Aspects of WWII still push hot buttons, cause arguments, and disgorge hatred. This August marks the 64th anniversary of the end of WWII, a monstrous war that resulted in monstrous atrocities and a monstrous loss of human life and potential. One of the hot button subjects is the behavior of the Japanese – both military and civilians. How could ordinary men – devoted husbands, gentle fathers, beloved sons – wish to fight to the death and torture and kill innocent civilians along the way? How could everyday citizens blindly follow their leaders, persuaded to either fight to the death with homemade spears or to kill their own selves rather than be captured by the enemy? While these questions may never be answered to our satisfaction, below are six memoirs or collections of memories written about the war years from the Japanese perspective – only six as narratives of the Japanese experience are rare.
Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze by Shigeo Imamura is an unusual narrative of how loyalties can change when both “parents” are fighting. Imamura became a respected figure in ESL education for both his countries.
A Boy Called H by Kappa Senoh, while a fictionalized memoir, is based on a true story and is a highly educational, fascinating, and fun read that exposes much of the truth of Japanese civilian life around WWII.
Leaves from an Autumn of Emergencies by Samuel Hideo Yamashita is a varied selection of wartime diaries kept by Japanese school children, soldiers, housewives, storekeepers, etc., and while not exciting they are windows into the thoughts and everyday lives of those who lived during that time.
Cherry Blossoms in Twilight by Yaeko Sugama and Linda E. Austin is a simply told narrative of the Japanese culture of the time, a girl’s survival during WWII, and the Occupation experience.