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In the Faraway Mountains and Rivers (Harukanaru Sanga ni): More Voices From A Lost Generation of Japanese Students
Compiled by Todai Gakusei Jichi-kai Senbotsu Gakusei Shuki Hensan Iinkai (Committee for Compiling the Writings of the University of Tokyo Students Killed in the War, the University of Tokyo Student Council)
Translated by Joseph L. Quinn and Midori Yamanouchi
University of Scranton Press, 2005, 163 pages

The Japanese book entitled Harukanaru Sanga ni (In the Faraway Mountains and Rivers), originally published in 1947, contains letters, diary entries, and poems written by University of Tokyo students who died in the Greater East Asia War. Most students had not completed their studies since the government in late 1943 eliminated deferral of military service for university students except those in selected technical fields. In 2000, Midori Yamanouchi and Joseph Quinn translated Listen to the Voices from the Sea (Kike Wadatsumi no Koe): Writings of the Fallen Japanese Students, which was first published in 1949 with letters, diary entries, and poems by students from Japan's elite universities, including the University of Tokyo, who had died in the war. In the Faraway Mountains and Rivers is a follow-up volume by the same translators to provide English readers with "more voices from a lost generation of Japanese students."

This translation is based on a newly designed edition published in 1989 by the University of Tokyo Press. Most students included in this volume died in the last two years of the war. Two died in China in 1941 before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and four died after the war's end due to illnesses or wounds suffered during the war. Each student's basic biographical information (e.g., dates of birth and death, when entered university, major, when entered military) is provided before his writings. Some writings can be difficult to understand with no background information. The writings have no particular order.

The writings of 37 students in this book include seven who became Special Attack Corps (tokkōtai) members and trained to carry out special (suicide) attacks. However, the writings of three of these seven students are dated before they were Special Attack Corps members, so readers can consider the thoughts of only four students as they waited for a mission that involved certain death. Of these four, two trained to be kaiten human torpedo pilots, and two trained as crewmembers of floatplanes to carry out suicide attacks. The book includes only a short excerpt from a last letter written by Takenori Nakao, who made a sortie from Ibusuki Air Base in southern Kyushu toward Okinawa and died in a special attack on May 4, 1945 [1]. The other three students have much longer writings dated after they became Special Attack Corps members. Below are short excerpts from their writings.

On July 25, 1945, Minoru Wada died in an accident while training as a member of the Kaiten Special Attack Corps. Unlike the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps, deaths during training in kaiten human torpedoes were recognized officially by the Japanese military as special attack deaths. On February 1, Wada started his diary entry with the following words about literature and poetry that reflect his high level of education (p.90):

I had my first ride in Kaiten.

I read Kokoro (Heart) by Sōseki (Sōseki Natsume, 1867-1916), and also Jinsei Gekijō (Life Theater), by Shirō Ozaki (a popular novelist, 1898-1964). I have read both books before, but now that I am in this predicament and surrounded by an atmosphere of death, I find myself touched by them more than ever. I even had tears in my eyes! Works of literature and poetry in particular have lately come to appeal to me collectively—not so much as specific works but rather as literature and poetry in general. I realize that, on the face of it, this must seem way off the mark and even a little ridiculous, but how else am I to account for the fact that they—en masse, as it were—affect me so powerfully, even moving me to tears?

I no longer need anything. Consolation and encouragement—particularly if it is to be offered by way of a long-winded, militaristic harangue, or from a speaker who is playing to his audience—are nothing more to me than occasions for anger.

On May 6, Wada included the following words in a longer diary entry (p.93)

Up until now, and just because I was so shallow, I managed to maintain a calm and expressionless front. And now, for the very first time, I am truly at a loss over how to make sense of my past. Impatiently, I am struggling to find my true self, that is, without any pretense in my remaining life of just a month.

It already seems to me that I no longer really exist.

Yasuhiko Isumi (incorrectly translated by Quinn and Yamanouchi as Yasuhiko Gaikaku [2]) died on board a submarine during a kaiten mission. The introduction to his will addressed to his mother, written at the time of his departure as a member of the Kaiten Special Attack Corps from Otsushima Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture on April 3, 1945, indicates he was "killed in action near Okinawa, April 14, 1945." Isumi and three other kaiten pilots were aboard I-44 submarine. All 126 I-44 crewmen and four kaiten pilots were determined to be lost as the base was unable to contact I-44 submarine after leaving Otsushima [3]. His will starts off with the following explanation (p. 124):

Mother, although I suppose I should begin with the conventional "I trust that you are as well as usual," I can very well imagine the many hardships you must be undergoing nowadays. The reason for my picking up a pen today is to write something which I hope will be considered my will. As you know, I am such a touchy soul to begin with that I find it rather unacceptable for someone like myself, who am so full of life, to be forced to think about death and what comes after it and to feel tragic about himself. I have personally meant to leave nothing behind, and neither do I need to leave any instructions for you about how to handle my affairs in the event of my death.

He later explains his state of mind as he faces death (p. 127):

I am happy about the fact that, because of the very nature of my job, the details surrounding my death—when and where and under what circumstances it occurs, etc.—will never ever be told to my family. I wrote the note simply because there was an off-chance that you might wonder and worry about just what my state of mind was when I died. I wanted you to know how very much I enjoyed my life until its final moment and that, with a peaceful heart, I am simply going to disappear from this world just as a light goes off.

On March 1, 1945, Yasuo Sawada was named as a member of the First Kitaura Special Attack Unit.  In a letter dated April 12, 1945, to his family, he includes the following paragraph near the end (p. 123).

To convey the emotional truth of the time from which I was first named as a member of a Special Attack Force and then trained to hit the enemy with my own body, is not something that one can set down with a pen. The state of mind involved here is something which only those with the same experience can feel and understand, and I would not even attempt to write about it.

Sawada did not die in a special attack, since his name is not listed in Japanese records with the men who died in special attacks in floatplanes [4]. The book's introduction to his writings states he was "killed in action, May 1945, in the skies over mainland Japan." It is not clear how specifically he lost his life, but something probably happened during his flight south to Ibusuki Air Base in southern Kagoshima, from where he planned to make a special attack toward Okinawa.

Yasuo Sawada's writings include a romantic theme. On January 7, 1945, prior to his assignment to a special attack unit, he writes the following somewhat awkward expression of love at the end of his letter to Ms. K:

I can say with all sincerity that I am not asking for your flesh. A woman's body is no more necessary to me than it is to other men—I have not sunk that low. I always wanted to respond to the tolling of the bell that is your beautiful soul—to the sound of your heart. It is true that one's soul cannot be separated from the physical body, but please do not think that just because I wanted your heart that I also lusted after your body.

Just listening to the voice of your soul will be enough for me, because I know that bodily desires are selfish. You too, while you await the time for our physical union, will meet the miserable fate of hoping for something which will never come about. It is because I love you that I must tell you simply to give up the idea of being united with me physically, and advise you to choose someone else. I realize how hurtful this must be, but I dare to say it because I do love you.

Finally, let us—you and I—continue our beautiful relationship for the rest of our lives, realizing both the dream we had and the beautiful platonic love and friendship we currently enjoy. With a prayer for your happiness I am ready to set my pen down, adding only that my love for you is exactly as I described it in my last letter, and that it will remain so forever—even through eternity.

Soon I shall be called to the battlefield.

His desire for love of Ms. K turns out sadly as he writes in a diary entry dated March 1 (p. 122):

It seems that Ms. K is getting married, so I am feeling a little lonesome. There is only one complete solution to all the vastly complicated problems surrounding such a business: marriage. Perhaps under these particular circumstances it is indeed the best solution. Most probably, she will be wed without saying anything to or about me and I do not plan to say anything either—not even a word of congratulation. I do not wish to bring the ideal relationship between us down to the level of reality merely by mouthing words. If all this were only a dream dreamt in the springtime of my life, then it would be fine as a dream; it would be a lot better than an ugly reality. Still, the feeling of letdown refuses to go away. I will remain behind the scenes, but shall pray for her happiness.

The Committee for the Compilation of Writings of the Students Killed in the War wrote the book's Postscript entitled "The Humanity That Was Never Lost." The Postscript includes several comments about the Special Attack Forces, but it supplies no names or dates to verify the statements, some which cannot be found in other references. The Committee mentions someone who adamantly refused to join the Special Attack Forces (p. 158):

Since they loved their fatherland and their home, most of them gladly accepted their fate and went to the battlefield. Some even flew single planes and then courageously dove into an enemy battleship, believing in the immortality of the "Emperor."

Perhaps even a more poignant case would be someone who survived by stubbornly refusing to volunteer to be a member of the Special Attack Forces while in the Air Corps. Scorned as a traitor and an enemy conspirator by superior officers, and ridiculed by colleagues as a coward, he absolutely refused to volunteer (to be a member of the Special Attack Force).

In this way some survived the war.

The following paragraph includes this curious explanation of how the students felt during the war and why they acted in the way they did, but few student writings included in the book support such contentions (p. 158):

To begin with, we were always thinking seriously, and we never lost our humanity during the war regardless of how horrible the war got. We were even looking with the eyes of deep love at the enemy nations, although we had to kill each other just because we were born as different nationalities (i.e., the members of different nations). Even though it was not clearly understood, what we were really hating was something that was hovering over us like a dark cloud—something that forced us to kill those we did not hate.

The following three paragraphs explain the feelings of survivors of the war in generalities that most likely did not apply to everyone (p. 159):

When the war ended what we felt so strongly, more than anything else, was the simple fact that we had survived. That powerful emotion immediately spread over the defeated fatherland. That reconstruction of the fatherland, or rather, more accurately, the creation of a new Japan, was the most important duty for all of us who survived the war—we felt that with our whole hearts and souls. Actually, many of us were quietly and secretly anticipating this day even before the end of the war.

It was for that reason that the survivors dared not join the Special Attack Forces. It was not just because they did not want to die, or that they casually sat back and saw friends fly off. They were not coldly watching with disdain those of full youthful vigor, but were confident that their own action was the correct one. They too were human though, and so were not watching with hearts of stone those who flew off, carrying bombs in their chests. They cried. They were in pain and agony. Yet, they did not volunteer (to join the Special Attack Forces); their true hearts did not allow them to do so.

This was the way in which we survived the war, but this collection of writings also contains several pieces which were written by members of the Special Attack Forces just before they left for their sorties. When we read these and imagine the faces of those numerous young people who were killed in the war, we cannot help but think that we all share something that permeates our minds—our fate was simply much too dark. Under that black cloud each of us had to think alone and to be distressed alone.

Contrary to the sweeping statements above, many survivors of the war had joined the Special Attack Forces but had not ever been sent on a suicide mission by the end of the war.

Notes

1. Osuo 2005, 239.

2. Kaiten Kichi 1999, 64, 70; The Mediasion Co. 2006, 82.

3. The Mediasion Co. 2006, 54.

4. Osuo 2005, 237-40.

Sources Cited

Kaiten Kichi o Hozon Suru Kai (Kaiten Base Preservation Society). 1999. Kaiten Kinenkan gaiyō, shūzō mokuroku (Kaiten Memorial Museum summary and collection listing). Tokuyama (now Shunan), Yamaguchi Prefecture: Kaiten Kichi o Hozon Suru Kai.

The Mediasion Co. 2006. Ningen gyorai kaiten (Kaiten human torpedo). Hiroshima: The Mediasion Co.

Osuo, Kazuhiko. 2005. Tokubetsu kōgekitai no kiroku (kaigun hen) (Record of special attack corps (Navy)). Tokyo: Kojinsha.