defeated soldier returning home to a country that does not want him around,  as a reminder of what happened.    Japanese will experience this book in a different way than westerners, I think.   Those of us whose fathers, grandfather, and great grandfathers fought
on the other side will see it differently.   It is a simple fact that given the opportunity the Japanese and Germans would have carpet bombed the USA, UK  and Australia with atom bombs.   To me the fact that the book can make us see an enemy as human shows the artistic wonder of One Man's Justice.  

There are a lot of things to be learned from this novel.   We learn how the match industry worked in post war Japan.  We learn about food rationing and the post war diet.  We see what once proud military officers will do to avoid the gallows. The same officers who would  once have proudly lead suicide attacks now grovel before the Americans.  

     To me One Man's Justice is a great novel.   It should be "must" reading for anyone seeking to understand the Japanese experience of defeat.   Nothing in their tradition or religious views prepared them for defeat.
Their old faith in the Emperor and the samurai tradition  seems like the faith of fools and pawns,  a faith almost calculated to produce a nation of slaves.

     One Man's Justice is exciting from start to finish.   It is an easy to follow narrative.   I recommend it without reservation.  

  Mel u
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Unknown said...

You write the most comprehensive reviews, Melvin!

Anna said...

Wonderful review! I really need to read more about the Japanese aspect of the war, so I'll keep this one in mind. I'll get your review up on War Through the Generations soon.

Diary of an Eccentric

Suko said...

I agree with Peter. This is a perfect book to read for both challenges.

Anonymous said...

What a great review! Your comment about how the Japanese not having any way to deal with defeat struck me.

Mel u said...

Peter-thanks-I will be posting on a WWII Manila young adult novel I really like very soon-

Anna-thanks-to me this is also a universal story of a defeated soldier coming home to a country that does not want him back


Booktumbling-I am seeing the same theme in a few other Japanese novels-their faith/culture provided them no way to cope with defeat-

Anna said...

We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric