Kiyoshi Watanabe served in Japan's navy and was one of the few survivors of the sinking of his battleship, the Musashi. He returned to his rural home two weeks after Emperor Hirohito's broadcast to the nation, announcing the end of the war – still under the age of twenty-one. His mother berated him for not returning, as some other servicemen did, with some looted military supplies.
Watanabe had been a believer in divinity and a believer in his divine emperor. He had believed that he and his comrades had been fighting a holy war. He believed that the Americans would execute the Emperor and thought that if this happened he would join others in killing himself as his part in taking responsibility for the nation's defeat. He was surprised that Hirohito demeaned himself by consorting with the enemy and did not demonstrate responsibility for all those who died following his commands. He wondered why the Emperor showed no sense of shame. Watanabe wanted to vomit. Viewing the picture of the Emperor standing next to MacArthur he thought the Emperor was bowing his head like a dog. Seeing the enemy soldiers entering Japan wounded him.
Watanabe remained angry and continued to feel betrayed in the months that followed. His anger frightened him. He wondered why the Emperor had signed the declaration of war if, as it was being said, he had not wanted the war. And why was responsibility for the war being passed on to General Tojo?
All of the sudden praise for America and democracy seemed false. If friendship for the United States was so good, he asked himself, why had his country gone to war with the United States? In early December he resolved never again to accept anything without question. On December 15 he was beaten by five "gangsters" who ridiculed him for being an ex-serviceman. He started reading books, including the classic by Hajime Kawakami, A Tale of Poverty. He was impressed by Kawakami's statement that "Ignorance is the most terrifying thing."
He was told he should go back to school. Scholarship, art and culture is meaningless he said because they had not prevented the war. He remained perplexed by the Emperor's tours in civilian clothes and talking with common people, including ex-soldiers, without at least saying to the soldiers that he was sorry for having caused them difficulty.
In April he found a job in Tokyo. He added up all the wages he had received while in the military and included the cost for his clothing and food. His calculation came to 4,281 yen. He sent a letter to the Emperor with a check for 4,282 yen. He wrote that he now owed the Emperor nothing.
For a more detailed account of this story see its source: Embracing Defeat, by John W. Dower, W.W. Norton & Company, 1999, pages 339-345.
Copyright © 2002-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.