Looking Forward to Attending the ADBC Convention

Gaku Ishimau

I have met many people who served in the United States military. They tell me stories they experienced in American bases in Japan like Yokosuka, Iwakuni and Okinawa. I met a former soldier last year who fought in the Vietnam War. I asked him what the Vietnam War was like and what he felt there. He said, "All wars are bad. Vietnam was the same as other wars." I had been used to listening to the saying, "All wars are bad," but I was moved by his soulful words.

My grandmother lost her brother in World War II. I was curious enough to ask my grandparents about their wartime experiences when I was a junior high school student. They opened their minds to me a little bit about what they saw like a bomb shelter and fighter planes that attacked urban areas near their hometown.  When I tried to ask them for more details, they finally said that they were only in the first grade during the war and didn't remember details anymore. My grandfather passed away last year without telling me more about World War II.

I understand that they could not tell me about World War II because they were too young to understand the war at the age of six or even younger. It was also hard for them to remember the war, for they might have to struggle with recalling other bad memories during the war, besides good memories.

But there is a great difference between my grandparents and myself in terms of experiencing a war. They have experienced a war and I have not. I am 22 years old today and lived in Japan for most of my life. I have never faced immediate danger of wars. 

This can apply to our entire generation in Japan. Our generation has had no experiences of wars. Our parents' generation has no experiences of wars. Our grandparents' generation has some experiences of wars. Among our grandparents' generation, only people who are over 70 years old can discuss their personal wartime experiences. But these people have often been reluctant to tell us about their experiences and we have felt somewhat timid to ask them. But as these people are leaving us we will lose their voices soon, and forever.

 If my grandparents' generation leaves this world without telling us their wartime experiences who can teach us first-hand accounts of wars?  No one!

Some senior citizens have written books about World War II based on their points of view.  We can use them to learn about the war and then tell what we learned from those books to our children. Books are their messages that can transcend nationality and have universal value.  

In my opinion, however, the World War II generation of Japan could have done a better job of handing down what it learned to the next generation. My observation that they did not learn much from the war does not mean that I do not appreciate their remarkable success in rebuilding Japan after the war. But because there has been no concerted effort to face the wartime history squarely, it seems that some facts of the war have been distorted by nationalistic ideologies. Such distorted facts are then handed down to the next generation. As a result, a dialogue between Japan and its neighboring countries becomes difficult. In the end, what will the World War II generation in Japan hand down to future generations? War or Peace?

As our grandparents' generation has been responsible for handing down the true history of World War II to our parents' generation, our generation will be responsible to do the same for our children's generation. 

It may be too harsh for me to be critical of our senior citizens for not telling us their stories. They might have needed to forget the war to reestablish their lives, their peaceful mind and Japan. I imagine that some of them are not prepared to face the facts yet. But I believe both senior citizens and youth can be conscientious and courageous enough to discover and understand facts.  So far it seems that both of them let some of the distorted facts remain uncorrected.

Yushukan museum in Yasukuni shrine seems to be a typical example to show the past in distortion with the purpose of handing a wrong image down to the next generation. I went to the museum a year before coming to the United States because I heard that Yushukan is a good museum not to learn about the Japanese history but to learn about Japanese nationalism. It was built to console the souls of dead Japanese soldiers and to let visitors discover the truth of Japan’s modern history.

In the entrance a big air fighter actually used in the war welcomed me to the door of nationalism. I watched a movie "We Don't Forget; Appreciation, Prayer and Pride." This movie introduced Yushukan's nationalistic view of the Japanese history, praising the war and Japanese, and ignoring all the negative happenings in the war.

Only convenient facts to Japan were introduced. Nanking Massacre, which is infamous for Japanese military's slaughter of Chinese, was mentioned so inconspicuously in the museum that I went past once without noticing it. This massacre has been considered as a historically significant event  in many Asian countries and I believe that ignoring it is against the Yushukan's claimed purpose to discover the truths of modern history. Japanese shouldn't avoid discussing it. I felt that the museum was misused to impose Japanese nationalism to people who are interested in Japanese history, including teens and foreigners.

Watching displays in the museum, I was embarrassed that wars were idealized there. I believe that wars are the worst actions repeated by humans and that they should be abandoned. But Yushukan museum even celebrates them, exhibiting thousands of dead Japanese soldiers' pictures. Many foreigners were seeing displays there and I was scared what they were thinking and feeling in front of Yushukan nationalism. Did they think that this was the overall Japanese view of wars and that Yushukan proved that Japanese people had learned nothing from wars? If so, I am in full embarrassment.

Japanese prime ministers have visited Yasukuni Shrine, which owns the Yushukan museum.  Because of the Class A war criminals being enshrined in Yasukuni, foreigners tend to see the Japanese prime ministers' visits there as a sign of reemergence of Japanese nationalism. This may cause them to change their own impression of Japan as a peaceful country.

The prime ministers should visit former POW camps, Holocaust museums in Germany and cemeteries in the United States to console soldiers who fought against Japan, too. Japanese people have the saying that yesterday's enemies are today’s friends. Japanese people in my opinion have such a culture as to respect former enemies as well. But so far they have not exhibited that side of their culture.  That disappoints me.  

I would like to know the truths that are never biased, ideological and distorted. Without establishing bridges between young and old and between Japan and other countries based on such truths, understanding and respect between us are unlikely to happen.  We need truths, and for that we need senior citizens’ support.

 The website of US-JAPAN DIALOGUE ON POWS is a good tool with which to learn the voices of American POW of the Japanese. As I read the essays on this website, I see that the writers genuinely want to leave their experiences and facts for people. I was especially struck by learning that many former POWs continued to suffer after the war not only physically but also mentally. I realize that I still remain not fully understanding what POWs went through and its effect on them.

I would love to speak to former American POWs of the Japanese with nothing between them and me. I would like to meet those who are positive to talk about their experiences despite their bad memories as POWs. I believe the truths are waiting for me to be discovered there.

But I'm sure discovering the truths is just a beginning for my long journey. It just means I have a chance to hear POWs’ first-hand story in person.  Not many Japanese young people are given such a chance and I should appreciate the opportunity. Then what should I do with the truths? It will be my job to figure that out.


with Bataan Death March survivor James Murphy at the ADBC Convention


Mr. Gaku Ishimaru is majoring in International Relations Study at the University of Nevada. He hopes to work in the area of Journalism or education in the future.

*  Mr. Ishimaru ‘s trip to Louisville, KY, to attend the ASBC Convention was made possible by the generous support from Dorothy and Clay Perkins of Rancho Santa Fe, CA.