Category KAMIKAZE

National Glider Champion

I

t is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine where the forces eventuating inJapan’s Kamikaze offensive, the strangest warfare in history, began. Ask the old man, the venerable ojiisan, with his flowing beard—the man who still wears kimono and clattering wooden geta on the streets—for he is a creature of the past. Perhaps he will tell you that these mysterious forces were born with his country over two and a half millennia ago, with Jimmu Tenno, first emperor, descendant of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami. Or, he may contend that their real birth came twenty centuries later, reflected in the proud spirit and tradition of the samurai, the famed and valiant warriors of feudal times.

Whatever their beginnings, these forces focused upon me during 1943, in the midst of World War II, when I was a mere boy of only fifteen. It was then that I won the Japanese National Glider Championship.

Back where memory blurs into veils of forgetfulness I can vaguely discern a small boy watching hawks circle above the velvet mountains of Honshu—watching enviously each afternoon. I remember how he even envied the sparrows as they chittered and flitted through the shrubbery and arched across the roofs. To fly—transcend the bondage of gravity! What incomparable freedom! What exhilaration! What joy!

Strangely, even then, I sensed that my future lay somewhere in the skies. At fourteen, attending Onomichi High School, I was old enough to participate in a glider training course sponsored by the Osaka Prefecture, a training that had two advantages. First, it was the chance I had waited for all my life—a chance to be in the air. Secondly, war was reverberating throughout the world, and while many students were required to spend part of their regular school time working in the factories, I was permit­ted to learn glider flying for two hours every day. All students, in fact, were either directly engaged in producing war materials or preparing themselves as future defenders of their country though such programs as judo, sword fighting, or marksmanship. Even grade school children were taught to self defense with sharpened bamboo shafts.

Our glider training was conducted on a grassy field near the school, and the first three months were often frustrating since we never once moved off the ground. Fellow trainees merely took turns towing each other across the lawn, getting plenty of exercise, while the would-be pilot vigorously manipulated the wing and tail flaps with hand and foot controls, pretending that he was soaring at some awesome height in com­pany with the eagles. Much of our time was also devoted to calisthenics, and it was apparent even then that all of our training was calculated to prepare us for great challenges and trials.

Gradually we began taking to the air, only a few feet above the ground initially, but what excitement! Eventually, thanks to the exer­tions of a dozen or so young comrades, we were towed rapidly enough to ascend some sixty feet, the maximum height for a primary glider.

Having mastered the fundamentals, we were transferred to the secondary glider, which was car-towed for the take-off and capable of remaining aloft for several minutes. It had a semi-enclosed cockpit and a control stick with a butterfly-shaped steering device for added maneuverability.

Aside from understanding the basic mechanical requirements of glider flying, it was necessary to sense the air currents, feel them out, automatically judging their direction and intensity, like the hawks above the mountains.

How far should I travel into the wind? Often I could determine this only by thrusting my head from the cockpit and letting the drafts cascade against my face. And at times of descent just before I had circled to soar once more upon the thermals the onrushing air tide seemed to have acquired a kind of solidity becoming almost stifling. Moments before take-off, in fact, the air impact was tremendous, nearly overwhelming, requiring all my strength to work the controls.

How far to travel in one direction before circling, precisely how much to elevate the wing flaps to avoid stalling and still maintain maximum height. . . these things were not charted beforehand. But the bird instinct was within me, and I was able to pilot my glider successfully, qualifying for national competition the following year.

Approximately six hundred glider pilots throughout Japan, mainly high school students, had qualified for the big event at Mt. Ikoma near Nara and the great city of Osaka. The competition was divided into two phases: group and individual. Contenders could participate in either or both events and were judged on such points as time in the air, distance traveled at a specific altitude, ability to turn within a prescribed space, and angle of descent.

Perhaps it was our intensive training, perhaps destiny, that led six of us from Onomichi High School in western Honshu to the group championship. What glee and wild rejoicing! In addition, two of us were selected from that number for individual competition against about fifty others. I was one of them.

Every contestant was to fly four times, and points accumulated dur­ing each flight would be totaled to determine the winner. At the onset I was exceptionally tense and nervous, but such feelings soon faded, and to my immense delight my first three flights seemed almost perfect. Vic­tory was actually in sight!

Sunlight was warming the mountain summit when my final flight commenced. A hundred yards below on the spacious glider field, I steadied myself in the cockpit, feeling a tremor in the fragile structure that held me—delicate wood framework, curved and fastened with light aluminum and covered with silk the color of butter cups. The tow rope had been attached to a car ahead, a hook in the other end fastened to a metal ring just beneath the glider’s nose. Opening and closing my hand on the control stick, I breathed deeply and concentrated on vic­tory. “You can do it, Kuwahara,” I told myself, “you can do it. You’re invincible—you’re going to win.”

Simultaneously my veins, even the tiniest capillaries in my skin, be­gan to tingle. This was the biggest test of my life, a chance to be crowned the greatest high school glider pilot in the Nippon Empire.

My craft lurched and began sliding irresistibly across the turf, and my heart rate increased along with the acceleration. Then I was lifting, confronting the air mass which suddenly seemed immensely heavy and resistant, almost like water. Lifting, lifting. . . straining with the con­trols, feeling disconcerting vibrations. Almost as suddenly, the pressure relaxed, and the bright day itself was bearing me upward. I was above Ikoma’s calm, green summit, angled sunlight turning the leaves along its western perimeter the colors of polished brass and chrome.

I continued to climb, confident with the controls, now buoyed sky­ward on a powerful updraft. Soon I was beginning my first circle, work­ing the flaps carefully to maximize my advantage, and now the glider was responding to my touch with great empathy, with a life of its own. Simultaneously, the two of us were becoming one, soaring exultantly, carried ever higher upon the mounting currents.

Then we were making our first, broad gyration. I gazed over my shoulder at the landing strip, the upturned faces and waving hands. Three times I circled, lofting and descending, sweeping far out beyond expectation on the final one as the glider field and its throng faded. Then I became one with a flight of gulls, entranced by their whiteness against the blue of the sky. It was a good omen. Kobe Bay rejoiced in the sunlight a short distance to the east, Lake Biwa a bit farther, to the north. Thirty-eight minutes after take-off I settled to the patient earth amid a chorus of cheers.

It took nearly half an hour for the judges to finish tallying our point totals and compare scores—one of the longest waits of my life, and my ears hummed with increasing volume as I listened for the results. I knew that I had done well, that my chances for the prize were good, but at that point nothing seemed real. Then. . . then, suddenly! My name was being announced, blaring stridently over the loud speaker: “Kuwahara-

Yasuo, 340 points—first place, individual competition!” Vaguely I heard the next name being announced for second place as friends slapped my back, shouted my name and cheered. I saw the faces of my family, beaming and radiant as they pushed through the throng. I was glider champion of the Nippon Empire.

At that moment I had no idea how such a distinction would drasti­cally alter my entire existence.

Death Greets the New Year

O

n New Year’s day 1945, fighter pilots from Hiro’s Fourth Squadron held a testimonial ceremony for those of our number who had died. Captain Yoshiro Tusbaki, the squadron commander, de­livered an impassioned speech declaring our moral obligation to avenge those deaths. And later we visited Hiro’s military shrine. Not many had died yet from Hiro. In fact, all my close friends were still with me. There was one name, however, that I will never forget, that of Lieutenant Jiro Shimada who had died and taken an enemy with him in my first air battle. For a long time I gazed at his name plate there on the base of the shrine. One of the fallen valiant.

Again I saw his plane like a flaming meteor, the crashing and bil­lowing explosion. . . the two aircraft, fused as one then decimated. . . the blackened, smoking fragments dropping toward the water. Japanese and American, united even in the midst of their disintegration. Falling, falling, falling down and away. “No more New Years for you, Lieuten­ant Shimada.” The words were not spoken, mere pulsations in my mind. “You have fulfilled your obligation to the Emperor.” Then, very slowly, I turned and walked away.

What sad attempts we made, our words of “Happy New Year” fall­ing like frozen clods to the earth. No doubt all of us were thinking of New Year’s Day at home somewhere in the dreamscape of the past. I recalled with a sudden twinge of nostalgia how Tomika and I had run through out home on that same day years before, jubilantly scattering beans about to drive out the evil spirits.

The spirit that entered Hiro that New Years afternoon in 1945, however, could not be driven out by scattering beans, even by the shed­ding of blood. It was then that Captain Tusbaki called a meeting unlike anything I had experienced before or since.

It was then that Hiro’s first Kamikaze were appointed. “Those of you unwilling to lay down your lives as divine sons of the great Nippon Empire will not be required to do so.” Such had been his words, his promise. Then. . . the ultimate, dramatic pause. His eyes like burning cinders. “Those incapable of accepting this honor will raise their hands now!”

Ah yes, to be a suicide pilot, a Kamikaze. That would be the honor of honors. Had not everyone said so? But six men had raised their hands during that meeting in response to the Captain’s promise of exemption, men I knew well. Afraid enough, or perhaps brave enough, to admit what most of us secretly felt.

They had chosen life and been given death, a dubious honor.

A few months earlier, men at other bases had volunteered with ap­parent alacrity. Now, it would seem, many had to be compelled, even tricked! Stern evidence that Kamikaze was already considered a failure, a futile death, by ever-growing numbers. Daily the Allies were becoming stronger. There was no denying it now. Moving ever closer, with more men, more ships, more aircraft. The B-29 Superfortresses, ominous grumbling monstrosities that they were, had begun to clot the heavens, leaving swaths of fire and destruction. The American naval forces were closing in a terrible juggernaut.

How I hated to admit it, fought against the very idea, but it would not be denied. Japan was losing fast. How long, I wondered, would our people be able to hide behind a crumbling facade of propaganda? How much longer could anyone remain in denial? Six at Hiro had refused to, and now, ironically, would forfeit their lives in consequence. Early in January, only days after our meeting, they left Hiro for suicide training.

Periodically from then on, men were selected from my squadron and trans­ferred to Kyushu for their final preparations, never to be heard of again.

For nearly a year now we had been carefully conditioned to accept the inevitability and glory of death in battle. For thousands, actually; it was a part of our historic philosophy. But now, suddenly, the tentacles were reaching out, relentlessly taking and taking. With each departure our sense of doom expanded. Sometimes it was a leaden feeling in the gut, sometimes a clotting in the throat. Increasingly it was both, often accompanied by waves of sadness, nascent tears and a kind of crying of the heart.

On the other hand, I had come through several air battles now with a second enemy plane to my credit, and that had at least increased my confidence as a fighter pilot. Flying over the inlet between Kure and Tokuyama, six of us had jumped two American fighters, and it had been surprisingly easy. Approximately one thousand feet above them, we veered off, diving at terrific speed and struck from the rear, almost before they were aware of our existence. All six of us opening up simul­taneously with cannons and machine guns.

The nearest American virtually disintegrated under our combined onslaught and went down in a sheet of flame. The second attempted to escape, performing a sharp bank to throw us off, but two of us had anticipated the move, and within seconds I had him in my range finder. It was almost that simple. Three or four fierce bursts, and he folded, plummeting downward in a smoking tail spin. How different from my first encounter with the enemy. I almost felt cheated.

So, I was becoming a capable pilot rather quickly, as also was Na­kamura with one plane to his own credit. Yet no matter how skilled we might be, no matter how many adversaries we might vanquish, the sup­ply seemed unlimited. Indeed, relentlessly, growing, almost fiendishly. Doom was omnipresent like an oncoming tidal wave. Only one hope for survival now, a tenuous wisp which I scarcely dared contemplate. The merest acknowledgement, in fact, spelled disloyalty if not cowardice. It was February 1945, and the enemy was attacking Iwo Jima, just over 650 miles from our capital, so perhaps the war would end before long. Most of us, I suspect, prayed for this. N ot directly, perhaps, for the defeat of our country but rather for a cessation to hostilities. Truly a strange

and paradoxical form of denial. Many of our civilians still had faith that Japan would prevail, but we who lived within the inferno had to be either naive, fanatical, or both to expect triumph now.

Within only a few weeks my conviction regarding Japan’s impend­ing fate had become a kind of groundswell. And gradually, my fears of compromising myself began to evaporate. Now that surrender was only a matter of time, irrevocable, I was praying for it with increasing fervor and frequency. It had become the classic race against the calendar, perhaps even the clock, and ironically only the enemy could save us.

Some of us at least had greater hope than others. Most of our fliers at Hiro were inexperienced, and already I was among those ranked as top pilots. Such men would be preserved as long as possible to provide base protection and fighter escort for suicide missions into the Pacific. We would return and report in detail upon their success.

Consequently, our poorest pilots died first, causing the enemy to conclude, initially at least, that there were no skillful Kamikaze. In the words of American Admiral Marc Mitscher: “One thing is certain: there are no experienced Kamikaze pilots.”

Regularly at this point, orders from the Daihonei in Tokyo were sent to key air installations throughout the four main islands, specifying how many pilots each base would contribute at any given time. These larger installations, in turn, drew men from bases within their jurisdic­tion. The one at Hiroshima, for example, drew from nearby Hiro, our own base, also from Kure, and Yokoshima—all on the main Island of Honshu. Men were then committed to special suicide bases including Kagoshima, the largest, on the southern inlet of Kyushu.

In general Kamikaze attacks were mounted in waves of fifteen or twenty planes at thirty-minute intervals. Some of those pilots were al­legedly sealed or locked into their cockpits, but I never witnessed such things. Nor, in my opinion, was there any reason for it. Once it all began, there was no turning back except for a rare few who returned, having been unable to find the enemy. Frequently, in fact, our Kamikaze actually opened their cockpits and signaled with flags or scarves upon sighting the first American ships—a final show of bravado, a last gesture to boost one’s courage before the plunge into oblivion.

No one living will ever comprehend the feelings of those men who covenanted with death. Not even condemned murders, not fully. The murderer is atoning for the ultimate crime against god and humanity; justice is meted out. Of course, men throughout the world have died for their countries, sometimes knowing in advance that death was inevi­table. But where, before or since, has there ever been such massive and premeditated self destruction as occurred with the Kamikaze? Where have thousands of men diligently set about their own annihilation, training methodically, relentlessly, mulling over all the details for weeks, sometimes months?

Neither the Shintoistic concept of a post-mortal existence as a guard­ian warrior in the spirit realms nor the Buddhistic doctrine of nirvana has always provided solace. The “mad, fanatic Jap” was often a mere school boy, snared in the great skein of fate, not above weeping for the arms of his mother in many cases.

Not that there weren’t fanatical Japanese fighters. Some wanted nothing but to die gloriously, to honor the Emperor, to gain revenge. Even the subdued, bespectacled student, browsing through some Tokyo library, might be molded by circumstances into a flaming soul dedicated to death. And there were some who seemed to approach the end as though it were only a morning stroll.

In general, however, we pilots moved along two broad paths. The Kichigai (madmen) were fierce in their hatred, seeking honor and im­mortality, living for only one purpose—to die. Many of these came from the navy air force which contributed a far greater number of Kamikaze.

As time passed, I personally allied myself more closely with a sec­ond group whose sentiments were basically the opposite though rarely expressed openly. These men, mainly the better educated, were referred to as Sukebei (libertines) by the Kichigai. I should stress, however, that the Sukebei were not unpatriotic, not, at least, in their own view. I would die for my country today if necessary, as I would have died then. But life was decidedly dearer to us. We saw no purpose in death for death’s sake alone, and at times now our country’s fate welled ominously like the seething crater of a volcano as viewed through endlessly shifting vapors.

Certainly, also, there was a middle ground, and each man’s at­titude fluctuated to some extent from hour to hour. There were times when I longed for revenge. Or when I considered that by destroying an

American ship I might save many of my people. . . then my own life seemed insignificant.

How often I had struggled for a certain attitude toward death—a special, indescribable feeling of acceptance. What was it that made men unafraid? Was it courage? What was courage? “We are expendable!” That was the cry. “Be resolved that honor is heavier than the mountains and death lighter than a feather.” Countless times I had repeated those words, repeated them obsessively. With some men that conviction seems to have been innate. With me it was ephemeral; I was always fighting to re-kindle the flame.

All of my friends were still with me, Tatsuno now a fighter pilot. Ah, to be a fighter pilot, to be with my friends against the enemy. That had always been my dream. But it was a tattered and fading dream already. Some of us were bound to make our final, one-way trip soon, no matter how good we were. Who would be first?

Daily I went through our routine suicide practice. Methodically I performed each dive— with absolute precision now, near perfection, but little satisfaction. Mechanically I performed the exercise, begin­ning with a leaden feeling in the stomach that swelled throughout my throat, expanding into dread. More than once the words came: “Go on, go on! Don’t stop! Crash! It will all be over in an instant. No more fear, no more waiting, no more sorrow.” And always I would pull out, calling myself a coward.

In addition, there were the occasional air battles, most of them only quick scraps or sorties, in which we struck swiftly and fled. Invariably, the enemy outnumbered us, and our lives were now dedicated to some­thing more vital than a mere air skirmish. Japan was like a man dying in the desert with little water left. The remaining drops had to be used sparingly, saved for the hours when the sun would burn its fiercest.

As the months faded, Japan began to reel, losing her grip on eastern China. The heart of Tokyo had been demolished, and our entire home­land was being ravaged. Millions of tons of our merchant shipping had been sunk, and by the Emperor’s birthday in April of 1945, the enemy was assaulting Okinawa, Japan’s very doorway.

It was a crucial time. Premier Suzuki had told the Japanese cabinet, “Our hopes to win the war are anchored solely in the fighting on Oki­nawa. The fate of the nation and its people depends on the outcome.” Okinawa fell. Eighty-one days of violent battle.

The months squirmed by, and one day in May it happened—Oka and Yamamoto. I had returned from a flight over Shikoku and heard the news. I hadn’t seen either of them for two or three days because we had been flying different shifts on reconnaissance. And now it had come, what I had been fearing all along but never fully accepted. The orders had been issued suddenly, and my friends and been transferred within the hour to Kagoshima. Oka and Yamamoto, gone! I could not believe it and rushed to their barracks. Surely they could not have been swept away so quickly!

The door creaked as I entered, and I gazed down the long line of cots. The bedding was gone from two of them, the thin, worn mattresses rolled, leaving only the barren springs. There was something ghastly about those beds; the naked springs cried out. I opened their empty lockers and heard their hollow clang, a death knell.

Dazed, I slumped down on one of the empty cots, feeling it sag. It was as if Oka and Yamamoto had been carried off by a sudden gale. How could such a thing have happened? No time, no notice, but of course it was probably best that way. I sat there alone, and for a while there was nothing but silence, not even the sound of motors. For several minutes I stared at the floor, on through it. Saw nothing, felt nothing. It was too much to comprehend. The place was a void.

No telling how long I sat there, insensible. Eventually I actually dozed for a moment then startled awake as a hand rested on my shoul­der. Nakamura. I hadn’t even heard him enter. Without speaking, we looked at each other. Someone was with him. Tatsuno. I extended my own hand uncertainly, and he gripped it.

“You know,” I managed at last, my throat parched. “I had the strangest feeling sitting here. It was as if. . .” My voice cracked. “It was just as if everybody had left. This whole base empty—nobody, nobody anywhere. It was crazy! Have you ever had that kind of feeling?”

“They said to tell you sayonara, Yasbei,” Nakamura said. (My friends were often calling me after the samurai now.) “Still joking, even when they got into the truck.” Nakamura gave a strange laugh. “You know

what Oka said—his last words? He said, ‘You and Yasbei take good care of all our girls in Hiro!’”

I also laughed if only because of the release it provided. Neither of us, or Tatsuno for that matter, ever went to Hiro or the nearby cities. We rarely drank and knew little of the city women with whom our ex – trovertish friends had consorted.

For an instant I recalled my times with our two departed, remem­bering how we became well acquainted that winter night so long ago when I’d found the warm shower. They had been joking then and never stopped. Even in combat they joked, two of a kind, always together. Ironically they would die together, perhaps already had.

“But why did they go so soon? Good pilots, both of them!” I asked.

“Yes, pretty good,” Nakamura replied, “but lone wolves, maybe a little erratic. The days of the lone wolves are gone.”

“I know, Nakamura,” I said, “but look at some of the other pilots in this squadron—not half as good, not half as good!”

“Maybe they’re putting the names in a hat now,” Tatsuno suggested. “That way it’s more entertaining. That way, you don’t know whether it will come in five minutes or five months.”

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. “Take a walk—anything.”

Predestined Decision

U

pon my return there was much festivity at the Onomichi Train Station. Teachers, students, close friends—all were there to congratulate the new champion. In addition, my family held a celebration and sumptuous dinner in my honor.

A few days later, however, my achievement was almost forgotten. Glider training continued, but for the first time in many months life had lost its vitality. I drifted rudderless upon aimless waters, steadily growing more restless.

In the evenings after training I wandered home with my friends, watching the sun settle beyond the mountains, a red cauldron turning the ocean westward to molten steel. Sunset was a special time—a time to have finished the hot bath, to have donned theyukata, a light-weight, casual kimono, to slide the windows open and gaze meditatively, or to sit in one’s garden contemplating the filigreed silhouette of a mulberry tree against the horizon, to savor introspection in the steam rising from a cup of ocha.

Such traditions afforded a tentative kind of relaxation and comfort, but they did not relieve my lethargy. Nor did they assuage our growing

uneasiness regarding the war. By now Guadalcanal had been lost to the Americans, and doubts had begun to form. Very subtly at first like early winter mists among the pines on our hillside, but gradually they swirled and swelled till even the rising sun could not dispel them.

We who were young spoke of the war more enthusiastically than many of our elders. My friend Tatsuno’s brother in the Navy Air Force had shot down an American plane, and many evenings such matters dominated our conversation as we strolled the road from school.

Young though he was, small and almost frail, Tatsuno Uchida re­flected a special intensity in the way he observed the sky and spoke of his brother. At times, when planes passed over, he shook his head saying, fervently, “I know Kenji will become an ace. He will bring honor to our country and to the Emperor.” And of course, I always agreed. It was comforting to realize that our pilots were innately superior to the enemy, more courageous, bearers of a proud tradition, that they flew better aircraft. Did not our teachers and parents, our radios and newspapers assure us of these facts each day?

One of those evenings shortly after my return from school, a stranger appeared at our front door, and I heard his introduction clearly: “I am Captain Hiroyoshi Mikami of the Imperial Army Air Force.” Moments later he had removed his shoes and crossed our threshold. Having es­corted him to our western-style reception room, our maid Reiko padded quickly off to inform my father.

My father, a well-known contractor and most affluent man in On- omichi, continued his leisurely bath and directed my mother to entertain our new visitor. Later he emerged to extend the formalities of introduc­tion while mother retired to supervise the maid’s preparation of ban no

shokuji, our evening meal.

Meanwhile, I hovered furtively outside the guest room, certain that the visit signalled something highly portentous, listening nervously while my father and the captain exchanged the customary pleasantries, politely discussing the irrelevant, punctuating their sentences with a soft and courteous sibilance.

“Winter is at last upon us,” the captain observed.

“Indeed, that is so,” my father replied and slurped his ocha in a well bred manner.

After they had conversed at length on matters of little significance, it was time for our meal. Mother had planned sukiyaki, and the captain had, of course, been invited to dine with us.

As we sat upon our cushions surrounding the low, circular dinner table, the maid bustled attentively back and forth while Tomika, my sister, probed at the glowing coals with a slender pair of prongs. Mother, arranging and sugaring the beef slices with great care, half whispered, “Where is the shoyu” and Reiko hastened to the kitchen conveying much humility and murmuring plaintive, little apologies for her dereliction.

At times I peered at Captain Mikami, very covertly, always avert­ing my gaze whenever his eyes fell upon me, eyes that reminded me of chipped obsidian. Penetrating, unnerving.

Throughout our meal only the two men conversed, the rest of us merely conveying our existence by faint, careful smiles and slight, courteous head bows whenever their remarks drifted our direction. In addition, however, I sensed an unusual atmosphere of restraint, of ap­prehension—especially on the part of my mother and sister Tomika. All of which only magnified my own.

Father and the captain spoke tediously about many things, and little of what was said held my attention excepting their comments upon the war, especially regarding the condition of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other key islands. Speaking of Guadalcanal. My father reiterated the firmly entrenched conviction of many others at the time: that the departure of our troops from that area had not been a retreat but rather a “strategic withdrawal.” Most assuredly, it was not an enemy triumph!

Mikami strongly confirmed this view, discussing the great valor of our military men and their leaders at some length. As for the increased bombing of our homeland, he emphasized another common belief: our noble militarists had actually known from the onset that this would hap­pen. Consequently, there was no need for dismay. Such an eventuality had been taken into account long before our assault on Pearl Harbor. Inevitable, yes, but we were prepared materially, in mind and spirit as well, for any form of retaliation to which the enemy might resort. Ulti­mately, unquestionably, our divinely ordained empire would triumph. The only alternative was unthinkable.

At last our dinner was over and I was invited to join the two men in our guest room. There, at last, our visitor’s courteous evasion yielded to military directness. For a moment his dark eyes searched mine. Then, turning to my father, he said, “Kuwahara-san, you have an honorable son.” I felt a sudden surge of pride. “Your son has already gained acclaim that few people his age, if any, have ever achieved.”

Father bowed slightly in humility and assent. “Domo arigato.”

“He is one of whom his esteemed father and our noble empire can be proud.” Again, I received his glance. “Indeed, he can bring great honor to the family of Kuwahara.” Something began to ferment inside me, a sensation much like that which I had felt at the onset of my national glider competition. I gazed at the tatami in great humility.

“So desu ka,” my father replied, attenuating the first word gutturally, feigning profound wonderment and modesty. Again the bow, one more pronounced than the first. “Domo arigato gozai mashita” he added quietly, expressing his thanks and acknowledgement in the fullest, most formal fashion.

“Our gracious and esteemed Emperor and our honorable leaders at the Daihonei,” Captain Mikami continued, referring to the Imperial Military Headquarters in Tokyo, “are seeking such young men, as you must know, young men with allegiance to His Imperial Majesty, with talent and devotion to their country. . . men who will fly like avenging eagles against the enemy.”

For an instant my glance flicked from the straw tatami at my feet to my father. His eyes contained a gleam I had never seen before, and he nodded. “Indeed that is so. It is good that we have such men, and the time has arrived for us to strike with our might—with great power like the winds from heaven.”

“Hai!” The captain concurred with marked force and abruptness then paused solemnly. “As you may have supposed, I am here at your most gracious and hospitable domicile as a special representative of The Imperial Army Air Force.”

Beaming once more with carefully calculated surprise, my father again replied, “Ah so desu ka!”

Throughout the conversation, Captain Mikami directed very few remarks at me personally, but I felt my insides begin to burn as he spoke of enlistment requirements for the Air Force and the various schools available depending upon one’s performance and qualifications.

During those moments, it was impossible to assess my own feelings. Ever since the war’s onset I had contemplated joining the Air Force. How many hours, days and nights, had I dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot, one of consummate skill and daring who knew no equal! How often had I envisioned myself plummeting from a golden sky to destroy and demoralize our hated American enemies! How many heroic air battles had Tatsuno and I conjured up together, battles wherein we inevitably sent our adversaries to a fiery death in the ocean! The sky, the water, the land—all waiting beneficently to help assure triumph.

But here now was reality, and in its abruptness my heart faltered. I had sensed my mother’s growing uneasiness all during our dinner, Tomika’s as well, and now I felt a great foreboding. It flowed over me like an icy wind.

Suddenly I realized that the captain was addressing me personally. My heart jolted. “So now, what are your feelings regarding this mat­ter?” He waited, and I struggled to speak, faltered. . . and failed. For a moment I nearly gagged. Both men watched me intently, but I could not force out a single word.

“Take a few minutes to consider” Captain Mikami said at last. “I will wait.” His tone was stern.

A few minutes! Suddenly I felt ill. Running my hands over my face and hair, I felt the sweat on my palms, felt more strongly my father’s vexation and humiliation. The room had become stifling. Smiling wanly, I mumbled, “Please excuse me. I will go get a drink of water.” It was a feeble response, and my face was burning as I left the room. A part of me had wanted to assure the captain that I needed no time to consider such a request. No real man would waver, feel his throat freeze and experience such coldness of soul. In the tradition of bushido, the samurai code of valor and chivalry, he would celebrate the glory of death, say­ing, “I rejoice in the opportunity to die for my country. It fills me with intense humility to have been so honored by my Emperor.” But I was more boy than man. I wanted my mother.

Swiftly I went to her room only to find it empty. Softly I called her name but received no answer. Thinking that perhaps she was sitting out­side in the cold by our garden, I slipped into the night and called again. A full moon was rising above the bearded hillside, its light flooding over the top of our garden wall in a silvery glow. Beyond, through the trellised gateway, the road was still in shadow, stretching away in darkness and mystery, flecked by the distant orange glow of a lantern. The night was cold and expectant as though awaiting snow, utterly silent.

Glancing upward, I saw a light in an upstairs window and quickly entered the house, ascending the steep stairway. There in my room, seated cross-legged on the futon, was Tomika. My photo album was opened in her lap, and she was examining it with marked intensity. “Where is Mother?” I asked.

She glanced up, eyes glistening. “Mother has gone out,” she replied, “for a walk.”

Curiously I gazed at her, momentarily forgetting the urgency of my situation. “Tomika, what’s the matter?” Gently I reached down and touched her lustrous, black hair. “Is something wrong?” Simultaneously I realized that she had opened my album to the photo taken when I won the glider championship—my own face warmed in a smile of triumph. Then a tiny tear drop spattered directly across that smile.

Whenever my sister cried, her round, rather moon-like countenance was transformed into something ethereal. “Tomika,” I half whispered. “What’s the matter? Why are you crying?” I sat down beside her, awk­wardly placing my arm around her shoulders.

“Tomika?”

Thrusting the album aside, she seized my free hand, squeezing it almost painfully. Her gaze gradually lifted to meet my own, and she began shaking her head. “My little brother. . . my little brother.”

Something in my throat pained sharply, becoming very dry and large. It was as if a thumb were pressing against my windpipe. “Tomika,” I choked, “what can I do?” Suddenly I clapped my hands over my face, inhaling deeply. That way the tears wouldn’t come so easily.

Then her arms were around me, her cheek against mine. “No, no, no,” she repeated. “Not my little brother. They can’t have you—you’re only a baby!”

The final words jolted me, and I thought of my friends, especially Tatsuno. What would they think of me? Such a craven, maudlin dis­play! Worse still, I thought of the captain and my father downstairs, waiting—most impatiently, my father suffering much loss of face. Both doubtless convinced by now that I was a sniveling coward.

“I’m hardly a baby Tomika” I replied angrily.

She sought to pull me closer, but I thrust myself free. A baby! For an instant I hated her. “I’m not a baby, Tomika—I’m a man! I’m fifteen years old! How can you call me a baby when I am the greatest glider pilot in Japan?”

“I. . . I didn’t mean it that way,” she murmured.

“Don’t you realize, Tomika, that tonight I am being greatly hon­ored—by the Emperor himself?”

“Yes,” she replied softly, “I know that very well. You will even die for the Emperor.” Then we were weeping together.

Moments later I broke free, totally demoralized. Scarcely realizing what I was doing, I stumbled downstairs to the bathroom sink and began dousing my face and neck in cold water. When I looked at my eyes in the mirror they were bloodshot, my entire countenance weak and distressed. Horrified, I doused my face again, then gently patted it dry with a towel.

In a near agony of embarrassment, I returned to my father and the captain. As I entered the room, their gazes seemed to combine, apprais­ing me sternly, fixedly, in utter silence. I forced a frozen smile, struggling to speak. Captain Mikami’s stare was unwavering.

Again, I struggled, faltering. It was as if I were on the brink of an abyss, hemmed in by countless enemies, knowing that there was no alternative but to jump or be hurled head-long.

“Well, my son?” Father said.

Bowing to the captain, I stammered. “I must apologize for. . . for such extreme inconvenience. I wanted to inform my mother of this extraordinary honor.” I groped for the words. “But, apparently she has gone somewhere.” No response from either of them, merely their combined, unrelenting stare.

“Please forgive me for this extreme inconvenience. . .” I struggled onward, ashamed that I was repeating myself, but finally the words came with more fluency and conviction. “I am greatly honored to accept your splendid and generous offer in behalf of our glorious Emperor.”

A muscle to one side of my father’s mouth twitched slightly, but I could see the relief in his eyes, in the very expansion and coloration of his pupils.

The captain gave a quick nod, face still expressionless. “That is good,” he said.

Immediately I felt a profound sense of relief. I had not betrayed my fa­ther, after all. Nor had I betrayed my country. Without further comment, Captain Mikami opened a leather case, producing the enlistment forms. “Please read these,” he said and laid them before us on the table.

“Hai!” Father spoke quietly, expelling the word in an abrupt little explosion, and began to scrutinize the document with great care. I tried to do so as well, but for some reason the words would not focus.

At length Father glanced up. “Do you find the terms satisfactory?” the captain inquired.

“Hai!” Father nodded.

“Very good,” the captain said. “So you will kindly sign here.” He pointed with a slender, tan finger. “Your son will sign there.” Father arose to obtain his personal, wooden stamp, returned and pressed it against his ink pad, then firmly in the spot designated, an indelible, orange oval with its special markings against the stark white of the document: “Kuwahara, Zenji.” Then I signed my own beneath it: Kuwahara, Ya – suo. And there they were—our signatures—indelible and irrevocable. The formalities were over, and there was no turning back, nor in reality had there been from the moment Captain Mikami appeared some two hours earlier.

“Hiro Air Base—desu ka?” Father noted.

Captain Mikami gave a single downward nod. “Hiro, yes.” For an instant he actually smiled. “He will be close to home—only fifty miles away. He will enjoy his days at Hiro immensely and receive a splendid education.” I had not even comprehended enough of the document to note my place of assignment, but it was comforting to realize that throughout my training I would be close to my family.

Now, however, it was time for the Captain to leave. “You have made a wise decision,” he said as we accompanied him to the door. Seconds later

we were bowing, exchanging sayonara, and he vanished into the night.

For some time afterward my father and I sat together, gazing out our window at the surrounding hills and moon-washed sky. Father had been a lieutenant in the army years before and related some experiences from his days in China that I had never heard before.

Shigeru, one of my older brothers, was with the Army Counter Intel­ligence in Java, while the other, Toshifumi, was a dentist in Tokyo and had not yet been inducted. “It is very good to have worthy sons in the service of their nation and family,” Father told me. “And you, Yasuo, will bring the greatest honor of all.”

“Domo arigato,” I replied, feeling very humble and surprised. A trans­port plane was crossing the sky, lights blinking from its wing tips, the alternations of red and green making it appear to move strangely along its course in immense skating motions. We continued to watch, listening, as its light and sound gradually faded into the distance. “A few months from now you will undoubtedly be flying a plane of your own,” my father observed and actually placed his hand on my shoulder.

“I hope so,” I replied.

“But not one like that.” His tone was commanding.

“No, not one like that. I have always wanted to become a fighter pilot.”

Father nodded vigorously. His hand gripped my shoulder. “Most defi­nitely!” He squinted one eye as though sighting in on a star and continued to nod his affirmation. “Yes, a fighter pilot. . . .” he mused at length. “I always wanted to be one myself, even though that form of warfare was very primitive back then. “There is something unique about a fighter pilot. Even the pilots of our fine new bombers—like the Suesei—cannot compare. A fighter pilot is the samurai of modern times. His aircraft is his sword; it ultimately becomes his soul.” The very thought made my scalp tingle.

“The fighter pilot must work with others as part of a team,” Father continued, “but he also has the best chance of becoming an individualist. He can do more for our Emperor than a thousand foot soldiers. With cour­age he can gain great honor, perhaps more than anyone in the military. And you do have courage, Yasuo, my son.” Again his hand gripped my shoulder.

“I hope so,” I replied.

“You do have courage! You have courage!” This time his hand liter­ally hurt. “The family of Kuwahara has always had courage. No one has more noble ancestors!”

“That is so,” I acknowledged, and glanced at his profile from the corner of my eye: a strong chin tilting slightly upward, a nose a bit like the beak of a falcon, eyes that seemed to glow from the moon.

“You will defend your home and country,” he assured me, “and you will see the day when the Western Powers are driven back in great ignominy across the Pacific. In time The Imperial Way will sweep like a mighty tide across that land. They will suffer a resounding defeat, and you will play your part in that defeat.” An inspiring thought, but one that also taxed my faith. I was, after all, only fifteen, a boy who an hour earlier had wept like a girl in the arms of his sister. The thought made me cringe.

“It may take many months,” I said hesitantly. “The West has large armies and navies, many aircraft.”

“That is true,” Father admitted a bit irritably. It will not be accom­plished overnight, but you must always remember, Yasuo, that physical size and material might are secondary. It is the great determination and valor of Yamato damashii, the spirit of the samurai, that will prevail in the end.” I nodded, buoyed up by the power of his conviction.

“Consider, for example, the thousands of Americans we have already taken prisoner,” he persisted. “Thousands of them!” Turning, he stared directly into my eyes. “But how many of our men have surrendered to the Americans?”

How proud I was to have my father converse with me in this man­ner. How honored! Almost as though we were equals. “Very few,” I replied.

“That is correct. A mere handful! You see?” His chin jutted imperi­ously, lips forming a sneer. “The Americans lose a few men and they become terrified, utterly demoralized and surrender. Our prison camps are fairly bursting with cowardly, pitiful Americans.” He shrugged. “Of course, a few of them are brave. It is foolish to underestimate the enemy.” I nodded, attending to his every word, the slightest nuance. “But look at it this way. Suppose for a moment that one hundred American infantry men were pitted against a much larger force of our own men on a small island. How many of those Americans would have to be killed before the rest would surrender?”

“Not more than ten, I would guess.”

Father shook his head reluctantly. “Well, it would probably take more than that in most cases—possibly twenty-five or even thirty.” He paused, squinted, angling a reflective glance at the moon. It had risen considerably, changing from celestial white to a faint yellow. “On the other hand, supposing the situation were reversed. . . . How many of our own men would have to die before the rest surrendered?”

“They would never surrender!” I exclaimed, surprised at my on certitude.

“So you see?” Father replied triumphantly. Our only men ever taken captive are those who have been wounded so severely they cannot defend themselves—or those unconscious from loss of blood. Therefore, as I have explained, it is not merely a matter of physical and material strength. It is a matter of courage, determination, of spiritual strength! It is for this reason thatJapan will prevail, thatJapan will triumph.” Again the pause. Again, his gaze absorbed my own. “Do you understand, my son?”

In response, I nodded, half bowed. “Yes, my father, I understand.”

Wind Among the Lanterns

A

t times even now the terror of Kamikaze fluctuated, even seemed to fade. After all, we reminded ourselves, there were many ways one could die. The bombs were coming often now, and we were learning what it was like to scramble like rats for our holes. Some­times the enemy would sneak through our radar screens, and the alarms would scream providing little or no warning. Now we knew what it was to feel the ground shudder with explosions, to cower in dust-choked craters, while the slower men were often blown apart. Once I had seen two laborers running, frantically, the bombs dropping directly on top of them. I closed my eyes then opened them. Nothing remained but new craters.

Regularly now our hangars and assembly plant were being strafed and dive-bombed by Hellcats, P-51 Mustangs, and light bombers. Then one fatal day in June an immense flight of B-29’s pulverized Hiro and nearby Kure Navy Port. The warning had sounded thirty minutes be­forehand, and because of their numbers, every available pilot had taken

off to preserve our remaining aircraft. But after that bombing there was virtually nothing left of Hiro, no base to which we could return. Consequently, we had to make the long and sorrowful flight to Oita Air Base in northeastern Kyushu.

It was there that I became a suicide escort. Today very few of us remain—the only ones who can testify to what happened out there with the American ships in the Pacific, who can describe how the doomed pilots acted and probably felt at the final moment.

Life at this base became increasingly grim, yet even so it was fascinat­ing to note individual reactions. The punishment of earlier days was over. Tested and proved, we were among the elite ofNippon’s fighting airmen. As such, we were given extra money and told to enjoy ourselves during off-hours. Men who had rarely touched liquor took to heavy drinking, and many who had never even kissed a woman joined the lines at the prostitute’s door—ten minutes a turn.

Women and drink had long been considered vices as far as fighter pilots were concerned-not exactly immoral as some other cultures might view it, but wrong because pilots had a duty to perform, a monumental obligation which nothing should hinder. The Imperial Rescript itself contained stern warnings about succumbing to creature comforts and self indulgence. In our own case, however, greater license was granted. We were the men with numbered days, and everywhere the sense of finality was growing. People who would have condemned others for such actions now said nothing. Life was short, and the airmen, especially fighter pilots, were highly esteemed, almost idolized by most of the public.

To some, religion and the pure life became all the more meaningful, and several of us hiked into the nearby mountains to feel the caress of nature, to escape, to meditate. Occasionally Nakamura, Tatsuno and I went together as comrades, trying to cast aside the grimmer aspects of life as completely as possible. On one occasion, we sat together and reflected upon life rather profoundly for people our age. Tatsuno was the real philosopher, though, always probing deeper into the mysteries of existence than most people do. Despite all he had seen of death and sorrow, Tatsuno believed that life had a purpose, that it was the ultimate school of schools, that even the most terrible physical pain or mental anguish, had a place in the eternal scheme.

Once the three of us sat on a knoll, gazing across the ocean to where the clouds were creating a resplendent sunset of orange, gold, amber, and blazing red like the heart of a blast furnace. Between the clouds stretched the horizon in a narrow, irregular expanse of pale green. Above it all the sky was a royal blue, deepening into purple, and a single star pulsed the color of mercury. “Some day. . . .” Tatsuno mused and paused.

“Some day, what?” Nakamura asked.

Tatsuno waited for a minute or more. “Maybe it will all fall into place.” He shrugged, twisted his head. “Pain and sorrow. Maybe none of that will really matter except in terms of how we met it. Some people come away stronger. . . better. Or death. Some see it, and they are destroyed. Others seem to gain a greater appreciation for all of life, a greater reverence. It’s as if the spirit itself has been polished and refined. Maybe that sounds crazy, but I think that’s the idea.”

Nakamura was frowning. “Yes, but whose idea?”

“Somebody’s” Tatsuno replied at last. “Maybe just mine. Maybe whoever’s in charge.”

On other occasions my walks were solitary. Alone one Sunday morn­ing, I wandered past small, well-tended farms toward the mountains. On either side of me stretched the rice fields, dotted at intervals with farmers, some with yokes over their shoulders carrying buckets of hu­man waste, others irrigating or at work with hoes. Those farmers were artisans, their crops laid out with patience and devotion, with drawing – board precision.

Old women were also scattered throughout some of the fields, pulling weeds. For hours they would bend in the traditional squatting position, nothing visible but their backs and umbrella-like straw hats.

These aged brown obahsan of the earth lived to toil. For them work was more than mere expediency. It was life itself. All had known hard­ship. Many had lost sons in the war. Many had been forced to sell their daughters. But always those weathered faces were ready to form cracked smiles of greeting and welcome. For them, life emanated from the rice where the sun warmed their backs and the mud oozed up between their toes. Another woman nearby sometimes to converse with, and easy laughter. That was life and it was enough. Never before had I envied old women. Respected them, truly, as I did our elderly in general, but never envied them until then.

Walking slowly up the long, dirt road, I passed an ox with a ring in his nose. He was tied to a tree, switching his tail occasionally at the flies. The ox seemed very calm and resigned. That was his life, there beneath the tree and he accepted it. The hole in his nose had formed a scarred lining long ago. The ring did not hurt now. Remove it, and he might wander vaguely, I decided. Probably, though, he would remain where he was, flicking his tail. That was enough. So, in the end, conditions didn’t matter nearly so much as perspective. Acceptance, resignation—that was the important thing.

Near the foot of the mountain, the lane fanned into a broad, grav­eled road, extending a hundred yards to a stone stairway. The steps ascended in tiers, passing beneath several great, wooden torii. Midway, a woman holding a bright yellow parasol was climbing upward with a baby in a carrying cloth upon her back. Even from that distance I knew that the baby would not be dangling limply. It would be hugging her back like some tiny arboreal creature, bright dark eyes incredibly luminous, peering alertly over her shoulder, drinking in the world, the universe. Reflecting them.

Passing beneath the final, upper torii, I emerged in a clearing where temples and shrines lay in a half moon, their walls covered with intri­cately carved designs, their eaves curving upward at the tips. Part of one facade was carved with golden dragons, another with red and green lions possessing strangely human faces. Still another was adorned with flowers, exotic plant life, bending reeds, and low-flying waterfowl.

At the entrance to the clearing an aged man and a young girl, prob­ably his granddaughter, were selling amulets. All alone, those two—just the old man and the little girl. There where sunlight and trees filigreed the land with light and shadow, where a breeze played intermittently along the lattices and the ancient buildings.

Having purchased one of the charms, I strolled ahead toward the buildings. At the entrance to the main temple were many lanterns, the center one—red, black, and gold—about six feet in diameter. I was surprised that so few people were present, but reminded myself that this

was a remote area. It was still early. Once I glimpsed the yellow parasol gliding among some trees before vanishing behind a pagoda.

Climbing the temple steps very slowly, meditatively, I paused at the entrance and gazed into the darkened and hallowed confines. It required a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dimness, but gradually the faintly burnished wooden floors materialized, then the darkened corri­dors, all of it simmering with reverence and quiescence, faintly echoing the ages past. No bombs had fallen here; nor, I devoutly hoped, would they. Here the war did not exist, and everything within seemed expect­ant, gently beckoning.

I removed my shoes and hesitated, caressed suddenly by the cooler temperature. Looming a short distance before me was an immense, rounded statue of Buddha, towering perhaps fifteen feet into the gloom. It was a pale, gray green like oxidized copper, yet it seemed to emanate a steady, subtly expanding glow. Automatically, I knelt, gazing upward into its face. What a countenance! How indescribably benign and im­perturbable! How removed from the petty cares of the world!

The longer I gazed, the lighter it became, and the more it seemed to convey. . . what? Almost a smugness at having so fully transcended the mundane. But no, not smugness, I decided, for it had transcended that too—all such concerns, all triviality, all vanity. It was, instead, the very quintessence of tranquility.

For perhaps an hour I sat there, my legs tucked beneath me, medi­tating. I did not comprehend all the differences between the religion of Buddha and national Shintoism. Nor did I understand how it was possible for a person to embrace both simultaneously as many in my country actually did, for their doctrines regarding an after life seemed utterly antithetic.

On the one hand lay ultimate transcendency, ultimate liquidation of individual identity and absorption into the grand and universal “soul”, much as a drop of water enters the ocean. On the other, the perpetu­ation of personality and of human relationships. For our fighting men, those who died valiantly in battle, the honor of being guardian warriors in the realms beyond.

As present, however, differences in theology were irrelevant. For the moment I was already in another world. “If death is anything like this,” I thought, “then perhaps it won’t matter much how it comes as Tatsuno says, only in terms of how we face it. A few years one way or another, in reality, for all of us. Then it will come as surely as the setting of the sun, as surely as cherry blossoms fall by the roadside. And, after that? What it was I did not know, yet there had to be something, an outcome that was correct and in keeping with the grand and proper order of things.

Something about that temple impelled me to linger on and on. There in that remote sanctuary I was safe, and the world beyond the mountain was unreal. For a time I actually believed that I had found the solution. I would stay here forever beyond all harm, all strife, all sorrow. Ere long I would become a priest. Yes, that was my answer. Here where antiquity hovered, absorbing the present and the future. Here in this eternal fourth dimension, this place of sweet sadness, and attenuated nostalgia, of kindness. . . of ultimate reconciliation.

How long I remained there, I am uncertain, but the sun had crossed its zenith, and the shadows of afternoon were expanding. At length I arose and left, turning my back upon the great Buddha, feeling the per­sistence of its vibrations, and entered the waiting day. Sitting upon the stairs a short distance below was a man in a white robe, his head shaven bald and faintly gleaming. His hands rested in his lap, and as I drew closer it appeared that he was totally relaxed, remarkably in tune with his surroundings, much like the Buddha itself. His gaze was directed at the distant sky and ocean.

As I passed by, his voice came warmly, with remarkable resonance: “Good afternoon, young airman!”

“Good afternoon,” I replied uncertainly.

“You have come from Oita?”

“Yes, revered sir, from Oita.” I hesitated, angling a furtive glance, fearful that either refusal to look his way at all or a direct stare would be disrespectful. Simultaneously, it occurred to me that his hair was actually very dense, the dark roots sheening through his scalp like an abundance of iron filings.

“Do you have a few moments?” he continued, “or must you now return to your base immediately?”

I hesitated, unaccountably embarrassed. “I must. . .” I began then reversed myself. “I have a few minutes, revered sir.”

“Good,” he said, giving a quick nod. “Come and sit down. We shall enjoy the trees and beautiful vistas together.”

Bowing, I introduced myself and sat beside him as directed. Strange­ly enough, the uneasiness swiftly receded. After all, I reminded myself, the season is late. Why waste it on timidity? It was good now simply to be in this man’s presence, to converse, or remain silent.

Soon, however, he began to ask me questions—where my home was, how long I had been a pilot, how long at Oita, and at last: “What is you present assignment?”

“Fighter pilot,” I said. “In a few days I will be flying escort mis­sions.”

“Ah jo!” The words came quietly, politely, the eyebrows barely elevat­ing, “for the Kamikaze?”

I nodded. “Yes, revered sir.”

For a time, he offered no reply, merely nodded faintly, contemplating the horizon. Eventually he spoke, inquiring thoughtfully and at length regarding my background and family, and all the while I wondered when he was going to speak to me officially, with formality, as a Bud­dhist priest and as my elder. He never did.

Clouds were collecting about the sun, now, enhancing the shadows and the breeze. Its tendrils were playing over us, stirring trees in the valley below. “Wind is a strange phenomenon,” he observed quietly, “is it not?” For an instant I regarded his profile, one a bit like my father’s. “We don’t really know its point of origin, nor can we see it.”

“That is true,” I acknowledged.

“Yet it is always present somewhere, always manifesting itself, al­ways moving. No doubt it is one of those things that will always be.” He paused. “Do you believe that the spirit of man itself might be somewhat similar?”

“Perhaps so,” I said.

“You and I,” he continued slowly. “I mean the essence—that something which makes you and me who we are—I suspect that it will always be, much like the wind. Always somewhere, moving, doing its work, becoming manifest.”

“My friend Tatsuno feels that way,” I told him. “I. . . I greatly want to also.”

“Ah jo!” Again the exclamation with the same subdued politeness, and he regarded me curiously, earnestly. “There is not one thing that ever reduces itself to mere absence,” he said. “Even the human body.” He held out his own hands, strong looking hands with pronounced, widely branch­ing veins. His fingernails were impressively well groomed. “Destroyed most certainly!” The fingers closed, forming fists, “But not annihilated!” I glanced at him. Those last words had come with a kind of passion. His face was fiercely resolute.

Then his manner became more mild once more. “Changed, yes, in remarkable ways, but not obliterated. Matter, energy—they have always ex­isted. They were not woven from an empty loom. They will always be.”

I nodded. “Perhaps so, revered sir.”

“And thus, my friend. . . .” His hand actually settled upon my shoulder for an instant, “although the spirit can depart this frail tabernacle called the body, that should not concern us unduly. It is all a part of the grand cosmic order, and we continue. The wind has left these lanterns now. It is far away, quiescent for the moment perhaps, but the air itself is everywhere.”

Soon it was time to go, and I departed, offering much thanks and several bows of respect.

“I hope that you will return, Airman Kuwahara,” he said.

“I likewise, revered father,” I replied.

Then I left the clearing, descending the long stone stairway beneath the torii.

Winter and the Waning Days

A

t school the following day I informed my friends of the honor that had come to me, and the news spread rapidly. Once again I was someone important, the center of attention. During lunch period I barely had time to eat my sushi cakes because so many people were clustered about, pressing me with questions.

“Did the captain come right to your home?” Someone asked. “Yes,” I replied. “In fact, he stayed for two hours and had dinner with us?”

“Uso!” Someone exclaimed. “Honto?”

“Yes, honestly!” I said. “I’m not lying.”

Kenji Furuno, one of the better glider students, plied me with ques­tion after question: “Did he just come right out and ask you? I mean, what did he do? Did he tell you that you had to join?”

“He asked me, of course,” I said. “Naturally, we discussed the matter at some length with my father.”

“What did the captain say, though?” Kenji persisted. “Did he just come right out and say, “Will you please be so kind as to honor the Imperial Army Air Force with your presence?’“ Several students laughed excitedly.

I failed to join them, however. Kenji had suddenly become rather inferior, along with the rest of them. “Captain Mikami told me that I had been chosen to serve his Imperial Majesty and our great country.”

“Yes, but didn’t he even give you any time to decide?” another student asked, “Not even an hour or two?”

Almost unconsciously, I eyed him as the Captain eyed me the night before. His smile wavered. “Would you need time to decide something like that?” I challenged.

“Well. . . I guess not,” he answered lamely.

Tatsuno had been listening quietly without comment until now, merely eating his lunch. “I don’t think anyone would turn down an honor like that,” he mused at last. “I doubt if anyone would even dare to.” Often his reactions seemed those of someone almost elderly, his tone and expression perhaps as much as the words themselves. “Myself, I want to be a pilot like my brother, more than anything else in the world. Even so, when you think about it. . . . He paused for some time. I mean, after all. . . he might never come back.”

“That is true,” I admitted. “To die for one’s country is the greatest of privileges.” The words of my father. I wasn’t sure I fully believed them, but they sounded impressive and certainly enhanced my prestige in the eyes of my friends. Everyone was silent now, either staring at the floor or out the windows. Then the bell rang. It was time for afternoon classes.

I went through the remainder of my school day in a kind of trance, as if I had somehow been set apart from the world. Old Tanaka sensei, our instructor, the students—even the desks, books, and the drab walls.

. . everything seemed a bit strange and remote. I was seeing and listening as though from a different sphere. Somewhere out in the pale afternoon a plane was droning, the sound barely perceptible yet persistent. Inces­sant. At times it seemed only a vibration, an echo in the memory, but it made me tingle.

When it was time for glider training, I participated with renewed determination, performing every act with perfect confidence and preci­sion. Abruptly, I decided that from then on I would make no mistakes during glider flying—not a single mistake, however, insignificant. This habit of perfection would become so well established that within a few months I would fly propeller driven aircraft just as perfectly.

Yes, I would become the ultimate pilot of pilots. I would shoot down a hundred enemy planes, and the time would come when the name Ku – wahara would resound throughout Japan. On the Emperor’s birthday I would be chosen to perform remarkable aerobatics in the skies over Tokyo while millions of people far below cheered exultantly. Later I would be escorted amid great fanfare across the green moat and arching wooden bridge. I would gaze down at the lily pads, the elegant, snowy swan and huge listless carp the color of gold and lime. Then I would enter the palace of the Emperor—the Grand Imperial Place where the Emperor himself would present me with the Kinshi Kunsho, the coveted medal of honor after the Order of The Golden Kite.

Such fantasies were fading as Tatsuno and I returned home in the evening, enjoying the sound of our woodengeta as we scuffed and shuffled up the winding road among the pines. Eventually, perhaps guessing my thoughts, Tatsuno remarked, “You know, Yasuo, if you weren’t my best friend I would be very envious right now.”

After a moment’s silence I replied, “I’d give anything if we were going in together; that would truly make it perfect.” I rested my hand upon his narrow shoulder, and we clopped along together. “But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you should get the same chance before long.”

Tatsuno shook his head. “Oh, I don’t really think so,” he said. “After all, look who you are! You’re the national glider champion!”

“Yes, but what kind of an air force would we have if they only chose glider champions?” I asked. “Besides, you really did well. You went to the finals, didn’t you?” He merely shrugged. “Didn’t you?” I prodded and began shaking him back and forth, trying to pull him off balance. “Didn’t you?”

Suddenly I pushed the long visor of his school cap over his eyes. “Didn’t you?” Laughing, he grabbed for my own and I ducked. Then we were cavorting along, laughing and grabbing, shoving each other, our wooden geta clattering loudly along the paved street near home. “And you’ve got the best grades of almost anybody in our school—right? Right?”

“Yes,” he laughed, “except you!”

It was almost dark by then, and we parted at the gateway to our yard. I entered my home to find Mother hunched over a large book at

the dining table. Food was cooking on the hibachi, and it smelled very good, but she did not seem happy. Her reply to my hello was subdued. I looked at her curiously. “Is Father home yet?”

“No.” I could barely hear her.

“Is he still at work?”

She shook her head. “He will not be home tonight.”

Then I understood. It was never easy for her, even after all the years. Her veined hands closed the book, and she gazed silently at the cover— Tale of Genji. “My mother gave me this book when I was a young girl,” she said. “I still remember almost all of it.”

Sitting beside her, I spoke with great hesitancy: “No one could ever take your place, Mother. You know how much Father cares for you.” “Oh yes,” she replied, unable to conceal the note of bitterness. But I am not so young any more—not like his darlings, his Kimiko and his Toshiko, and all the others. She laughed even more bitterly. “There was a time when your father never looked at another woman, nor was he the only man who thought I was beautiful.”

“You are still beautiful!” I exclaimed. “I think you are the most beautiful woman in the world!”

“Reddening faintly, Mother replied, “I must think my Yasuo-chan is a full-grown man now, talking such foolishness.” Then she kissed my cheek. “It’s really nothing to worry about. Nothing has changed, and your father will return as usual tomorrow or the next day. Besides. . . .” She arose, attending to her meal. “I will always have my children. They are my greatest joy.”

There was nothing more to say. It was aJapanese male’s prerogative to have his mistresses, as long as he could afford them, and my father was the richest man in Onomichi. Although true geisha are not prostitutes, some are available as mistresses to men of sufficient means, and my father kept one of his own in nearby Hiroshima, an alleged ravishing beauty of marked talent in the dance and such stringed instruments as the koto and samisen. This I had learned from my older brothers long ago, the “unspoken secret” of which everyone was well aware.

So it was that whenever my father went away, except for legitimate business trips, which were almost always quite lengthy, my mother con­tinued meekly about her responsibilities in the home as was befitting a wife in such circumstances. Her comments in that connection, in fact, were highly atypical and probably stemmed from her anxiety over my impending departure and realization that I would soon be caught up in a great war, the most devastating conflict in history.

In any event, I actually enjoyed my father’s absences most of the time. Not that I didn’t love him, but rather because I felt less restrained when he was away. They afforded me an opportunity to be with my mother and sister, to be the center of attention. As the weeks faded, and the time approached for my departure, in fact, I took ever-increasing comfort from being alone with them.

It was Tomika above all, though, who made the prospect of leaving poignant. She had been the ideal sister, even defending me against the occasional teasing and bullying of my older brothers when they were still in the home. Tomika, as well as my mother, washed and ironed my clothes, cooked my favorite meals, and fondly indulged my every whim.

Often, as the time drew nigh, we wandered by the ocean, along the cold sands that smelled of salt and fish and seaweed. On those rare days in January when the sun parted the clouds we gathered shells and listened to the quiet puttering of junks in the harbor. Even when the weather was cold, men and women bustled about in long dingy shacks along the shore, smoking fish and preparing them for the market. Aged people in the main, crinkled and brown, in tattered clothing, hunched there on the beach, at work with their nets.

I had never known their privation or gone shoeless and half clad like their children and grandchildren, but there seemed to be some­thing pleasant about that life, about its utter simplicity that suddenly was exceptionally appealing. At times we would watch as those fisher people spread catches of tiny, shimmering fish to dry on woven mats, later collecting them in baskets. When sunlight warmed the beach they occasionally rested long enough to dig their bare toes in the sand and visit. Their voices and laughter were always mild—at one with the cries of the gulls and surging of the waves.

There was a timelessness and serenity about those ocean people that made the war seem rather remote. True, the enemy was bombing our homeland, but the immediate area had thus far gone unscathed, and occasionally even now, war was something that happened only in books and movies.

This same peace prevailed as we strolled the mountainside, viewing the terraced farmlands. Now, in mid winter, the terraces and paddy’s were bleak and lifeless, but with the coming of spring they would explode a brilliant green. The rice would quest higher and higher from the muck that gave it birth, never losing its brightness until the time of harvest. Meanwhile, the mountains, cloaked in their own dense foliage, would brood ever darker as the summer moved on.

Now, however, all of nature was drab and gray, and my three months had fled with disturbing abruptness. Suddenly I realized that the time with my family and friends was nearly over, perhaps forever. Within only a few days I would depart from Onomichi and very possibly never return.

On an afternoon near the end of January Tomika and I sat in my upstairs room gazing outward upon the wintry landscape. The pines of the hillside were patched with slowly wreathing mists. I would be leaving the next morning, and the sense of finality simmered in my stomach with a mild burning sensation. My hands were slightly tremulous. To­morrow! Excitement and anxiety roiled steadily throughout my entire system, even the capillaries of my skin.

Our back yard itself was blurred in mist, the rough-hewn gray stone of our family shrine invisible, the heavy wooden torii forming the gateway to the road barely discernible, its bright orange surface dull and muted like the waning of hope.

“I wish it were summer,” I sighed. “Then we could go hiking, even take one more swim in the lake.”

“Hai,” Tomika said and nodded. “I wish it were always summer.” After a long silence she spoke again. “How can this be?” I glanced at her puzzled. “Why must people fight and hate each other?” Her words and expression had never been more imploring or distressed. “Is this really possible? People endlessly killing each other? People who actually hate us? Want to destroy us?”

“Why not?” I answered sadly. “We hate them. Don’t we want to destroy and conquer them?”

“I don’t want to destroy and conquer anyone.” Her voice was sor­rowful, almost ancient. “I just want people to live in peace. I want them to be kind to each other.”

“But how can we live at peace when the western powers are stran­gling us?” I asked. It was a doctrine we had been taught in school, the conviction of our father and countless others. The West had long domi­nated so much of the world that Japan had no opportunity to expand and was gradually being stifled.

The Americans themselves were, in general, an objectionable people. Mongrels in reality, large, ungainly people, many of them obese, with pallid skins and strange hair. Red hair, some of them! I had never seen a red-haired American, very few at all, for that matter, but I had seen photographs of them in magazines. A greater number, in fact, had yellow hair. Hana ga takoi, big noses, on top of that! Worse still, some of them were almost black, having originated in dark and forbidding places such as Africa and South America.

The whole situation seemed highly unnatural, indeed, downright sinister. Furthermore, most Americans were greedy, prodigal and lazy, wallowing in undeserved luxury. Their soldiers were savage and guttural­voiced, yet also cowardly when their lives were in jeopardy as my father had assured me.” Do you believe what they’re saying about American Marines?” I inquired. Tomika eyed me quizzically. “That they have to kill and eat their own grandmothers even to become a Marine,” I said. “That’s the main qualification.”

“No,” Tomika replied firmly, “that’s ridiculous! No one, not even an American, would ever do a thing like that.”

“Well,” I said dubiously, “that’s what some of them are saying at school—even old Tanaka-sensei in our history class.”

No doubt the average Caucasian view of Orientals was just as ex­treme in some ways. In the American view we were yellow-skinned, slant-eyed monkeys, dwelling in paper houses. We possessed no spark of originality and could only copy what others had the ingenuity to invent. Our soldiers—indeed every Japanese, Japanese Americans included—were considered sneaky, treacherous and fanatical. “Dirty Jap,” was one of the more popular epithets.

At times I still wonder how much such forms of ignorance and preju­dice among virtually all peoples have contributed to war throughout the ages.

In January of 1944, however, I did not ponder such matters very deeply. I had been reared to believe that the Imperial Way of Righteous­ness and Truth was the best way—the only way—and that ultimately, despite great obstacles, it would envelop the world. For indeed, it was divinely ordained to do so. In time all nations of the earth would be united in a vast hierarchy with Japan at the helm, but unfortunately such a condition could not obtain without war. The greatest blessings sometimes demanded the greatest sacrifice.

Furthermore, the population of our country was rapidly increasing with scant room to expand, and we were in desperate need of more terri­tory. Drastic conditions required drastic solutions, and consequently our assault on Pearl Harbor three years earlier had been a solemn obligation, action requiring immense courage and foresight.

Such was the prevailing doctrine, yet in reality I often felt much as Tomika did. N ow especially, I only wanted to live and let live in the most literal sense. Increasingly, in fact, I was becoming a split personality. Fear on the one hand, a desire for peace and sanctuary. Excitement on the other from my growing awareness that within a few months I could be flying, not a mere glider but rather an actual, bona-fide aircraft. Indeed, if I were good enough and very fortunate, if the gods were with me, a fighter plane. Already I was a hero in the eyes of my friends, but as fighter pilot I would experience even greater, more lasting, recognition.

Through with my studies now, I had bid goodbye to my teachers and classmates, having learned only a day earlier, that two more students from our school had been selected for training at Hiro. Better still, Tatsuno was one of them. He would not be entering the service for another two months, but both of us were delighted over what had happened. During my final days at home we were together frequently.

Our common bond with the Air Force had brought us even closer, closer in some ways than I was to my own brothers. When Tatsuno first gave me the good news I had clapped him on the back, exclaiming, “See, what did I tell you!” Tatsuno had only smiled shyly, the wise older man in the boy’s body, but it was impossible to disguise his excitement.

On my final day at home I went with him to visit some of our other friends then returned to spend the remaining hours with my family. Father was obviously proud and in good spirits, talking with me more intimately than ever before while Mother and Tomika prepared a special farewell dinner from the best rice and sashimi, sliced, raw fish fresh from the sea—along with a variety of other delicacies.

Before midnight I bade my family a good rest and crawled beneath my futon. For many hours, however, sleep failed to come. My thoughts were an ever-unfolding panorama of memories, visions of the future, and ongoing apprehensions. Above all, I feared that I would not be able to compete with the others in basic training. Most of them were older than I, at that critical stage of rapid growth when even a year or two could make a marked difference. Would I actually be able to keep up with them? Captain Mikami had said basic training would be “very enjoy­able” yet more and more I wondered if he had been speaking ironically. Stories were steadily mounting regarding the rigorous routine ahead, the harshness of the punishment for even the most trivial mistakes.

Half asleep, half awake, I tossed and squirmed for more than an hour, fearful that I would be exhausted with the arrival of morning. At last I began to drift off, aware that several aircraft had just passed over, purring steadily off, diminishing into the mysterious realms of night. Sit­ting there beside me, softly stroking my brow was my mother. Extending my hand, I felt the warmth of her own. In the darkness nearby came a faint murmur, and I knew that Tomika was beside her. Gradually my thoughts settled and sleep came.

The Miracle of Life

A

fter that visit I began to view the world, life and death, some­what differently. The temple, and the great, emanating Buddah, the priest. . . and the wind among the lanterns. I had accepted the priest’s philosophy, and although it transcended my sense of reason, it also ap­pealed to it. Even more, it somehow resonated within my being.

Nevertheless, no philosophy, even the most sustaining, could fully vanquish what I experienced during my first escort flight over Okinawa or what I felt in the aftermath. Never before had I seen men, indeed my own companions, plunge to their death in that manner.

After my first escort flight, I tossed in near delirium throughout the night, the images of that mission flashing through my mind in endless and chaotic array. At times I would awaken, wrenched upright into a sitting position, clasping my brow with both hands, hoping to exorcize it all by a concerted act of will. Determination! I told myself, If you have enough determination, you can turn it off and have a little peace. But inevitably, at the first approach of sleep, it returned with diabolical insistence. I could not escape.

Over and over, I was accompanying our fifteen Kamikaze, watching

as the dives commenced, two or three transformed into savage erup­tions of flame and smoke, flames the color of molten lava, smoke black as the fur of a panther. At times I was alone with only the boundless water below. Endless water in endlessly varying tones—indigo blue, darkening gray. . . and subtly glowing pearl. . . turquoise and brilliant, spring-rice green.

And water alone was all right, yet asleep or awake, no matter how tightly I clenched my eyes and willed it otherwise, I could not exclude the vision of that first ship. . . and another, and another.

Then, inevitably, the entire enemy convoy—dozens of battleships, carriers, destroyers, and other vessels, sullenly balanced there upon the face of the sea, methodically—imperceptibly, it seemed, at first view—gliding forward, leaving their widening white wakes. The ships swiftly enlarging, the tracers streaking wildly in straight red lines, and the proliferating death blossoms of the flak.

Always at that point, I would escape the nightmare with a jolt. It was the falling sensation that nearly everyone experiences at times on the threshold of sleep but greatly intensified. Then. . . lying there shud­dering, afraid of wakefulness, yet more afraid of sleep.

During that night and the days to come, I wondered increasingly what might become of my body at the end of my first and final one-way trip. If I accomplished my mission and struck an enemy ship, what would the explosion be like? No doubt, only a shattered second of remaining awareness. . . unless by some fantastic quirk of fate I were to survive. No, no—ridiculous. No one could ever survive such contact.

What, I wondered, would become of my head? Would my head be blasted from my body? I could almost see it at times, a charred and featureless blob sinking to the floor of the ocean. How deep was the ocean, there off Okinawa? A mile? More? I thought of the Mariana Trench therein the West Pacific. Six miles deep, the deepest spot in the entire ocean.

In my mind I saw a leg—my leg, tossed on an immense wave. I saw one of my arms. Would my arms and legs provide food for the sharks? My fingers. . . would my fingers seem strange to some fish? I saw a fish, its round eye staring impassively at fingers lodged in a strand of kelp. The fish was canary yellow with brilliant stripes of blue, its fins gently wavering, almost transparent. I saw it nibble tentatively.

If I struck an American ship, however, I might take many others with me. What wonderful irony, to find my burial in intimate company with the enemy. Ah yes. . . I shook my head, actually feeling the insinuation of a smile. Death, the grand and undeniable equalizer! What remarkable impartiality! What a curious camaraderie it bestows upon us all!

Often on those sultry nights my mattress became so damp from my own sweat, so hot that I arose and walked to the window, hoping for a mere trace of breeze, the faintest whisper. Usually nothing came, but I would stand there long enough immersed in thought to let the mattress cool a bit. Sometimes I would turn it over because the underside was cooler. Having removed the sheet, I would waft it up and down in the humid air hoping to dry it a little.

Over the past few weeks I had acquired a heat rash on my chest and upper arms that sometimes itched insanely. But no matter, I told myself; all such concerns would soon be of no consequence. Often still, I thought poignantly of home. I wrote few letters now, though, because they were being censored, and several of them had apparently never arrived. Therefore, even this final and tenuous link with my past had been reduced to a few trite words, abstract sentiments that could scarcely be conveyed.

Nevertheless, both my mother and Tomika wrote me faithfully. The first bombs had now fallen upon Onomichi, but thus far our immediate neighborhood had been spared, perhaps because of its sparser popula­tion and inconspicuousness upon the verdant mountainside. Happily, none of our family or immediate neighbors had been injured, but now after so many months away it had all become a fond dream, and even the dream was waning, for I would never return.

Now that I was a fighter escort, Nakamura, Tatsuno and I did not see each other as often, and our barracks were some distance apart. At times Nakamura and I flew the same mission, but that provided little opportunity for close association, and Tatsuno, with less experience, was only flying reconnaissance at present.

Throughout it all—the anxiety, fear, frustration, sorrow. . . the fleet­ing hopes, we escort pilots were learning something valuable, learning what was necessary for a Kamikaze to die effectively and with honor. We knew, better than anyone else, what it required to sink an enemy ship. I

personally knew the best strategy, having witnessed some successes and far too many failures.

To the novice, diving into an American ship might seem relatively simple. In reality, however, it had become increasingly difficult. First, there were the ever-vigilant enemy fighters. In addition, each vessel fired off an astounding barrage. The combined output of anti-aircraft, heavy caliber machine guns, and other weaponry, created a virtual lead wall at times.

Moreover, the moment they were under attack, the ships began to zigzag erratically, so that many of our pilots missed their targets com­pletely, plunging into the ocean. Often, as well, it was easy to become confused in pre-dawn attacks or storm. One Kamikaze from another base, in fact, was reported to have mistaken a tiny island for a battleship dur­ing the early hours of morning. A billowing eruption against the gloomy shore had revealed his error.

In my own estimation, the best procedure was to descend from a height of ten to five thousand feet, the sun at our tails. The dive angle would vary from forty-five to sixty degrees, leveling out about five hundred yards from the target and roaring in as low to the water as possible.

Thus an approach would occur below the angle of the bigger guns. That way also the ships were in danger of hitting each other with their own weaponry, and a strike at the waterline greatly increased the likeli­hood of a sunken vessel

Despite our most desperate and ingenious efforts, however, the aver­age number of hits was now only ten to fifteen percent. A sad contrast to those first impressive results at Luzon.

Instilling the Spirit

H

iro Air Force Base was only an hour’s train ride from my home, but it was an entirely different world. Yes, I had been warned what to expect, and I had tried in some measure to prepare myself. I had also tried to hide from the truth. One way or another, however, it made little difference, because no man could possibly condi­tion himself psychologically for what lay in store.

Sixty of us, all new recruits, were assigned to four of the base’s forty – eight barracks. Hiro was some three miles in circumference, enclosing a long, narrow airstrip which ran the length of the base. In addition to the barracks, it also contained a large training field, airplane hangars, school buildings, dispensary, and storage houses along with various other structures and offices.

On one side of the airstrip were assembly plants, and a fighter-plane testing area. At that stage of the war Japan was in dire need of money and materials—especially aluminum. By then the assembly lines were being run by schoolboys, and about one of every six planes constructed eventually fell apart, sometimes in mid-air.

Shortly after our arrival we received an orientation lecture from one of the hancho, all of whom were NCO’s, sergeants in our own case. We were instructed with great exactitude how to make our beds, arrange and display our clothes, and the importance of having our shoes and boots polished to a glossy finish at all times. Perfect orderliness and cleanliness were rigidly demanded. Further, we were informed that Shoto Rappa (Taps) would sound at nine p. m.

Obligations and procedures in such matters were essentially the same as those in any country. Military men, regardless of nationality, generally follow the same basic rules. The great difference in our case lay in how such rules were enforced. An American, for example, who failed to be clean shaven or to have his shoes properly shined might have his weekend pass revoked or be given extra guard duty.

For those at Hiro, however, as for almost all ofNippon’s basic trainees, the slightest infraction, the most infinitesimal error, brought excruciat­ing punishment. A siege of ruthless discipline and relentless castiga­tion began, in fact, the first hours of our arrival, and it rarely ceased throughout the days of our training—a siege so terrible that many did not survive it.

American prisoners of war, “victims ofJapanese atrocities”, generally fared no worse than we did. Some, in fact, received milder treatment. Allied prisoners, such as those incarcerated at Umeda and Osaka, in fact, operated their own makeshift dispensaries and received better medical care as a result than most of our own men. Many of those Americans, forced to unload ships and trains, managed to smuggle large quantities of food not only for themselves, but also for their guards in return for their cooperation and silence.

Of course, there were others who suffered far more, and by virtu­ally any standard imaginable they were terribly victimized, but so were Japanese trainees. No matter how perfectly we performed each task, the hancho found excuses to make us suffer. Punishment was an integral part of our education and served two basic purposes: to create unwav­ering discipline and to develop an invincible fighting spirit. For all of us, therefore, it was a matter of not only acquiring the necessary skills but of learning how to survive great hardship and brutality. Anyone who could withstand the hancho could withstand the enemy and would unquestionably prefer death to surrender.

Such training, combined with a form of nationalism that accentu­ated the preeminence of country and expendability of the individual, produced remarkable commitment, in any event. As my father had said, very few of our men were taken captive initially. Until the latter stages of the war and our defeat in Okinawa, in fact, only one man was taken captive for every hundred killed, usually individuals who had been wounded to a state of incapacity, sometimes having fainted from loss of blood.

During my first days at Hiro, however, I felt little desire to rush out and die gloriously for some great cause. Like all the others, I was over­whelmingly demoralized and intimidated. As though watching a movie, I can still see the frightened, homesick boy I was that first night in the air force. I lay on my bunk, assuming the day was over, but feeling like a rabbit surrounded by wild dogs, trying to imagine what the training would be like, wondering what the next day held in store. Anxiety had left me exhausted yet too nervous for sleep.

Suddenly our door burst open, and my heart lurched. The shuban kashikan, our NCO’s in charge of quarters, were making their first inspec­tion. Tense, breathless, I watched the white shafts from their flashlights play about the room and listened to their mutterings with little compre­hension. Their tone did not bode well, however. I also realized that all the other recruits were lying in an agony of suspense just as I was. We all must have prayed that the shuban kashikan would leave quickly without incident, but our prayers were not answered.

Within only a minute or two the overhead lights flashed on, and we were driven from our bunks with slaps, kicks and commands: “Outside, idiots! Outside, Mamma’s little boys—fast!”

Dazed and blinking, I leapt to my feet but not soon enough to avoid a vigorous cuff. “Hey, baldy,” my assailant snapped, referring to my shorn head, “move out!” A violent shove and someone else delivered a kick to my rear, literally booting me out the door.

Clad in nothing but ourfundoshi (loin cloths), we were lined up along the barracks and a fat hancho with an puffy, pock-marked face began

cursing us—our first encounter with Master Sergeant Noguchi, “The Pig”

“Did you all live like animals at home?” he railed. “Or have you just decided to now that you’re away from your parents?” He paused. “You were warned today about keeping your quarters neat. But appar­ently you thought we were only talking to hear ourselves—soka?” For a moment he eyed us thoughtfully. “Ah so desu ka!” To my amazement he was actually grinning, a sly grin like the spawning of an eel. “Don’t even know how to stand at attention, do they?” For an instant he looked almost like a reproving father. “Green kids,” he chuckled and shook his head. I exhaled with relief. Maybe training wouldn’t be so terrible after all. Maybe they had a different policy now.

A foolish delusion born of desperation. The Pig motioned to one of the hancho and winked. The hancho darted to one side of the barracks and promptly returned, handing him a large baseball bat. “Domo arigato gozai mashita,” The Pig said, thanking him most politely. For a moment he examined it thoughtfully. “So now. . .” He held it up for our inspec­tion. “Do you know what this says?” Silence. “It says ‘Yamato damashii seishinbo.” We knew the meaning well enough—a ball bat for instilling the Japanese fighting spirit, the spirit of Yamato. Yet none of us were eager to respond.

“Do you know what this is for?” The Pig demanded.

“Yes sir,” a few of us mumbled.

“Oh, come now!” He clucked his tongue, feigning great distress. I was swiftly coming to realize that here was a man who had become the perfect master at handling recruits, that he knew all the procedures and relished his job. “Why, boys! Didn’t you have enough to eat? I could hardly hear you. Now, seriously—don’t you actually comprehend the significance of this magnificent bat?” Most of us answered that time, but still very timidly.

“Oh my!” He rolled his eyes, glancing mischievously at the other hancho. “That was no louder than someone farting in the bath. How long has it been since you stopped sucking your mother’s tits?” A high- pitched giggle burst from him, and he shook his head at the grinning hancho who had handed him the bat. “Green kids! Tell me the truth, Sakigawa—have you ever seen such pitiful little bastards?” The hancho leered, and a few of us smiled very faintly. “Wipe off those idiot smiles!” The Pig roared. “Go on! Wipe them off!”

Halfheartedly, we passed our hands over our mouths, staring at him bug-eyed. At this he cackled almost uncontrollably. For some time he shook with helpless laughter, then wiped his eyes with a pudgy hand and moaned, “Oh God, I’ve been in this business too long!”

Still stifling little sobs of hilarity, he continued. “Obviously, it is high time to begin your training.” Then, suddenly, he became very harsh and serious. “About face!” We turned at his command, awkwardly, facing the barracks. A metal bar, waist high, ran the entire length of the building.

“There now. . . see that metal bar? Very eye-catching and attractive, na?” He waited. “Oh? You don’t think so? Practical, anyway, as you are about to discover. Each of you will now kindly bend forward and grasp the bar with both hands.” Again the pause. “Yes, that’s it—everybody! Very good—excellent!”

Again the almost maniacal laughter, culminating in a series of im­pulsive little chortles. “Look at those asses!” The other hancho were also laughing, but it was a harsh and cynical laughter devoid of humanity. “Have you ever seen such pitiful looking asses?” His laughter mounted to a kind of satanic glee. “All right boys. . . .” He struggled to gain control. “We shall now put some spirit into you!”

Those words filled me with terror, and I battled the desire to break and run. Simultaneously, I heard a loud whack, and the first man in line groaned in pain and astonishment, clasping his rear. Two hancho had closed in with bats. “Keep hold of the bar!” a voice shrilled and the victim grasped it again with trembling hands, writhing as the bat fell a second time. “Stand still!” The bat fell a third time with a wallop. The hancho were proceeding with great vigor, as the whacking and ac­companying gasps rapidly increased. I was near the middle of the line, and sounds of wood striking flesh rapidly drew closer, the grunts and groans more immediate. Those who uttered the slightest protest were receiving additional blows.

Grinding my teeth, I gripped the bar with all my strength, staring desperately at the wall before me. The man on my left was getting the treatment, and for one frightening moment I waited, my heart beating wildly. Then—my whole body jolted—a tremendous wallop and flash of white fire shooting through my buttocks and up my back. Never in my life had I felt such pain. Yet somehow I managed to remain silent, almost motionless. Perhaps it was because I’d been given more time than most of the others to prepare myself.

The man with the bat paused, his eyes upon my quivering back muscles, waited endlessly while my heart pounded. Then he moved on.

At last the treatment was over and we were herded back into the barracks. As we tossed and moaned upon our cots, the door opened once more. Every one fell silent, a virtual explosion of silence. “Not again, not again!” The words roared in my head, unitedly in each of us, without question. Our friend The Pig was lounging in the open doorway, the outside light cutting across his face, leaving the eye sockets cratered in shadow. For some time he remained that way, dragging on a cigarette, expelling the smoke through his nostrils. I lay on my stomach, hugging the mattress, watching the smoke spiral upward past the porch light.

At last he flicked the butt into a trash can and called out, almost kindly, almost conspiratorially, “Hey, my dear little friends! Now do you know what the bats are for?”

“Yes, sir!” Every man in the barracks bellowed the words. Chuckling, he quietly closed the door.

Women of the Shadows

D

uring my months in the air force I had spent little time in the cities. Unlike most of my associates I rarely entered the bars and never once patronized any of the numerous brothels. In conse­quence, I received a lot of teasing. It is difficult to explain why some of us abstained. As I have indicated, however, sexual relations out of wedlock were viewed by my people somewhat differently than they were by those of various other cultures. Despite the Imperial Rescript, the satisfying of physical appetites was not considered immoral in the traditional sense as long as it did not interfere with one’s duties and obligations.

My own attitude was partly the result of pride. Having come from a wealthy family of high social standing, I did not wish to debase myself by association with the lower elements of city life. In addition, I was still very young and shy. Women made me uneasy. It was even hard for me to converse with those outside my own family.

In any event, I did not consider the purchasing of sex, like meat across the counter, especially admirable. Certainly it was no achievement. One man’s money was as good as another’s. Frequently, as I noted with scornful amusement, men whom the average woman would never have offered a second glance in civilian life were coming to view themselves as great and captivating lovers.

On the other hand, I did suffer temptation. Sometimes at night, outside the base, I heard the feminine voices, laughter—occasionally warm and comforting, more often brazen and seductive. And often those sounds filled me with frustration. “The time is late Kuwahara,” I told myself. “Better live life to the full. Go find the best in town. You’ve got the money.”

Occasionally as I strolled through the city with Tatsuno and Na­kamura, the prostitutes who approached us were amazingly aggressive. One in particular—a woman, perhaps in her early thirties, with large, jutting breasts, makeup so heavy her face appeared embalmed, and a lavishly painted mouth. She had actually seized my arm and tugged me toward a shadowed doorway. I could smell the musky odor of her body blending with the cloying scent of tobacco breath and perfume. How well even now I remember the throaty voice: “Come along, young airman, I can make you happy all night long for only a few yen!”

Simultaneously excited and disgusted, I had shaken her off, stam­mering, “No, no thank you.”

How Tatsuno and Nakamura had laughed. Then they had almost roared when in mock anger she shouted, “Oh, so you don’t like a good woman! You are not a man yet, correct? Just a baby. Come back when you are a man, akachan; maybe I will give it to you free!”

Now that we were allowed overnight passes, only a few men slept in the barracks. On those hot nights, sometimes only two or three of us there, I tossed, even talked to myself. Wiping the sweat from my brow and upper lip, I would hear the words: “Come back when you are a man, baby dear.”

Once, about midnight, I sprang from my cot and began yanking on my clothes, nearly tearing them. Damn that leering face! That smug, brazen. . . . Damn that sexy, ogling countenance, that pliant smirking mouth! Damn those large, impertinent breasts! I would show her! She would never call me a baby again—not when I was through with her. She’d moan, weep, plead! That’s what she would do.

I stubbed my toe and swore aloud, then blundered into my open locker door and swore even louder. “What’s the matter, Kuwahara?” a voice drifted from the far end of the barracks.

Stifling a desire to shout, “Shut up and mind your own business!” I stood by the locker, clenching my fists but offering no reply. What was there to say? For a long time I stared into the locker’s confines as though it were the void, letting its darkness fill my head, letting it absorb and dissolve the faces and the voices, allowing its emptiness to enter my soul and blot out everything.

Finally, I lay down again, heaving a sigh. At last a slight breeze was sifting through the barracks. I remembered how I had reacted, seeing girls—some no older than thirteen or fourteen— standing in the shad­ows, along the darkened facades of buildings and the alleys. Many of them were no different outwardly than girls I had known at school.

Then, too, I reminded myself that a visit to one of those places would not be very enjoyable anyway. Nakamura had tried it, just once, and had returned to the base sickened and disillusioned. In the pallid light of morning he had awakened to reality, gazing upon the woman beside him. The paint had worn from her mouth except for a few remaining flakes, and her eye shadow was smudged like ashes. Her hair was di­sheveled and ratty, the breath rasping from her open mouth. Nakamura had retreated swiftly, suddenly aware that he might have contracted gonorrhea, or syphilis.

No, I would never make Nakamura’s mistake. At least, I would go out with my self respect in tact. Then, however, a thought surfaced. There was one thing I could do in the time remaining, something to ease the endless anxiety and frustration, at least make life a little more bearable. There were night clubs in many of the towns run by our military, places, I’d been told, with a rather pleasant, home-like atmosphere, where one could simply order a meal or a drink. And, of course, there were girls,

girls to dance with or merely visit.

What was the name? I wondered. The one nearest our base there in Oita? The Tokiwaya Club—that was it. Yes, I would go to the To – kiwaya just to see what it was like. Perhaps it would help take my mind off Okinawa. Perhaps I would not wonder quite as often when my death orders were coming.

Taiko Binta-A Splendid Game

T

he following day the sixty new recruits from all four barracks were assembled for our first morning formation, and The Pig delivered a lecture. Gravely he intoned, “We are now entering the first day of your training. And henceforth, I want you men to regard me as your older brother. If you have any questions, requests, or problems I sin­cerely hope that you will bring them to me. That is why I am here.”

I could literally feel the sense of wonderment. Was this actually the same man we had encountered the night before? Was it possible that our punishment had merely been some kind of initiation, and that now we would be treated humanely, with kindness and respect? There was an undeniable dignity about the man now, an understanding that engen­dered hope and relief. Somehow, he even looked better. At the moment, I only wanted to like The Pig and even felt ashamed that he had been dubbed with such a name. I wanted devoutly to deserve his respect.

“Now I know,” he continued, “you have all heard that air force training is an unpleasant experience, and at times that may be the case. Nevertheless. . .” He raised an admonitory finger. “It need not be so—not if you simply do as you are told. Not if you learn obedience which, next to courage, is the most important of all virtues.” He paused

lengthily, strolling back and forth before us, hands clasped behind his back. “And why is obedience so essential?” Still pacing, consulting the sky, one eye squinted. “Because successful followership is indispensable to leadership, and because both are indispensable to victory.” For a mo­ment he regarded us speculatively. “Do you understand?”

“Yes honorable hancho dono!” we shouted. All sixty of us had learned quickly that it was vital to respond to such questions instantly and with great enthusiasm. That it was indeed impossible to respond too loudly or swiftly.

“Good.” The Pig nodded to himself. “And that is why we begin with the little things. If men cannot learn obedience in small matters, how can they learn them in big ones? In The Grand Way of Heaven and Earth?”

Yes, I thought, that makes good sense. Completely logical. Shortly thereafter, he concluded his lecture, “The time has now come for you to put aside childish things. The time has come for you to become men.” Almost providentially, it seemed, a dozen bombers were passing over in V formations of three planes each, and for a few seconds their roar was all-consuming. “And as men. . .” his words came in their aftermath, “you will soon carry the weight of your country, the weight of the world, upon your shoulders. Far sooner than you can possibly realize at this stage. That is why, among other things, you must learn to follow instruc­tions implicitly! Instantaneously! Without faltering! Do not worry about the reasons for any instruction, no matter how strange it may seem. All instructions are given because they are correct! We are the head of the body; you are the arms and legs, the hands and the feet. Do you grasp my meaning?”

“Yes, honorable hancho dono!”

His eyes narrowed, searching each man’s countenance knowingly. “As for last night—”

We held our breath. “You were given clear and careful instructions regarding neatness in the barracks, correct?”

“Yes, honorable hancho dono!” A rhetorical question, perhaps, that last, but we were taking no chances.

“However. . . not one barracks complied properly.” Thankfully, we were not alone in our dereliction. “In one barracks a shoe was missing.

In another, a locker was not tightly closed. In still another, there was dust on a window ledge, and so forth. If further infractions of this sort occur, we shall be compelled to give you some real punishment!”

The Pig glanced knowingly at the other two hancho, his assistants. “What you received last night was nothing at all. You were not harmed in the least, merely educated. However, by the time you have completed your training under Hancho Noguchi, you will be able to withstand anything. You will be able to enjoy having an insignificant ball bat laid across your rears; you will have joy and laughter in your hearts. Hancho Noguchi will make men of you!”

Thus ended our first inspirational lecture in the military, one of many more to come.

That morning and each one thenceforth we arose at six for the formation ten minutes later. Then came thirty minutes of calisthenics and running before chow. Our diet was healthy though hardly fancy, consisting mainly of rice, and bean soup, brought from the base kitchen to our quarters in large wooden buckets. Our utensils were limited to bowls and chopsticks.

Following chow we were briefed by the Officer of the Day, a tall, cadaverous individual whose face was patched with scar tissue, ap­parently the result of third-degree burns. Then we were given further instructions from The Pig. Except for our noon meal, the remaining time was spent in class instruction, more calisthenics, combat training, and glider practice.

From four until six p. m. we cleaned and scrubbed our barracks and shaped up our clothing and combat gear for the dreaded and inevitable nightly inspection. We were also required to clean the quarters of our hancho, and each day three men were selected to wash and iron their clothes. Perfection of performance in all these areas was, of course, critical.

At nine p. m. came final formation and roll call. Shortly thereafter we were in our cots, all lights out. Yes, lights out at nine, but it was then that the Shuban Kashikan made their appearance, and it was a rare night that they didn’t find something amiss regardless of our most assiduous efforts to keep the barracks in a state of perfection. A few nights after our first acquaintance with the ball bats, for example, we learned another

fascinating game called taiko binta, all, allegedly, because one trainee had removed another’s shoe brush from its proper place.

Again, we were herded out into the cold with cuffs, kicks, and considerable ranting, clad in only ourfundoshi. For some time the Pig merely leered at us, clearly a master of the suspenseful pause and dra­matic effect.

“So. . . .” he said at length, attenuating the word with immense profundity. “So, my little darlings, you failed to heed our warnings.” Then, abruptly: “You there!” He pointed an accusing finger. “Stand at attention!” He struck an idiotic pose, slumping, belly distended, arms dangling ape-like. A few of us grinned uncertainly as our friend adopted other weird poses. Pointing at various recruits, he would caricature their expressions, tilting his nose upward, gawking as though struck dumb with amazement, bulging his eyeballs and staring fixedly ahead in mock terror.

Under happier circumstances, The Pig would have been quite a co­median. Indeed, by now I was incessantly astonished at his versatility—a man of multiple personalities, each of which he apparently relished to the full. Only minutes after such preliminaries, in fact, he introduced us to our next experience in sadistic punishment.

“So now, tonight!” The Pig held up his forefinger. “Tonight we shall all participate in a game which may be a bit new for some of you.” Again, the pause as his glance somehow took in our own, all sixty men, in a single, knowing sweep. “But consider how dull life would become without new experiences. So. . . yes, a pleasant little game, really—Taiko Binta. A new experience.” His assistants grinned knowingly, almost simpering. Then the climate changed dramatically. “First rank, about face!” he bellowed, and we promptly did as commanded. “Third rank, about face!” Now ranks one and two were facing each other as were ranks three and four.

Then, approaching the recruit in rank one, The Pig ordered the man facing him to step aside, taking his place. “Now. . . .” he purred, staring his hapless opponent in the face. “We are adversaries, correct?” No reply. “Correct!” The recruit gulped, offering a dazed, convulsive nod. His face was ashen. “Very good. He’s not deaf, he’s only dumb. So, now. . . the object of our little game is simply—this!” Swift as a ferret,

The Pig struck, and the boy fell to the ground with a moan, clutching his face.

A murmur flowed through the ranks. “Silence!” The Pig bellowed. “Now, as you can readily see, the game is very simple. The object is merely to alternate blows—give and take. Unfortunately my teammate is a poor player. Look!” He pointed as though dumbfounded. “He has collapsed like a puny girl. So, much as I hate to do so, I must withdraw from the game. His so-called opponent was still lying on the ground in a fetal position, and The Pig leaned down solicitously, helping him to his feet. Then he turned to the man he had replaced. “You will kindly assist our fallen hero to the sidelines.” The man responded very promptly.

“As you can see,” The Pig intoned, “taiko binta is a wonderfully simple game” Even a hopeless imbecile can participate. It is also highly reciprocal. We simply alternate blows to the face. Ranks one and three will have the honor of being first. Then ranks two and four may repay the compliment.” A shrill, little giggle, much like a sob, escaped his lips. “Now. . . on the count of three, first and third ranks strike on cadence. Ichi. . . ni. . . san. . . strike!”

The response was feeble and uncoordinated. I was in the fourth rank, and the punches from my opponent were quite soft and painless. “On cadence! The Pig shouted. “And much harder! Left, right, left right, left right! Harder, harder! Hah—you hit like dying butterflies! Put some energy into it, or I will have to give you a better demonstration.” Gradu­ally the force of the blows increased. One caught me on the lower lip, mashing it against my teeth, another in my eye. It throbbed, blurring, and began to water profusely. As the pain increased, those on the receiv­ing end began shifting slightly, ducking at times instinctively.

This gave the hancho an excuse, however, to move in with the bats, striking their victims across the back. Unfortunately, rank four was the most accessible and took the brunt of it, but The Pig was not satisfied. “Hah! You hancho hit like butterflies yourselves, butterflies that someone has pissed on! Give me that bat, Kakuda.” Chuckling, but still counting out cadence, he scuttled along behind us, delivering short, chopping blows to our calves.

Knocked off balance, I lurched forward, causing my opponent’s punch to land much harder than he intended. It caught me solidly in the nose, and my whole face went numb, nostrils gushing blood. My eyes were blinded with tears, and I could feel the blood trickling down my throat.

Then, at last, it was time to alternate, and I began with only light blows, partly because I could scarcely see, partly because I didn’t wish to harm my opponent. Immediately, though, a sharp-eyed hancho began whacking my thighs. Instinctively, I threw one hand back and received a numbing blow on the elbow. A hand grabbed my neck, finger nails nearly penetrating the skin. “Now, smart ass,” he snarled, “let me see you draw some blood.” Despite my heightened emotions, I was struck by the irony of that statement since my own blood was still flowing copiously, dripping off my chin onto my chest.

I stared at the face across from me, blinking. It was a strong, hand­some face, but the eyes were furtive, even a little dangerous, like those of a trapped animal. “I. . . I can’t,” I stammered. The words were unexpected, completely involuntary.

“What? What did you say?” My taskmaster sounded incredulous. “We’ll see about that!” I felt a searing pain across my rear, and then he began to kick me directly in the anus. I whirled, consumed in pain and rage, wanting nothing more in all of existence than to kill him, to insure his utter annihilation. My fighting spirit was short-lived, however, and he drubbed me right and left with the bat until I fell, groveling. “Next time, you little piece of shit. . . .” he puffed. “Next time I’ll knock your putrid head off.” Then he yanked me to my feet and delivered another kick. “Now, do you still want to fight?” I shook my head, vocal cords nearly paralyzed. “Then get back in line and start punching.”

My body was burning, racked with pain, as the boy across from me urged, “Come on, hit me! Hit me, I can take it!” My knuckles struck his cheek solidly.

“Harder!” the hancho growled, striking me across the back, and I continued to punch with increasing force.

At last The Pig called it to a halt. “So, now! Now, you recruits you are becoming acquainted with taiko binta. A splendid game—correct?” What? you don’t think so?” He sounded distressed.

“Hai, honorable honcho dono!”

“What was that?” He cupped one ear with his hand, and we repeated the words more loudly though obviously without sufficient enthusiasm.

“Well, you probably just need a little more practice.” he replied, feigning much empathy and kindness. “Then you can write home and tell your families what great fun you are having in basic training.”

Toyoko

A

n evening in June found me sitting at a table in secluded corner of the Tokiwaya. My friends had gone elsewhere, and I was there alone, idly contemplating the froth in my glass of beer. Other men were on hand from the base—too many, laughing boisterously at times, dancing spastically, even idiotically in some cases. Or so it seemed to me.

This was definitely not what I had hoped for. Such frivolity only depressed me. Sitting there, staring into that glass of beer, I decided that it looked, even smelled, like urine. How long had it been now since I had visited my family? I was struck more forcibly than ever that it had been more than a year. Now it would take a miracle, the miracle of miracles, for me ever to see them again.

Why had I come here in the first place? Pushing the glass of beer aside, I leaned on the table with my face cradled in my arms. Yet where else could I go? Where lay escape? Only in that final, fatal dive. The rest was simply a matter of waiting. . . waiting. . . agonized waiting.

Several minutes had passed, and I was actually almost asleep when a hand touched my shoulder, very gently. “Are you ill?” the words came. Startled, I glanced up. The voice was incredibly soft, the face, heart shaped with high, gleaming cheek bones, the eyes dark and fathomless. Her expression? It reminded me remarkably of my own sister’s in times of greatest concern. Inquisitive, yet gentle and compassionate, not the expression of that woman of the streets.

“Is everything all right?” she inquired. What fantastic sweetness! There is no other word. “You don’t look very well.”

Momentarily it occurred to me that she couldn’t really be interested, not in my personal problems. After all, she was being paid to be nice; it was simply part of her job. Yet there was something about her eyes now, a kind of wistful light that belied such explanations. Her gaze had captured my own almost hypnotically, but suddenly, highly embar­rassed, I glanced down at the table. “No, not. . . I’m not sick. Just. . . well, thinking.”

“Ah so,” she said, softly yet with strange wonderment, as though my thoughts must have been quite profound, eminently worthy of her at­tention. The smile flowed, this time with a tinge of mischief, but again the ineffable sweetness. “Would you care to dance?”

Forcing a twitching smile, I shook my head. “I’m afraid I’m not very good.” Then I was stammering again, terribly humiliated. “I don’t even know how, in fact.”

“That’s all right,” she replied and hesitated. For one desperate mo­ment I feared that she would leave, vanish from my life forever. “Would you mind if I sat down for a while? Here with you?”

I glanced at her again and reddened. Still the same expression. She had never once averted her gaze from my face. “Yes,” I said, “I mean, no. I’d be happy to. . . have you sit down. I mean, if you aren’t too busy. If you really want to.”

‘Thank you,” she said.

We sat in silence for a moment, her eyes still upon me while I stared at my hands, gaze flicking up once or twice to meet her own but unable to maintain contact. “Could I buy you a beer?” I asked, “some dinner?” She shook her head. “No, but that’s surely nice of you. Thank you

very, very much.” Yes, she was like Tomika, not so much physically as the expression, her entire demeanor. I cast furtive glances at the intri­cate flowered designs on her kimono—silver and gold—and let my gaze descend to the soft white tabi, stockings with a separate sleeve for the big toe. Everything about her was neat and delicate, her hands like those of a ceramic geisha as were her feet in their woven zori. Yet she possessed those feminine fluid contours that any normal man would regard with fascination.

Vainly I struggled for something to say. Conversation with my friends had never been difficult, but now with this woman simply sitting there, steadily watching me. . . it was a strange situation indeed. “Well. . .” I managed at last, “I supposed I should be getting back to the base.” Intending to sip my beer, I began to stand, lifted the glass, and acciden­tally took too large a gulp, half choking.

Her eyes were full of amusement, the mischief increasing, and her hand reached out to touch, even press, my own. “Wait, please!” Mysti­fied, I sat down again, this time finally staring at her directly. Could it possibly be that she was infatuated with me, maybe—for some weird rea­son—even in love? Vain, foolish idea, but what was the answer? “Would you mind greatly if I asked you a personal question?” she inquired.

“Ah. . . yes, I guess so.” The imbecilic stammering again. “I mean— no, I don’t mind!” I blurted, wondering why I had said the simple word “no” so loudly. People were even looking at us. “It’s all right.”

“Good,” she said, “and please don’t be offended, but I can’t help wondering how old you are.”

So that was it. I felt myself becoming angry. Almost gruffly, I replied, “I—I’m twenty, twenty years old. Why? Why do you ask?”

“Ah so desuka!” She sounded as if that were a marvelous achievement, very respectful. “Is that true? Twenty?”

“Hai” I replied even more abruptly. “Why do you want to know?” “Oh, you really are angry, aren’t you?” For the first time, she glanced down. “Please excuse me for my extreme presumption.” For a few seconds I thought that she was going to cry. “The reason I asked. . . I just had to because. . . you remind me so much of my younger

brother, so very much I can hardly believe this is happening.” Again, Tomika—especially that unique pleading quality in her eyes the night she had learned of my enlistment. The tear falling on my photograph. “He was killed in Burma.”

“Oh,” I said, suddenly feeling sick—sorrow for her, but also a sense of dread as though it were an omen. “I am terribly sorry.”

For a time we simply looked at each other, immersed in a great sense of pathos, of tragedy—in a strange kind of rapport that I had never experienced before. “I am so sorry,” I said. “You must miss him very greatly.”

She barely nodded. For a minute or two we remained there in silence. Then at length she reached out, pressing her hand against my own again, and I could feel the emanations of life. Somehow it all seemed very natural.

By now, however, it was closing time, and we were saying farewell. Beginning to leave, I paused, glancing back at her. They were turning out the lights, and her face in the gathering darkness was remarkably luminous and phantom-like. “I’m so very sorry about your brother,” I repeated and hesitated. “I lied to you about my age, because I was ashamed. I am only sixteen too. Well, almost seventeen,” I added.

‘Thank you,” she said, “for your compassion, and for your honesty. A tear glistened in the corner of her eye, and she barely touched it with the tip of one finger. “Will you be coming back?”

“I hope so,” I replied. “I want to.”

The following evening, having flown another escort mission, I re­turned promptly to the Tokiwaya, ordered a second noxious beer and sat down at the same table. Minutes crawled by during which time I feigned interest in my drink, once even raising the glass and sighting at the colored lights though its contents. A blue light turned it green, red light a dull orange. At least that was an improvement, but in reality, of course, I was only looking for one thing: that remarkable young woman from the night before.

Eventually, I arose and crossed the fringe of the dance floor, greeting a few friends along the way, to obtain some peanuts and packet of fried squid. That too, however, was only a pretense. For perhaps twenty minutes I had

been looking everywhere, covertly but also obsessively, to no avail. Then I returned, and sat there absorbed in the dark surface of the table with its slurred and amorphous motions of people dancing. Perhaps the idea was not to look for her at all. Maybe then she would materialize magically as on the night before and lay her hand upon my shoulder.

Another fifteen minutes elapsed, and I was rapidly becoming more restless, even irritated. Each time some girl passed by, I angled a glance, but never a sign of the right person. Once I thought I saw her dancing with an airman I knew, and my heart squirmed. But wrong again. She was not there.

Dismayed, I stood, ready to leave, offering the Tokiwaya one final, panoramic overview. Gone. . . non existent. A mere dream. So now, another hot, nightmarish siege in the barracks. A girl passed by carrying bowls of soba noodles, sloshing the contents of one in her haste. Surpris­ing myself, I called out to her, but she continued with her tray, barely casting me a glance and murmuring something I didn’t catch.

Then she returned. “What would you like?”

Suddenly I realized that I didn’t even know the other girl’s name. “That person I was with last—” I was almost stammering. “The one sitting here with me last night for quite a while. At this table. Do you know which one I mean?” She merely looked confused and shook her head. “The girl with the long hair,” I persisted. “Very pretty.” My face was flushing absurdly. “Long hair, tied in back.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I just started working here.”

“All right, thank you,” I said dejectedly, got up and walked toward the exit.

I closed the door behind me hard, shutting out the music and the laughter, then wandered slowly down the street, hands in my pockets, watching my feet move steadily with a life of their own. Maybe a little walk around town. Maybe I would go see a prostitute, after all. That would serve her right—asking me to come back, then not even being there! I spat in the gutter, and my mouth felt dry. Simultaneously I heard the clop-clop of wooden geta approaching rapidly behind me.

“Ano!” It was the same girl I had just queried. Breathlessly she ac­costed me. “That girl you were asking for—it’s her night off.” I offered my thanks profusely, even bowing, and she giggled, clearly embarrassed. “You’re welcome.” Then she was clattering off again.

“Wait!” I called. “Normally I would never have asked the next ques­tion, but now it seemed imperative. “What’s her name?”

She hesitated. “Her name? I don’t. . . .” More hesitation. “Maybe it’s Toyoko. I think it’s Toyoko.”

“Do you happen to know where she lives? I’m supposed to give her an important message,” I added lamely.

“I don’t really know. I couldn’t say for sure.” Clattering off into the dark again. “I have to get back.”

“All right! But just tell me where you think she lives. It’s very im­portant that I talk to her.”

I jerked a ten yen note from my pocket, running after her. “Wait!”

Again she paused, casting a quick backward, almost frightened, glance. “No, I don’t want any money.”

“Take it,” I insisted, now face to face. “I know you can use it. Just say where you think she might be. That’s all you have to do, and I won’t tell anybody.”

“All right!” she said looking distressed, and took the note. “I think she lives down by the beach in the Miyazaki Apartments, but I don’t have the exact address. Don’t blame me if that isn’t—”

“Thank you very much,” I interjected and was on my way.

“I’m not sure, remember!” her voice trailed, sounding like that of a grade school girl. I made no reply.

It took me several minutes to find the place, but at last I was stand­ing before the Miyazaki Apartments, squinting to read the sign in the blackness. Fortunately the place was not very large, probably only a dozen units, located behind a white and slightly crumbling stucco wall covered with vines and fragrant flowers.

The time was only ten o’clock, and some of the windows were dimly lighted. Moments later I entered the gloomy alcove of the first and peered at the mailboxes. Six of them—two without names. The last one, how­ever, read, “Toyoko Akimoto,” and my heart skipped a beat. Yes, that had to be it! Slipping off my shoes, I mounted the stairs swiftly, almost stealthily, and paused before the door of room six.

A soft light gleamed beneath the entrance, and my pulse quickened.

Taking a deep breath, I knocked and waited, fairly burning inside. No answer. I hesitated then knocked louder. Perhaps Toyoko Akimoto was asleep. Or maybe someone was there with her. The very thought dismayed me greatly.

I waited uncertainly for some time, then on impulse tried the panel. Ever so cautiously, I felt it catch, then glide open an inch, squeaking softly. Two small rooms, the second raised slightly above the first, opening onto a tiny balcony. “Toyoko?” I called softly, surprised at the sound of my own voice. “Miss Akimoto?” All a dream. Crazy. Suddenly a panel opened noisily below giving me a start, but it was only someone leaving. Again I hesitated, then slid the door open a bit farther. Definitely a woman’s residence. It smelled faintly of perfume, and several kimono hung on the wall. One was pink, another violet. Yes, the very atmosphere seemed to emanate femininity. The only furnishings in the main room were a round, lacquered tea table the color of molasses, a charcoal burner and two dark red cushions with gold brocade. In the raised room beyond, a single futon was laid out for sleeping. Another folded on top with two sheets and a white nightgown.

Entranced, I slid the door even wider, I could see a child-sized dresser on one side of that room near an open window. Across its top was draped a pair of silk hose—a real rarity. A faint, tentative breeze was filtering through the window, lilting the tips of the stockings and billowing the curtains off an open balcony.

I knew that I should leave, felt the guiltiness of a thief in the night. What if this belonged to a different Toyoko? Or what if that wasn’t her name at all? The girl who had given me the information merely supposed she was called that, hadn’t even known her last name. What excuse could I give if the person who lived there should suddenly appear?

Uncertainly, I had turned, on the verge of leaving, unmindful that I had left her door half open. Simultaneously, I heard a faint tinkling sound. I turned back listening. Yes, coming from the balcony. . . a soft, silvery, clinking—a sound that made the hot night a little cooler. It was a sound from my past—glass chimes, suspended from the overhang there on the balcony, the breeze running its fingers through them. I craned my neck, peering, saw fragments of glass barely trembling and oscillating,

reflecting vagrant gleams of light like miniature stars.

Enchanted, I lingered, listening then gave a start at the sound of a door opening below. Geta clapped against the concrete floor of the alcove, one after another, echoing. Then someone was padding rapidly up the stairs toward me. No escape now! What would I do? What could I say?

Wearing ayukata of midnight blue, bent low over the stairs, she failed to notice me before we nearly collided, then glanced up with a gasp of astonishment, placing a hand to her mouth. I struggled to speak, but my vocal cords seemed shriveled and parched. For a moment we sim­ply stared at each other. She had a large white towel over one arm and looked different enough without her make-up that I was badly confused. Her luxuriant hair was not tied. It flared down her back, still slightly rumpled and damp, smelling of scented soap.

“Oh,” she murmured, “It’s you! You frightened me.”

I opened my mouth, gagging the words out by sheer force of will. “I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I was just leaving.” Making no sense whatever. “I mean I only wanted to—”

“It’s all right,” she said. “It’s just that I wasn’t expecting you.” This followed by a little rill of laughter that tinkled like the chimes. “I just got back from the bath.”

“Yes, I can tell,” I said, all the more embarrassed. “I can see that this is a bad time, though, so I’d better be leaving. It’s just that we’re flying a lot of missions now, and. . . .” Again the groping.

“Oh, no!” She shook her head, and her eyes met mine as on the night before. Her hand reached out, the fingers barely tracing my arm. “You aren’t. . . Aren’t going for good?”

“No,” I replied with greater confidence, “not for good—not for a while yet.”

“I’m so glad” she sighed, “please wait just a minute, please.” She slipped inside, closing the door, then immediately opened it again for an instant. “Don’t go away,” her voice came, “I’ll be right back!”

Minutes later the door opened all the way, and Toyoko was standing there in her pink kimono, wearing lipstick and rouge as she had the night before. “Please come in,” she said.

“Are you sure it’s all right for me to be here?” I mumbled, feeling more foolish than ever.

“Of course it is,” she replied and her tone was quite motherly. Then she handed me a cushion. “It’s much nicer out on the balcony, Yasuo. A breeze is coming in off the sea.” The chimes were more insistent now, more melodious. “And we can look out upon the water.”

A wide, tiled overhang slanted downward beneath the balcony, below which lay a courtyard, and beyond that over darkened alleys, roof tops and trees rolled the ocean. Its surge and roar was gentle but insistent, gradually increasing, and we could see the ragged fringe of white surf welling inward along the beach then subsiding, reviving again with the next breaker in a long and crashing sigh.

“Do you like the sound of the ocean?” Toyoko inquired.

“Yes, very much,” I replied.

Tilting her head back and closing her eyes, she murmured, “Hmmm, I love it. It smells so wonderful. And the sound. No matter what the problem. . . well, it somehow helps.”

“Very true,” I said, “no matter what the problem.” For a moment I reflected upon the fact that soon the ocean would solve all my problems, felt the simmering of soul. Then it subsided with the next dying wave, and for a time I was at peace.

“I like those chimes,” I said. “They remind me of the ones in our garden at home. Where did you get them?”

She smiled, a fleeting expression of fond reminiscence. “They were given to me, by a friend. By the way, why don’t you take your socks off and dangle your feet over the edge the way I’m doing.”

“That’s all right,” I replied nervously. “This way is fine.”

“Oh, come on,” she said and actually began tugging at my toes, pulling the socks off. Meanwhile, I found myself laughing nervously but also feeling grateful that I had showered using lavish amounts of soap before leaving the base, donning fresh underwear and stockings. At least, I didn’t smell bad, and Toyoko smelled wonderful.

Then she was rolling my trouser cuffs up slightly as well. “There now, doesn’t that feel a hundred times better?”

“Hai,” I laughed, “it really does.” In some ways she was like a little girl, amazingly natural and unaffected. Yes, I was beginning to feel at ease. My instincts had been right after all. Either that, or I had been extraordinarily lucky.

“Last night,” I said, “you asked me a question—remember?” Toyoko looked uncertain. “About my age. I told you that I was only sixteen.” She nodded, watching me. “Is it all right if I ask you the same question?”

“Oh, that! Why not? I’m almost twenty-four. I’m an old, old woman,” she said, and we laughed together.

“You told me I reminded you of your brother,” I continued. That was interesting. I mean, I was surprised to hear you say that because you remind me of my sister, Tomika.”

After that we visited for nearly two hours, talking about our pasts. Toyoko had left a large family in Nagasaki when she was eighteen and supported herself ever since, working in bars and restaurants, once as a maid in a mansion. She had even traveled for several months with a troop of dancers and modeled for large department stores occasionally. For the past year she had been a hostess at the Tokiwaya.

“It’s been good, Yasuo—talking to you,” she said as I left. “This is the first night that I haven’t been lonely in months. Will you come back soon?”

“Yes, yes, any time,” I replied, “if you really want me to.”

Her smile was utterly enchanting. “Are you free tomorrow night?” she inquired. “I’ll be off at ten, and I was thinking we might go for a walk along the beach.”

That night I returned to the base happier than I had been for many months. Even the flights loomed less sinister, the entire future. Maybe, I told myself, the war would end soon—soon enough to save me. For the first time in my life I was actually feeling a close kinship with a woman outside my own family. I decided, in fact, that living with men only, year in, year out, could be terribly deadening.

Almost every night the following week I met Toyoko at her apart­ment, and as the days passed I began taking her rations from the base. Food of almost any kind was hard to obtain now, and it made me very happy to help her a little. When no onions were available for our suki – yaki, Toyoko used cabbage. Even cabbage was rationed but usually still available at some of the markets.

Occasionally also I brought clothes for her to wash. Despite my reluctance, she had insisted and clearly took delight in doing things for

me, watching with an almost maternal expression as I consumed great quantities of her cooking.

Late one Saturday night as I prepared to leave for the base, Toyoko eyed me inquisitively. “Yasuo. . . .” she said and hesitated.

“What is it?” I asked.

Reaching out, she placed her hand on my arm. “Do you really have to go?”

“Well,” I replied uncertainly, “it’s getting late; I can’t keep you up all night.”

Her glance softened. “Why not stay here? It wouldn’t be any problem at all.” Excited but also confused, I merely mumbled incoherently, and she continued. “I have two futon—and two sheets; we could both have one.” Again, the humiliating embarrassment, the fumbling for words. “Oh, why not, Yasuo? I’ll sleep here and you can sleep in the other room by the balcony—in where it’s cool. Look, we can even draw the curtains for complete privacy.” She gestured gracefully at the diaphanous, white veil next to her, barely tracing it with the backs of her finger nails.

Toyoko’s so-called curtains would obviously afford little privacy, but I decided not to argue the point. By now I was her most willing captive. “All right,” I said, “that is very kind of you.” It took only a moment to unroll the futon, and I stretched out upon it in the dark, my forearm across my brow, hearing the whisper of cloth as Toyoko undressed in the adjoining room. The chimes tinkled entrancingly almost over my head, and in one of the distant lanes an itinerant noodle vendor tweedled his flute.