VJ-Day, seen through Japanese eyes

It was a beautiful morning. And when I woke up, I felt rested for the first time in a long time.

Mother and I had slept through the night in a house a few hours away from our city. At home, we had to dash out of the house every night when the air-raid siren sounded. We had not had an uninterrupted night's sleep for a long time.

I was in fifth grade when my younger brother and I were sent to live in Mother's hometown. (Children had been ordered out of our city.) But I dreaded being left alone. I had to go back to be with Mother as soon as our summer vacation began. I was probably the only child in the city.

Today, Mother looked rested, too. We smiled. We were grateful to the neighbor who'd brought us here, and to her brother and his family, whose home it was.

After breakfast - Mother and I hadn't had a real breakfast for some time - I went for a walk.

It was peaceful here. Nobody worried about where I was going by myself. There were no air raids here.

So quiet. So serene. It seemed unreal. A young brown horse stood by a little pond near the barn. The dirt road was cool, layered with leaves from the tall trees on either side of it. I glimpsed blue sky between the leaves when they swayed in the wind.

Suddenly, I heard an airplane. I froze. B-29! I thought. Were American bombers finally coming to raid even the rural countryside of northern Japan? I felt sure I was hidden under the trees, but decided not to move until the airplane was gone.

The plane passed by. No circling, no lingering. No bombing. Was it a Japanese airplane?

Again it was silent. But now I felt uncomfortable. I told myself not to be afraid. It must have been a Japanese plane. No American airplane would come alone. They always came in groups, I thought. I felt better.

Soon I came to an open field. I saw berries growing, huge and plump, deep red. I ate some and then gathered some in a handkerchief for Mother. I turned back.

When I approached the house, Mother was in the front yard. She looked as if she had fallen. I rushed toward her.

"What happened?" I said. "What's wrong?

"It's over...."

"Over?" I said. Mother nodded.

"The war is over?" I said. I don't have to run out of the house at midnight anymore! I thought. I don't have to worry about air raids! No more sirens!

"We lost," Mother said in a hoarse voice. "We lost the war...."

"No!" I shouted. "We can't! You said we would never lose!"

"I know," Mother said, and sank to the ground again.

I knelt by her side. All of my strength seemed to seep out of me. My mind went blank. Then, a horrible thought: What would happen to us? What were we going to do?

"We must go home," Mother said wearily.

A long, sad journey

After lunch, we set out for our city. Many people were going back. Everybody looked gloomy, exhausted. They seemed to be dragging feet made of iron.

What a change! That morning we had felt so rested, and now we felt so heavy. The way was long, and the road was crowded. Looking ahead and behind, I couldn't see an end to the line of people. Some had horse-drawn carts. Others had trucks. Most were walking.

The sky was gray, now. Perhaps dust from the road was hiding the beautiful blue sky I'd seen just hours ago. We were dusty, too. Was the sky still blue, up there?

We arrived home that evening, physically tired and emotionally numb. We moved slowly. Losing the war was shocking, but more devastating was that my faith in grown-ups was deeply shaken. They had said we would not lose.

Then I realized that Mother hadn't known any better than I had. Even the government hadn't known. Nobody knew. I had been so certain ... so certain. But I had been believing a lie. Whom could I believe now? Whom could I trust?

I was tired. I couldn't think. I had always been afraid that Mother might be killed by a bomb and I'd be alone. Now we were both alive, together. But no one could say what would happen tomorrow.

Tonight, though, I had Mother and light in the house. We didn't have to cover the light for fear the bomber crews would see it. We lay on our futons side by side in our living room. We slept with all the lights on. It was so good to be able to stay at home all night!

Blossoms and new beginnings

We Japanese have admired cherry blossoms from ancient times. We love their beauty in season, and we love them when they fall. The blossoms teach us that you must win with grace, and lose with grace. The blossoms fall quickly, silently, and beautifully. No crying. No grudges. No revenge. That was part of the ancient samurai code. Those who lacked grace in defeat were despised.

Most Japanese, including me, accepted the loss like the cherry blossom. We began to rebuild our lives and our country. Japan had lost the war, some said, but the mountains and rivers had endured.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur did much by arriving in Japan sun-tetsu o obizu, without one "sun" of iron - not carrying any weapon at all. (A "sun" is equal to about an inch.) We were impressed. I heard later that many Americans thought General MacArthur was too theatrical. But we Japanese thought he was brave. Fanatics in Japan were still a threat. He was graceful in victory.

The nation was full of displaced people and orphans. There were food shortages - shortages of everything! But gradually we became more and more hopeful about the future.

My world really opens

MacArthur's rule had an immediate impact on me. He decreed that children receive three more years of compulsory education. I went to junior high school. We had wonderful teachers. Now our hearts and minds were open to the world.

After my graduation from junior high, I took typing classes. Typing helped me learn English. There was an American air base nearby. It had been a Japanese base before. I wanted to get a job there. But by the time I finally persuaded my mother to let me go, the American soldiers were beginning to be sent home. I only worked at the base for a year before I was told that my office was going to be closed.

I went to work in Tokyo. Always, I tried to work for American companies so I could improve my English. Slowly, I was developing a desire to go to America. It seemed an impossible dream. I had no special skills, no college education, no sponsor. It took me 25 years to get to America.

In 1970, I arrived in New York as a tourist. I had three months to find someone who would give me a job and sponsor me for a permanent resident visa.

After three weeks of applying unsuccessfully at Japanese companies, I went to an American firm. They gave me a job and filled out my green-card application. I received a work permit. A year later I got my green card.

This was another beautiful morning in my life! I wanted to dance all the way to work from the immigration office. I kept thanking God for this. I was truly grateful.

Today, it is impossible for me to to feel that losing the war was a tragedy. The real tragedy was starting the war, for war is always a tragedy.

The beautiful morning I woke up to on Aug. 15, 1945, is unforgettable. The quiet and peace I felt then was symbolic of the peace that had come.

But I never would have guessed that I would someday live in America!

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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