Poor Micchan

Hiroko Fukushima

    "Micchan was a pitiful thing." My mother, who is 77 year-old this year, would say these words every time she remembers her elder brother, my uncle.

    My mother was born in the Bunkyo-Ward of Tokyo before the Kanto Great Earthquake, where there were many famous universities and the Tokugawa Shogunate Mansion located. But it was also the town of workers. My mother and her brothers grew up in the printing quarter called . Her father died when she was very young. Her mother, left behind with nine children in poverty , developed dependency on a cult , which squeezed money from the poor family, making them even poorer.

Eldest brother was the pillar of the family who held his eight brothers and sisters together. He made small money living as a houseboy student, went to a night school, where he learned German, Indonesian, studied Marxism, cultivate the taste for classic music. Poor as he was, he never gave up his hope and used to talk about the bright future of the working classes to his brothers and sisters. Thus, all of nine brothers and sisters grew up to be tainted with red, which means that they were under some influence of Marxism. However, it should be noted their Marxism had limited influence on them because the whole nation was under the influence of the living god Emperor-centered education. They would cheer listening to the radio news of the ongoing war, while they were concerned over the destiny of Stalingrad in their battle with Nazi. They sat around the radio and were very happy when it was broadcasted that Germany was finally defeated by Soviet at Stalingrad.

Micchan was the third son of the family with a kind heart to his younger sister. As Micchan was the third male offspring, he had to be drafted more than once unfortunately.

  In January of 1939, he was drafted and in March, he was enlisted at the 7th Company of 219 Infantry Regiment of 35 Division. In April, his Division got aboard at the port of Otaru and landed at Tanggu in China on 28th the same month. His company fought many battles moving from Yong Xian of Henan Province, Dongming, then to Manchuria. In July of 1942, he was discharged from the army . However, in 1944, he was enlisted again as a field artillery and was discharged in December of the same year. Although his military service did not end there, the government of Japan had no record of his service after 1944.

My mother would say, "Poor thing, I hear that Micchan was forced to do terrible things in China."

(I wish I could ask him what had happened there. Micchan was a man who had dreamed of solidarity with workers of the world, and who was a gentle soul by nature. What was he ordered to do to Chinese farmers, Chinese soldiers who he thought were brothers of poor workers, and women, old people and even children? What did he really do ? What was on his mind while he was doing those terrible things? )

 Micchan was honorably discharged as a private first class, then came the subsequent surrender of Japan.

 Whatever happened to the life of Micchan? When he came home, he was only a shadow of former self. He probably could not stand himself any longer.

" I murdered people in China" shouted Micchan drowned in sake.

He could not go back to a normal life. What could his family do to assure him of their understanding and support? Nothing but patience, I guess. So he lived off his military pension living with his mother for a while.

 Before long, his sister- my mother- married my father and I was born. I have a faint memory of Micchan in a padded dressing gown sitting at a tea table. I did not know what he was doing, but I do remember a warm feeling that he was kind to me. More than thirty years later, I was told that Micchan bought me a doll of a wisteria girl for my first girls' festival while my parents could not afford to buy more than daily necessities。

 Then,there was no memory of Micchan because Micchan left the house and never came back. I was probably a first or second grader then. We did not see him, nor heard from him any longer. We stopped talking about him . It may have been a taboo to touch on the subject of Micchan at home in those days.

But, thirty years later, Micchan entered into our life again. Sometime toward the end of the Showa era, a welfare workers office of Sannya of Taito-Ward in Tokyo called my mother.

 "Micchan was found dying on the street and he was hospitalized." said my mother.

"Who is Micchan?" I asked.

 My mother's explanation revived my memory of the uncle in a padded dressing gown . I was shocked. I and my husband are both teachers at public schools of Tokyo city and we are financially stable, if not rich. My parents, though very poor when young, are also enjoying a decent life on pensions. Why should my uncle be dying on the street in Sannya? Isn't he collecting the military pension?

  When my mother visited him at the hospital, Micchan told his story of life bit by bit. < When he got sick, he did not contact his family because it would cause his family trouble again.>

After all, I did not get to see Micchan before his funeral. Our family and relatives got together to see his casket off to the Metropolitan Cemetery Park in quiet. Micchan lost sight of his life in the war. Now we have no knowledge of his life as if he had been dead for many years.

Poor Micchan died at the age of 66 and his bones were frail and crumbly after cremation. The time was December in the 59th year of Showa, the last year of the Showa era, exactly 40 years after the return of Micchan from the war. And that is how my family ended the Showa ear.

Sometime later, I heard that a former soldier who had similar experience to Micchan committed suicide by hanging in a barn in Miyake Island. Then I heard another story very much like that in Okayama Prefecture. Gradually I came to realize that there were many poor Micchans throughout Japan.

  The war was over. Yet, many former soldiers had to live with the painful past of their atrocious acts for a long time. They could not talk about them, nor publish them. All they talk about is a cheerful story to show off their gallantry. After they died taking with them pains and agonies, the truth of the war will remain hidden for ever. Those who ordered the atrocities rested in peace without taking responsibility.

After I listened to the vivid testimonies of former Japanese soldiers who were prosecuted for war crimes in China, I cannot help thinking if Micchan had been prosecuted as a war criminal, and had spent days reflecting on crimes he committed in a jail, his soul would have been saved. At least he must have thought that he took responsibility for his acts. Then, he could have lived differently after he came back to Japan. I am sure he wanted to apologize even if the apology would not be accepted.

 Apologies and compensation to the people of Asia by Japan and its Emperor would ease the burden and pains of late Micchan and others like him greatly. I also would like to have the government and the Emperor apologize to us for sending able-bodied Japanese men to war . I would like to hear them say " We apologize for our use of your men as tools for invasion of neighboring countries" because our men did not wish to go to war, nor did they wish to kill unarmed civilians.

It is not too late yet. Many people are still alive suffering from the old wounds. Military sex slaves, slave laborers, survivors of atrocious military operations, POWs, former Japanese soldiers of Korean national. They all need care for their psychological damages as well as monetary compensation. If dead people cannot come back alive, we can take the first step of apologizing to them.

 There should never be another war of invasion. Act of invasion leads to genocide , in which people are wiped out just like flies and mosquitos. Poor Micchan could never get used to the act of killing. Can you make killing part of your life? Let's not have another "poor Micchan". Let's make Japan a country of peace and love which would never invade neighbors.  (August 22, 1998)


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