2003年04月15日 火曜日

Remembering the Occupation

by Mizuko Ito

Biculturalism, Japan

As I scan the news reports about the US occupation of Iraq, I find myself flashing back on scenes from the end of WWII. Not that I was alive at the time. But I have vivid memories of the occupation as experienced by my mother, my uncles, and grandmother: my grandfather dying of tuberculosis before the surrender, my disillusioned uncle leaving Japan for the US stunned by the depth of the Japanese wartime propaganda machine, the Occupation land reform stripping our family of our status as provincial landlord, our family katana being taken away by Occupation forces, and my mother savoring the taste of chocolate and chewing gum distributed by American GIs. From all the scenes, one image is indelibly clear. This is the story through the eyes of my mother, just a child at the time, peeking out from the gaps in the fusuma to our genkan in our home in Northern Japan.

The Americans had arrived in our hometown. We had gotten word that they were going to use our home, the largest house in the area, as their local headquarters. Our household gathered, kneeling, at our genkan, steeled to face the occupiers. My great grandmother, nearly blind at the time, was the head of the household, and her daughter and two sons flanked her, the grandchildren shooed off to hidden rooms. As the soldiers entered our home, they started to step up from the genkan into the home. My great grandmother, a battle-scarred early feminist, hissed, �gGet your filthly barbarian shoes off of my floor!�h The interpreter refused to interpret. The soldier insisted. Upon hearing the translation from the red-faced interpreter, the soldier sat on the floor and removed his boots, instructing his men to do the same. He apologized to my great grandmother. Now it was her turn to be surprised.

I�fve always considered this moment to be a pivotal one in the chanponization of our family, the first glimmerings of mutual respect for a radically different society that was so recently the enemy. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if the GI that came to my home had been a different sort of man, pushing aside a frail matriarch in a rush to survey his most recent conquest. I don't think resentment of the occupation disappeared after that encounter, and acceptance of the barbarisms of the West was slow in coming. But by my mother�fs generation, the majority of my family had moved to the US, or at least spent significant amounts of time abroad. This transnational shift is what makes me remember this moment as more true and defining in our postwar family history than the grumblings about lost swords and lost land.

I find myself wondering, like so many of us in the US are, how Iraqis are viewing the occupying Anglo-American forces. At the same time, I realize that this understanding is necessarily beyond my grasp. Every encounter will be a site of conflict and ambivalence, and maybe even, at times, resolution. My personal hope lies with the integrity of the troops on the ground. I nurture a faith that they will proceed with a humility and respect towards difference that has been absent among much of their leadership.

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2003年04月15日 02:49

1- jane

i share in that hope, Mimi.

and i do have hope - do you remember the incident when U.S. troops mistakenly fired into a truck carrying women and children? i saw an interview with one of the soldiers afterwards, and the reporter asked him what happened, what went wrong. the soldier put a hand to his face. he was very close to tears.

in spite of war, humanity survives.

2- karuna shinsho

mimi, fascinating glimpse into your family's connection with that period. as i mentioned to your brother today, there's a book to be written someday about that.
also, MIT professor john dower wrote a good article in the NYT talking about the cons of using america's successful occupation of japan after world war 2 as a model for the u.s. role in post-saddam iraq. you can read it at <a href="http://middleeastinfo.org/article1629.html">http://middleeastinfo.org/article1629.html</a>

3- Mimi

Thanks for the link Karuna. Interesting article and I agree. I look at the footage from Iraq right now and don't feel a sense of similarity with the way our family experienced the defeat. I also remember being struck (turned off) by the parallels that the media drew with Pearl Harbor after 9-11. But there is something about the look of those US soldiers in uniform, thrown into this totally alien situation, that keeps taking me back to the stories of the Japanese postwar. Yes, the devil is in the particulars of this current political moment, but I also feel it is important to remember enduring human values even in the face of tremendously different circumstances.

4- Leon D.

i enjoyed reading your article(and its good to know some people view the invasion of iraq as an occupation and not 'liberation')i personally,though would not have faith in the soldiers having respect & humility towards difference(as much as i would pray for it)& they are trained to be indifferent,follow orders & achieve the military objective first and foremost...
its good to hope for the best but you must expect the worst...pertaining to the invasion of iraq, one incident sticks out in when a reporter asked a soldier why he accidentally killed a pregnant woman and his reply was,"Hey, the chick got in the way." unfortunately,i think incidents like these are the rule & not the exception

5- Geof

Yeah, they are the exception.

These folks in uniform are people, too. Trained though they may be to use deadly force without flinching--and yes, that's a desensitizing process--they're still human at the end of the day.

It's easy to forget that.

Your article was more than moving. I always wondered what the feelings were of the people whose country we have occuppied - did we treat them justly and kindly like our heritage has taught us? In this great debate of whether the US and Britain did the "right thing," we can have hope and optimism that regardless of whether history will judge our decision right or wrong, we will have made a long-lasting positive impact on the people whose lives we interrupted.

7- Greg Werner

Very interesting, thank you so much!

If I may relate to this via a similar but different story.

What I found most shocking was getting to know my host grandfather during one of my visits to Kouchi prefecture.88-years-old and full of vigor, I often wondered how an individual old enough to remember the events of WWII, having had a full comprehension of what was going on at the time, would react to someone like myself. I did not expect to be greeted with hostility, or be shoved under the mat of "typical foreigner", I simply was not sure how I would be accepted.

Imagine my surprise when during our first meeting, Oukubo ojiisan stuck out his hand, grasped mine with an iron grip and said in a strong and confident raspy voice, "Hello! I am shrine master!", in perfect English, his face aglow. I could not feign any lack of surprise and replied, "Your English is amazing!" using Tosaben. He laughed and slammed his hand down on the nearby kitchen table, shaking the contents on it, and said to me yet again in English, "You're funny!"

When I visited him a year later, he had not changed a bit and continued to surprise me with his uncanny grasp of modern English. As the head priest of the Shinto shrine Wakamiya outside Kouchi City, Oukubo ojiisan was the first Japanese individual I had made contact with of that age and his powerful spirit is an inspiration to me even today. At every meal he would have a glass of beer and slam the empty glass on the table with a resounding, "AHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

I am honored to have not only met such a lively man, but also have that serve as my first experience with an elderly Japanese citizen. It proved to me that animocity of the past does not neccessarily apply to all in a nation that is famous for its reliance on group activity.

Here we are pictured during our second meeting in summer 2002.

Greg - that is a cool story. Personally, I love Japan. Living in Hong Kong it is not so far for me so I like to go whenever I can spare a weekend. Was in Kyoto only a couple of weeks ago. The people are uncannily friendly and kind, or at least I have always found so. And they do indeed make some very nice beer!!!



One day in 1994, a well-respected member of the community came to the junior high school in which I was teaching. He was a dentist, probably in his mid-80s, who had attended this particular school a very long time ago. We took tea in the prinicipal's office, just the two of us. He wished to practice his English, my principal had said.

We exchanged pleasantries: the change of seasons, the excitement of the new first-years. I complimented him on his impeccable English, far better than that of most of our English teachers. He said that it was vital that the Japanese learn English so that they would win the next war.

I tried not to spray my morning tea, and asked him what he meant. The reason the Japanese had lost in World War Two, he said, was that the Allies had many people who could speak Japanese, but that the Japanese were unprepared when it came to English. By learning English, the Japanese would be far better prepared for the next war with America.

He was, throughout, unerringly friendly. And I quickly changed the subject. I would guess that he was probably wrong--though the Nisei might have been an advantage, I suspect there were a large number of fluent English-speakers in pre-war Japan. But the idea that the war was so fresh in the minds of some Japanese will always stay with me. It seems relevant especially these days, when involvement in Iraq is stirring up constitutional issues.

The occupation of Japan held its own indignities and probably atrocities that will never be known. (There can be little doubt that the sentences for those convicted of war crimes in Japan were not analogous to those given to Nazis.) And yet, the wounds from this occupation seem to still exist in some parts of Japan, if not on the surface. Imagine the time it will take--if it is even possible--to heal such wounds in Iraq.

12- chris

I am very touched by your story. War is horrible, no matter what side you are on, and the innocent always seem to pay a price. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. I do believe that most of the soldiers in Iraq are very sensitive to the people. Remember these soldiers are our fathers, brothers, sons, mothers and sisters. They are not robots. They are human beings caught up in a cause that militants started when they invaded our land. They are defending our freedom, probably the reason the USA has not been hit again is because we are in Iraq.

13- Marina

This is really amazing!The soldiers have removed their boots and apologized to great grandmother...What a surprise!!!

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火, 4 15, 2003, @ 6:50

My sister <a href="http://www.chanpon.org/archives/2003/04/15/remembering_the_occupation.html">blogs a great view</a> of the US occupation of Japan from the perspective of how it affected our family. Very relevant to the current situation in Iraq. More »

木, 4 17, 2003, @ 4:37
Remembering the Occupation
› from anil dash's daily links

http://www.chanpon.org/archives/2003/04/15/remembering_the_occupation.html... More »

木, 4 17, 2003, @ 22:42

I was surveying my list of weblogs (which badly needs updating) when I came across a posting on Joi Ito's... More »

木, 4 17, 2003, @ 22:42

I was surveying my list of weblogs (which badly needs updating) when I came across a posting on Joi Ito's... More »

木, 4 17, 2003, @ 22:54

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;I was surveying my list of weblogs (which badly needs updating) when I came across a posting on Joi Ito's... More »

月, 4 21, 2003, @ 9:18
Hope for the future via the past.
› from what's going on?

Via cogito ergo sum I just found a very interesting blog called Chanpon.org. There is a touching entry about the US forces occupation of Japan after WWII that you should read. It gives hope for the future of our presence in Iraq. More »

月, 4 21, 2003, @ 12:14
Hope for the future via the past.
› from what's going on?

Via cogito ergo sum I just found a very interesting blog called Chanpon.org. There is a touching entry about the US forces' occupation of Japan after WWII that you should read. It gives hope for the future of our presence in Iraq. More »