Winter and the Waning Days


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


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


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


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


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.”



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.

The Grand Way of Heaven and Earth


fterward all of us lay in our barracks, sick in body and heart, trying to smother our groans. Two or three men staggered out the door to vomit. My head throbbed, my nose and sinus area still numb. The floor seemed to rock like that of a ship in mild swells as I lay there face down trying to comprehend what had happened. My entire body was bruised and aching. Life was a mass of misery and confusion.

Suddenly, I started. Someone had touched me. “Don’t be afraid,” a voice whispered.

“What?” I blurted.

“Quiet! It’s only me—Nakamura.” He was standing there beside my cot, a faint shaft of light from outside revealing his face and bare shoulders. Taller than I and well built with a rather bad complexion.

“Ah so” I responded. “The one who. . . .” I turned on my side, massaging my battered elbow,” not knowing what to say. “Well. . .” I mumbled uncertainly, “please sit down.” The pain shot through my legs even though I had barely shifted them.

“No thanks,” he replied, “rubbing his hip gingerly with one hand. “My ass still hurts from that first night.” He was actually grinning a little.

I just wanted to tell you, I’m sorry about hitting you so hard, especially that one time, right in the nose.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” I said. “It was mine. I mean it was that stink­ing hancho.” I almost whispered the last two words. “He hit me on the back of my legs and knocked me off balance.”

“Yes,” Nakamura said, “and you got beaten up more than anybody else.” Oddly enough, I felt a little surge of pride but made no reply. “Those rotten bastards,” he added. “You know, somebody’s going to kill those bastards some day—every last one of them. . . kill them all, smash their stinking heads in.”

“I hope so,” I said but wanted him to leave. The pain was coming in waves, and it took all my strength to suppress the groaning. Eventu­ally the tension became unbearable, and I struggled to sit up. “Well,” I grunted, “I’m sorry that I had to hit you so hard. I hit you pretty hard, and I hope you’ll forgive me because I really hated to. I definitely didn’t want. . . .” At that point, I actually didn’t care much what I said, or what I had done. Anything simply to ease the pain, and the words fell out in a meaningless jumble.

But Nakamurajust stood there, and inwardly I began to berate him. I closed my eyes, bit my lips, clenched and unclenched my hands. Why didn’t the idiot leave? Couldn’t he see what hell I was undergoing? He hadn’t been hurt half as badly as I. Nor had anyone else. “You’d better not let the shuban kashikan find you up,” I said and hated myself. We both knew they probably wouldn’t be back again until morning.

“Hai” he nodded, “I guess you’re right.” Yet still, he remained there. Maybe, I decided, he felt sorry for me, wanted to lend some kind of moral support. Gradually, however, I discovered that by tightening all the muscles in my body then relaxing them I could ease the pain. Tighten muscles and inhale. . . relax muscles and exhale. . . steadily, rhythmically, over and over. Yes, a good system, and it actually worked. I was beginning to feel better. I glanced at Nakamura, suddenly sensing his loneliness. That was why he wouldn’t leave.

“So where are you from? I asked.

“Kure,” he answered. “You know,” he confided, “I always knew this would be rough, but I never thought anybody could be as rotten as

these dirty. . . . They’re all sadists, you know that?”

“Definitely,” I said. “How do you think they pick them? They go out and look all around the country. Whenever they see someone whipping his mother or kicking his little sister in the belly, they say, ‘Come on, come on; we’ve got a great job for you—hancho at Hiro Air Base.”

“Right, and that’s not all,” Nakamura said. “Every one of them is queer as fish in the desert.”

I laughed despite myself then became serious. “Really?” I was very naive in such matters but ready to believe almost anything by now.

“Just wait,” Nakamura warned, “you’ll find out soon enough. My brother’s in the army. He told me all about it. And that stinking Pig! You can tell he’s a pervert just looking at him. He’s also a complete maniac.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Do you think they have it as tough in the army as we do?” I could still barely force out the words. “My brother’s in the army too.”

“I doubt it,” Nakamura replied. “Maybe, though. Some of those forced marches they go on probably take a lot of guts—a lot of endur­ance. They take their beatings too, so maybe there’s not much difference in the end.”

The pain had eased now that I was concentrating on something else, supplanted by the need for sleep. I wondered how Nakamura could remain standing there so long. “On the other hand,” he continued, “we probably don’t have it as rough as those navy pilots do. The ones that make it through basic training in the navy air force—they’re real tigers, believe me. Nothing can stop them.”

How could anybody have it worse than we do? I wondered and drifted into a death-like sleep while Nakamura was still talking.

When I awakened it was six in the morning. I groaned, feeling, re­membering, as the awfulness of our situation asserted itself. Momentarily it was impossible to believe that I was away from home, that Hiro was now my reality. The others were stirring, and reveille had just sounded. The groans became general as the badly-cropped heads emerged from the blankets. Yes, it was all real enough, and for an instant I closed my eyes, praying, striving with all my power to will it otherwise. For a flickering instant I was home, there in my own special room, warm and

secure, Mother and Tomika preparing breakfast.

The vision shattered as Kakuda and Sakigawa, “The Snake”, clumped into the barracks, shouting and slamming doors, cuffing and kicking the slow risers, even dumping some of them from their cots onto the floor. One recruit landed with a thud in a tangle of blankets. It was Nakamura.

I had to rise—fast, but suddenly could not move. My legs were like wood, refusing to bend, and I felt a wild spasm of terror. My right arm throbbed at the elbow and seemed completely paralyzed. With a violent wrench I rolled from my cot, the pain coming like splinters of glass as I struck the floor. But the shock brought life to my limbs, and somehow I made it to my feet. Hobbling and limping into my pants and shirt, I vaguely realized that my face and chest were still caked with dried blood. Frantically, I laced my boots, fully expecting more punishment as The Snake approached, but he passed by, apparently distracted by someone else, shouting, “Get a move on!”

Beds made in record time, we rushed to the first formation grunting and grimacing at every step. We fell into our ranks, staring rigidly ahead, but every man had welts and sores. Glancing about once or twice, I saw swollen faces, black and blue marks.

“Eyes straight ahead!” Kakuda bellowed, but The Pig was smiling with great beneficence as he surveyed us.

“Stiff?” he inquired “Sore?” His eyebrows vaulted toward his hair­line in mock disbelief. “Ah, what a pity!” He shook his head, staring at the earth, then glanced up. Now his expression was stern, solemn, even noble like that of a samurai.

“You have. . . . no—stamina!” Japan’s valiant sons! How disappoint­ing. How distressing! Well. . . .” He stroked his jaw. “Perhaps twenty or thirty minutes of running will at least limber you up a little.”

He glanced at the other hancho. “Naturally, we would enjoy running along with you, but as you know, we hancho are sadly discriminated against. Casting his eyes downward long-sufferingly, he added. “We are forced to ride bicycles.”

Then, having us form single file, he commanded, “Forward march!” Every step was torture. We moved like crippled old men. “Terrible, ter­rible!” our hancho shouted. “Since you don’t know how to walk we must try running. Double time, march!” Something cracked, and the rear man blundered forward, crashing into the one ahead. Slowly, achingly,

our column moved out, like a row of lame ducks.

As we hobbled down the airstrip, our glorious friend and mentor, circled on his bicycle, alternately screeching, cursing, cackling, and cracking jokes, periodically flailing us with a length of bamboo.

Within a mile some of the men were straggling badly. One of them had fallen to the rear some distance. Glancing behind, The Pig caught sight of him and circled back full speed. As we reached the far end of the strip and headed the opposite direction, the man was down, and The Pig was flailing him with his rod. His efforts were fruitless, however, for his victim had fainted.

As the grind continued, others dropped out. One stumbled, pitch­ing to the concrete. Two comrades helped him to his feet, but his legs collapsed, feet dragging as they bore him forward. It was impossible, of course, for them to keep up, and shortly The Pig returned to flog all three of them. Having finished, he sped down the entire line thrash­ing at us wildly. “This is how a fighter plane attacks!” he yelped. “Fast. . . unexpected. . . deadly!” Synchronizing his blows with each word, he powered forward steadily, striking at each man’s head with his rod. “One. . . two. . . three. . . four. . . five. . . six!” Fortunately his aim wasn’t always accurate.

I felt the stick glanced off my shoulder, and an instant later, intent on his role as fighter pilot, The Pig ran into one man and pitched over with a magnificent crash. “You clumsy idiot!” he squawked.

How I rejoiced! Our vainglorious and intrepid fighter pilot had just been shot down.

As the run became more grueling, men began collapsing one after another until there were only a few of us left, but The Pig had disap­peared, apparently having sustained a few, well-deserved bruises of his own. It was our friend The Snake who eventually brought the ordeal to a halt. All of us were panting and gasping, in great distress, but I had to admit a lot of my stiffness was gone. Our formation was badly decimated, pitifully sagging. The Snake, however, apparently decided to exercise compassion. “Nothing like a brisk walk before breakfast, right?” His smile was almost kindly. “Fall out for chow!”

It was the beginning of an eventful day. Following our noon meal Kakuda introduced us to more games, the last of which involved squirm­ing along on our bellies beneath our cots, around and around the bar­racks. This, because the floor was allegedly “dirtier than a pig pen.” I squirmed my way forward in abject misery, eyes upon the man’s boots just ahead. Contact with the floor had drugged me, and I was overwhelmed with the urge to sleep. The desire welled in a great, languorous whirl, and a voice shouted, “Move it, move it!” I flinched, blinking and nearly rammed my face into the flailing heels of the man ahead.

Afterward, Kakuda departed and the KP’s brought our chow in the usual wooden buckets. Ravenously I attacked my bowl of rice, feeling my face throb and ache with each chew. “Hello Kuwahara, old friend,” a voice said.

I glanced up, startled. It was Nakamura. “Hello,” I replied. “Please sit down.” Nothing but a stereotypical greeting, and we were too hun­gry to converse much, but it was good to have a comrade. Nakamura had been among those who had not succumbed out during our “brisk walk” that morning.

“That rotten son of a bitch,” he said quietly. “He really looks like a pig. Got some of his own medicine this morning, though, didn’t he?”

“Hai,” I agreed, “came down right on his stupid head.”

“He really did,” Nakamura said. “Maybe it will knock some sense into him.”

“Not likely,” I laughed. Neither of us had actually witnessed The Pig’s great downfall, merely heard it, but it was gratifying to imagine that he had landed on his head. Before long, in fact, several men were gleefully repeating our assertion that it had occurred in that manner.

“You wait,” Nakamura assured me, “that fat-faced idiot will really get it one of these times. Some dark night. . . .”

“He’ll be getting it, all right,” I concurred. Again, only wishful think­ing but it was enjoyable. Merely reflecting upon such possibilities and knowing that others were doing the same provided a sense of camaraderie and lifted our spirits. Initially we had been alone and highly reticent, but as brothers in suffering we rapidly became friendly. Having someone to commiserate with, someone to hate with, was very therapeutic.

Following our brief noon hour respite, however, we were back at it, learning more games. Upon failing to perform our calisthenics ac­ceptably, we were forced to lie on our sides, then raise ourselves off the ground, balancing on one hand and foot with the opposite limbs extended upward at forty-five-degrees. An interesting experiment and rather easily performed at first, but with each passing second it became more difficult. Time after time we strove to balance ourselves in that absurd position, forming X’s with our bodies, feeling our arms quiver and shake, more every second, then losing our balance and collapsing. All this, of course, accompanied by threats, commands, cuffs, kicks, and raucous laughter from our task masters. Within half an hour we were lying on the floor almost paralyzed.

By now The Snake and Kakuda had introduced a new element— whips, and once I felt the lash across my quivering back, a flick along my neck that burned like acid, but I merely cringed, huddled there helplessly trying to protect my face with my hand.

Other, equally innovative forms of punishment followed, and that night at final formation The Pig was back at the helm, bringing the day’s activities to a fitting climax. I noted with satisfaction a bruise on one side of his forehead and the fact that his left arm appeared rather stiff, but my pleasure was short lived, for we had failed to recite the five main points of the “Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors.” This rescript was issued by the Emperor Meiji in 1882 and was regarded as sacred—a document several pages long which every military man had to learn verbatim. All were required to absorb its complex rules and philosophy through continual study and meditation, to memorize, also recite it completely or in part at a moment’s notice.

Sometimes Japanese fighting men had to recite The Rescript in full at each night’s formation, the chanting going on for about fifteen minutes. Fortunately, we at Hiro were only held accountable for the five main points or precepts as follows:

1. The soldier and sailor should consider loyalty the essential duty. . .

. A soldier or a sailor in whom the spirit is not strong, however, skilled in art or proficient in science, is a mere puppet; and a body of soldiers or sailors wanting in loyalty, however well-ordered and disciplined it may

be, is in an emergency no better than a rabble With single heart fulfill

your essential duty of loyalty, and bear in mind that duty is weightier than a mountain, while death is lighter than a feather.

2. Inferiors should regard the orders of their superiors as issuing directly from the Emperor. Always pay due respect not only to your su­periors but also to your seniors, even though not serving under them. On the other hand, superiors should never treat their inferiors with contempt or arrogance. Except when official duty requires them to be strict and severe, superiors should treat their inferiors with consideration, making kindness their chief aim, so that all grades may unite in their service to the Emperor. . . .

3. The soldier and sailor should esteem valor. Ever since the ancient times valor has in our country been held in high esteem, and without it our subjects would be unworthy of their name. How then may the soldier and the sailor, whose profession it is to confront the enemy in battle, forget even for an instant to be valiant?. . .

4. Faithfulness and righteousness are ordinary duties of a man, but the soldier and sailor, in particular, cannot be without them and remain in the ranks even for a day. Faithfulness implies the keeping of one’s word and righteousness the fulfillment of one’s duty. If then you wish to be faithful and righteous in anything, you must carefully consider at the onset whether you can accomplish it or not. If you thoughtlessly agree to do something that is vague in its nature, bind yourself to unwise obliga­tions and then try to prove yourself faithful and righteous, you may find yourself in dire straits from which there is no escape. . . .

5. The soldier and the sailor should make simplicity their aim. If you do not make simplicity your aim, you will become effeminate and frivolous and acquire fondness for luxurious and extravagant ways; you will grow selfish and sordid and sink to the last degree of baseness, so that neither loyalty nor valor will avail to save you from the contempt of the world. . . . Never do you, soldiers and sailors, make light of this injunction.

These precepts were termed “The Grand Way of Heaven and Earth, The Universal Law of Humanity,” and men who made a single mistake in their recitation have sometimes killed themselves.

Thus it was understandable that The Pig laid such stress upon this aspect of our training, for it was supposedly that very “soul of soldiers and sailors” and, of course, of our airmen. Simultaneously, it seemed a bit ironic that he and his cohorts should have such a curious way of complying with the injunction about treating inferiors with kindness and consideration.

That night because of our inability to memorize the requisite pre­cepts with sufficient speed, we were lined up facing the barracks, and this time there were no ball bats. One by one, our faces were slammed against the wall, resulting in several bloody, broken noses, split lips, and loose teeth.

“Recruits,” The Pig later informed us jovially, “this has been a most eventful day. A few more like it and you will start to become men!”

Chimes in the Night


was staying with Toyoko Akimoto regularly now, and it was almost as natural as being with my own family. Despite our age difference, we had much in common, and usually needed little more entertainment than the sound of each other’s voices. Sometimes we sat at evening in the rear garden and leaned against a large, lichen-covered rock by the wall.

Overhead curved the flowering branches of a tree clustered with fragrant yellow blossoms, and occasionally their petals fluttered down upon us in gentle celebration. Often Toyoko placed a stick of incense in a rusted urn nearby, and we would savor the odor, eyes closed for the moment while freshets of night air flirted the smoke into tendrils and sudden swirls.

As much as I wanted to be with Tatsuno and Nakamura, there in those final days, I wanted to be with Toyoko more. I could not, in fact, stand to be away from her for a single night, and the days without her were growing torture. Simultaneously, I was often insecure, wonder­ing how she could possibly be content to spend her free time with one

so young as I. . . such a natural relationship in one respect and yet so strange I often seemed to walk in a dream.

My friends, of course, were beginning to make remarks. It was, I realized, inevitable, and more than one flier had begun referring to Toyoko as my “woman”. Several, unable to disguise their envy, began plying me with questions. Upon returning to the barracks for morning formation, I was met with many a joke and inquiry. “How was it, Ku- wahara? Terrific, right?” or, “Hey, lover boy! How come you never live in the barracks any more?”

Most of the men, however, were unaware of my absence, having abandoned the base by night themselves. As for the others, I made little effort to clarify the situation and usually managed to change the subject. For one thing, few of them would have believed me had I told the truth, and those who did would have ridiculed me mercilessly. Furthermore, I thought too highly of Toyoko to open her private life to the crassness of the army air force.

With Tatsuno and Nakamura, on the other hand, it was a different matter. They deserved to have the facts and understand how I felt about the situation. “For your information,” I told them, “This is not at all what people think it is. We have a relationship that’s impossible to understand unless you’ve experienced it. She reminds me a lot of my older sister, and I remind her of her younger brother who was killed in Burma.”

“I believe you,” Nakamura said, “but seriously now. . . you actually mean to tell us that you can spend night after night with a musume like that, almost on the same futon, and not—”

“We sleep in separate rooms!” I retorted, becoming a bit angry.

“All right, all right!” Nakamura held up his palms in mock surrender. “But she must like you a lot, so maybe you’re really missing out.”

“I can see what Yasbei means, though,” Tatsuno said, subdued and reflective as usual. “I’d give anything for a situation like that—just some­one special to be with and talk to. Most of the people around here can’t even carry on an intelligent conversation. Nothing but foul language.”

“That’s the military,” Nakamura said.

“True,” Tatsuno replied, “but that doesn’t mean it’s worth any­thing.”

“I know it doesn’t, but I’m just saying—”

“It’s not only degrading, it’s trite; it’s an insult to anybody with even half a brain.”

“I agree!” Nakamura said pointedly. “I’m on your side. But still.

. . a woman like that? And nothing but talking?” He rolled his eyes. “Not me!” I began to reply, but he continued. “It’s none of my business. That’s just the way I look at it.” He shrugged and shook his head, actu­ally looking a bit sorrowful. “No, I’d never take on one of those sluts in town again, but you’ve got something special.”

“I know,” I said, “that’s why I don’t want to ruin it.”

“Yes, but getting physical—that doesn’t mean you have to ruin it. It’s how you go about the whole thing. It’s not just you; it’s whether she wants it too, and I’ll bet you my next month’s pay she does.” He shot me a glance. “Look, Yasbei—none of us have much time left. When a starving man is offered a first-class dinner, he doesn’t just sit and look at it forever.” He clapped me on the arm. “You’re going to kick yourself, Kuwahara!”

“Don’t try to propagandize him,” Tatsuno said. “He’s found some­thing good, and he knows what he wants.”

Nakamura’s advice merely left me sad and uneasy, and it also made me very lonely. At the time, Toyoko had taken a trip to Fukuoka to visit some acquaintances. Consequently, I spent the empty evenings with my friends and proved a poor companion. With Toyoko away, life was suddenly more bleak than ever.

Nights in the hot, humid barracks were like a lone and dreary wasteland, and before long, first as a form of escape, I began fantasiz­ing about Toyoko, about making love to her. But if it ever happened, I told myself, it would be all right because she would have become my wife. Yet in between each fantasy, I felt the growing dread. The day of destruction loomed more and more ominously.

Toyoko returned after less than a week, but I was nearly frantic to see her. That night as she opened her door, I simply stood gawking for a moment. “What’s the matter?” she laughed. “Don’t you recognize me?” As on my first night at her apartment, she had just returned from the bath and was wearing the midnight-blueyukata. “Yasuo-chan?” Toyoko tilted her head sidewise. “Is something wrong?”

“No, no, not at all,” I said. “For some reason you look different, and

. . . well, I’ve really missed you.”

“Well,” she said consolingly and held out her hands. “Here I am—I’m back.” Instinctively, I reached out, extending my own hands inward beneath the broad sleeves and laid hold of her upper arms. It was the first time I had ever touched a woman that way, and her arms were smoother, softer, more slender than I had ever imagined. Suddenly I realized that I had grown a lot the past few months.

Clumsily, I pulled her to me and found her lips with my own. One tantalizing instant. Then she ducked her head, twisting it slightly to one side. “Yasuo!” she murmured, sounding far too much like a mother.

Drawing her still closer, I kissed her exquisite neck, repeating, “Toyoko, I’ve missed you.”

Again, I sought with only partial success to kiss her. “You’ll never know how alone I’ve been.”

As we separated, her eyes were wistful. “I’ve missed you too, Ya­suo—Immensely.”

Simultaneously I remembered. I had bought her a present, a rare and expensive bottle of perfume, Kinsuru. I had hunted a long time for it.

“Yasuo-chan. How wonderfully sweet! How remarkably considerate and generous!”

Suddenly more flustered than ever, I replied, “No, it is nothing at all. It is a most miserable gift, really. I just wanted. . . .” Opening the bottle, she sniffed, half closing her eyes in an expression of exotic delight. “Oh, yes, Kinsuru. . . How utterly fantastic!” Tilting her head provocatively to the side, she dabbed the tiniest amount with utmost grace behind one earlobe, then extended her finger tips, fragrant and faintly tremulous, for me to smell.

Later that evening, however, as we strolled along a mild bluff beside the ocean, Toyoko seemed strangely taciturn. “Are you sad?” I inquired at last. She paused, gaze sweeping the horizon, sighing almost inaudibly. “Didn’t you have a pleasant time with your friends?” I persisted.

I watched her chest rise and fall. Then she glanced at the sand beneath our feet. “Let’s sit down,” she said at last. “I need to tell you something.”

“All right,” I replied, but my voice quavered. As we settled down upon the sand, I felt a sense of dread, almost as though I were on the

verge of receiving my final orders. “What is it? What’s wrong?” “Promise me first that you won’t be angry,” she said.

I glanced at her strangely. “How can I promise you that when I don’t have the vaguest idea what you’re going to say?”

“Oh,” she sighed, “you are angry, aren’t you?”

The very words she had used that first night in the Tokiwaya, and for some reason they vexed me considerably.” Only because you’re making me angry!” I retorted. “Just tell me what’s going on and quit playing games.”

“All right,” she sighed, “maybe that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s just that. . . well, that trip to Fukuoka wasn’t merely to see friends.”

She waited so long I was becoming desperate.

“So?” I demanded. “Whatever it is—just tell me.”

Another sigh. “It was to see a man I’ve known for a long time.” I waited, holding my breathe. “He’s an army officer.”

Wonderful, I thought bitterly, A sixteen-year-old corporal competing with a grown-up man, an officer. “What rank is he?” I asked, despite myself.

“He’s a lieutenant,” Toyoko replied. So, it could have been worse, but still. . . “He used to be stationed in Hiroshima, and a year or so back we were going to be married. But after he was transferred a few months ago he changed his mind. I guess, in fact, that we both did. The relationship was very good at times. . . very bad at others.” She folded her arms, shook her head faintly and gazed into the gathering night.

“Anyway, about two weeks ago he sent a letter asking me to come visit. I debated whether I should go, but finally decided I had to, had to give it one last chance.” Again, I waited in mounting agony. “After we were back together again, though, it became all the more evident that we needed to go our separate ways.”

“So you mean you definitely aren’t getting married?” It was a stupid question on the surface. She had already told me, and I was immersed in a wave of relief. Nevertheless, I had to be absolutely certain.

“Yes, that’s what I mean. It’s good that I went so there would be no question, but it’s all past now. And I had to tell you.”

My heart was resuming its normal rate now, but I was still perplexed.

“Why?” I asked at last. “You could have just come back and said you had a nice visit with your friends, let it go at that.”

“Because,” she replied, “I want to be an honest and trustworthy person, especially with you.”

After that, neither of us spoke for a long time, and I leaned back upon one elbow, wondering, wondering. Why, honest with me? Only because I was so much like her brother? Before us lay the sea, breathless at the moment yet very much alive, filled with faint yet portentous stirrings within its ever darkening vastness.

“I’m honored if I have become a brother to you Toyoko,” I said, “but if that’s all I am then maybe you’d be better off with your lieutenant after all. Before long I won’t be here either.” Suddenly, unexpectedly, we both began to cry, uncontrollably, clinging to each other like the last survivors on the ledge of a crumbling world.

“No, Yasuo, no!” she wailed. “I won’t let it happen!” Our tears mingled together, coursing down our cheeks. Yet strangely I could dis­tinguish the taste of her tears from my own, salty as the sea, yet somehow sweeter, far more pure. “I will not let it happen!” Toyoko repeated and pressed her jaw against my temple, almost painfully. “The war will end! The war will end in time!”

Eventually we fell asleep clasped in each other’s arms, but dimly aware at times of the occasional sprinkling of warm raindrops. We awakened, cold and shivering to the leaden tones of dawn in the far east, a sallow smear of yellow more like imagination than reality. Toyoko’s hair was damp and gritty with sand, and the waves were lambasting the shore on a rising tide, its lacy, white fringes sizzling near our feet. A great strand of kelp with bulbs and tentacles the color of iodine neared and withdrew, neared closer and withdrew. Tiny spider crabs pranced, skittered, and vanished into the sand as though vaporized when we arose and headed toward the apartment.

The hour was nigh for my return to the base.

For a time my life remained in strange suspension. The flights contin­ued, but I only lived for my nights with Toyoko. Somehow the prospect of my own demise seemed less real, not quite so inevitable whenever I was near her. Vagrant rays of hope, subtle yet distinct, like the coming of that morning on the beach. For now I took refuge in Toyoko’s insistence that the war would end, end in time, partly because it was so passionate, partly because I believed what I wanted to believe.

The strip of beach we frequented was a relatively safe one for swim­mers, and on nights when the sea was calm we sometimes entered it, occasionally swimming out beyond the breakers, rising together upon the gentle swells, feeling perhaps that somehow we might be transported far away on those warm, moon dappled waters to some enchanted isle of respite, far far away to a place of perpetual happiness, magically liberated from all danger, from fear and sorrow. . . a place where the war would never come.

Late one night after just such a moment, we returned to shore, stroll­ing hand in hand back to her apartment, smelling the tang of salt and seaweed mingled with ozone on the breath of a nascent storm. Back in the apartment, with no light but the glowing coals in the hibachi, we changed into ouryukata. Once I glanced at Toyoko, seeing a faint, red – orange glow against the bare curve of her thigh and shoulder. The rest was in shadow.

Then we went out onto the balcony and sat listening to the bird­like wheedles of the soba flutes. Even now, with the war nearing its very nadir, people had to make a living. Somehow, inevitably, life would go on. “There are a lot of lonely people in the world tonight, millions of lonely women,” Toyoko murmured.

“Are you lonely also?” I asked.

“No,” she said and pressed my hand. “Not with you, Yasuo. It’s just that. . .” Her hand withdrew.

“Just that what?”

Her eyes closed, and she took a deep breath. “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know. Why couldn’t you be. . . .”

“Be what?” I was becoming angry again. “Older? Less like your brother?” She made no reply. I began to tremble. “Am I such a baby to you still?”

“No, not a baby.”

“I’m almost seventeen, Toyoko. Maybe that seems awfully young to you, but age isn’t merely a matter of years. I’ve seen things. I’ve done things! I know things that other men—millions of older men—don’t know. Things they won’t know if they live forever!” The words had simply erupted spontaneously, and I was surprised at them, at my own emotions. Nevertheless, they were undeniable, suddenly overwhelming. “Toyoko, I have to tell you. . . I can’t go on like this. It’s driving me crazy. Yes, you were a sister to me at first but no more, not now! I want you!”

“No, Yasuo-chan, please!” she murmured. I was stroking her face, her neck, pulling her to me, kissing her eyelids, her ears, her entire face. Capturing her mouth, I held it fiercely against my own, and for an instant she relented, her lips moving and fluid, incredibly tender and pliant. .

. uninhibited. Then, I crushed her to me tightly, bearing her down and she began to struggle. “No, Yasuo—please don’t.”

“But why?” I agonized, “when will it be right? Never? Or only when I’m dead and gone?” Reaching beneath heryukata, I began to stroke her thigh, and the skin was fantastically smooth, beyond belief, so hot it seemed to burn my hand. “Toyoko, I need you—we need each other! Let me prove to you that I’m a man!”

But now she was thrusting my hand away with greater determina­tion than ever. “No, Yasuo, no, no. It’s not right, not for either of us, not now!”

“But why?” I implored. “When?” Heryukata had fallen open in our struggles, revealing her breasts. I had never seen anything so sweet, so exquisite, so tantalizing. I sought them with my mouth, my hands, my face, consumed in their remarkable softness, but she gave a smothered cry and thrust a knee against my ribs, throwing me off balance.

Now we were rolling wildly about, grappling, sobbing, suddenly finding ourselves against the brittle railing of the balcony. Several of the rails loosened from the impact, and two or three of them fell off to strike the tiled roof, clattering on the paving stones of the courtyard. Somewhere a voice called out, full of irritation. We were literally upon the brink of destruction.

Gasping, I stared into Toyoko’s face, pulling her back to safety. She was crying like a child, inconsolably. Sick at heart, I released her, pulling her yukata tight about her waist. “Toyoko, please forgive me!” I pleaded. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” I buried my face against her shoulder. Now, once again, both of us weeping. How much weeping we were doing of late!

The plaintive flute calls had subsided when at length we entered the apartment again, stretched out in our separate rooms on our separate futon. Occasionally, I could hear Toyoko sniffling, still catching her breath. Once a tide of anguish and sorrow such as I had never experi­enced inundated me. “Toyoko, I’m so sorry,” I called. “Please forgive me. At least don’t hate me!”

No reply—only the echo of my own voice, dying and forlorn. That and the omnipresent sighing of the ocean. Well, the words came, It’s over now. Nothing now but going back to that immense black hole called Oita Air Base. Volunteer for your orders. Maybe they will grant your request early. . . for surely, there is nothing left.

Within moments, however, I heard sounds of activity. Toyoko was dragging herfuton into my room, laying it out quietly. . . smoothing its surface with the palms of her hands. . . stretching out beside me. Then her hand found mine, our fingers intertwining. “I don’t hate you, Yasuo.” Her voice was still thick with emotion, very frail. “I could never hate you, and there’s nothing to forgive. It wasn’t your fault.”

“It was,” I protested. “I was the one who forced things.”

“No,” she whispered, “no, shhhh!” Two fingers pressed against my lips. “It wasn’t your fault; it’s really mine, and I don’t think you’re not a man. You are not simply my little brother either. It’s just that we’ve had something so wonderful and special, I don’t want to destroy it. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

“Maybe,” I replied. “I hope so.”

“I haven’t always been the person I wanted to be, Yasuo, but I’m try­ing to change. I want to look at Toyoko Akimoto in the mirror and know who she is—to know that she is worthy of her own respect. I want to look into my own eyes and see someone of. . . .” She began to cry again, this time almost inaudibly. “Someone of value. Not simply to be like most of those girls at the Tokiyawa, and the ones who walk the streets.”

“You are of value,” I insisted. “More valuable to me than my own life. And you are not that way, not that way at all. I never for a moment thought of you in that connection. It’s just that. . .” I paused for a long time, trying to collect myself, wondering how to explain it, then scarcely explained it at all. “Just that I got carried away, and I’m sorry.”

“Shhhh!” she intoned, ever so gently, again pressing her fingers to my lips. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. Let’s just be together and at peace. Together and at peace; that’s good enough.”

“Yes,” I said and waited for some time. “But I have to tell you something, Toyoko,” I continued more calmly. “If I don’t I can never be at peace.”

“Tell me,” she said. “Whatever you need to.”

I hesitated a long time, summoning my courage, for such words are not easily spoken by people of my background and culture. Indeed, scarcely ever given voice. “I love you,” I said, “more than I can possibly say.”

Her hand tightened upon my wrist, and I could feel my own pulse. Her breath came in long, shuddering sighs merging with the faint roar of the rising surf and the miniscule clink, tinkle, clink of the wind chimes. The rain was settling lightly again, little more than a dense mist.

“I love you too, Yasuo,” she said. “Ever since that first night.” Something seemed to be flowing from her hand into my wrist, into all my veins and arteries, tingling in my skin. Both pulses now beating in unison. “And that first night, Yasuo, we were so lonely.” Our breathing was deep and tranquil now, slow and regular. The chimes and the sea would carry us quietly away. “So lonely,” she repeated. “So lonely.”

A Time to Cry


ithin a single week my entire life had been transformed beyond comprehension—my entire concept of man, of good and bad, of right and wrong. Yet ironically, I could no more evaluate my feelings rationally than a wounded man might evaluate pain.

The initial trauma had produced a numbness, a kind of psychologi­cal paralysis, but emerging from it was an ever-increasing dread. It was utterly impossible to obey the Rescript’s injunction not to fear a superior when our superiors failed to observe the related injunction regarding respect and consideration. We had become as furtive as rats frequently subjected to electric shock. We were constantly tensed and waiting for the next one.

Within only one week I had come to believe that life with my family, the days with my friends at school, were nothing but a childish illusion. How far off it all seemed now—how vague and insubstantial. Onomichi was only some fifty miles away, but it might as well have been thousands, at the most remote corner of the world. Time also was a relative thing. My youth was being purged away. A single week had made me old.

“Shinpei, shinpei, kutsu migaki. Mata nete naku nokayo” These words have

long been sung by Japanese recruits at Shoto Rappa after the long, hard day. “Recruit, recruit, polish your shoes. Later you may cry in bed.” The night has always been a time of sorrow for the trainee, a time when he could reminisce, take a deep breath, then under cover of darkness, release his pent-up emotions, the pain and the fear.

Once the shuban kashikan had completed their inspection and the disciplinary action that usually followed, we lay in our cots thinking of home, especially of our mothers. After all, some of us were only fifteen. Possibly we even took a kind of perverse satisfaction in our very sor­row as people sometimes do. Lacking others to sympathize with us, we sympathized with ourselves, and it was then that we shed tears, there in the darkness where no one could see and few could hear.

Some of the recruits, like myself, had barely entered puberty, and our voices were still changing. In our dreams we sometimes called aloud for our mothers, but I never heard a single recruit call the name of his father, Later, in fact, I learned that dying men also asked for their mothers. The father is master of the family, and it is partly his stern and remote love that helps instill a son with the fighting spirit. Yet when comfort is needed, or when a man has little time left, he wants his mother.

To one unfamiliar with the Japanese mind, some of our actions, our weeping and sentimentality, may appear strange. To the outsider we are an inscrutable people who rarely exhibit emotion. And it is true, in fact, that we often maintain a facade. Ours is a philosophy of stoicism and resignation in many ways, and frequently we display no feeling, even when filled with joy or hate.

Often we may even smile or laugh at adversity, but all people share the same passions. They are merely manifest differently according to one’s culture and conditioning.

Westerners, especially Americans in my view, may be compared emo­tionally speaking to boiling pots with loose lids from which steam escapes fairly regularly and with relative ease. Orientals, certainly the Japanese, on the other hand, are more like pressure cookers. The same heat is ap­plied and the same steam exists, but in the latter instance the steam often builds for some time without any outward manifestation. When at last it breaks forth, however, it may do so with remarkable violence.

The analogy has its limitations, of course. In many cases, for ex­ample, Japanese can minimize or eliminate much of the emotional steam because of religious and philosophical conditioning that fosters acceptance and resignation, a proclivity for bending with the wind like resilient bamboo which can withstand great storm without being uprooted.

Nevertheless, it is no exaggeration to say that Japanese people in general can be the epitome of serenity, of politeness to the point of toadishness in their deference to others on many occasions, that in oth­ers they can respond to great emotional duress with hysteria. It is not uncommon, for instance, for Japanese women who have lost a loved one to fling themselves upon the floor in a spirit of inconsolable wailing. Moreover, it certainly common for Japanese military men to assault the enemy with implacable determination, indeed, utter fanaticism.

Such considerations aside, every effort was made by our hancho to stifle all emotionalism, except as it pertained to country and Emperor. Constantly, inexorably, all emotion was funneled into the great crucible of patriotism. Ideally, every fear, anxiety, hope, and joy was to be sub­dued, transformed, and channeled into the fighting spirit—the spirit of the Yamato Race, of the samurai.

Consequently, whimpering because of pain or crying for one’s mother were not only evidence of degrading weakness, they were indications that our lives had not been consecrated. We had yet to comprehend fully the doctrine of individual expendability. To acquire that unwavering testimony called for in the Imperial Rescript—that duty was indeed weightier than the mountains, that death was lighter than a feather.

If a single recruit was overheard moaning in his sleep we were all punished. At night we were constantly rousted from bed, for our audi­ence with The Pig. Sometimes he was the ultimate comedian, sometimes quite the opposite. The smirk would be gone, the flaccid face contorted or, in some cases, extremely glum and weary.

Frequently, he would pace back and forth before us, hands clasped behind his back, head bowed, lips pursed, studiously perusing the earth beneath his feet, or unpredictably casting a glance at the night sky. Then, at length, he would deign to acknowledge our presence. “Can it be. . . can it truly be?” he would mutter with immense solemnity and incredulity. “That such pitiful specimens of humanity, such helpless and hopeless boobs. . . such miserable excuses of manhood, are soon to be honored sons of the great Nippon Empire, privileged to defend the glory of our most esteemed Emperor?” Shaking his head grievously: “The very thought fills our souls with untold trepidation!”

Nakamura was standing next to me at the time. “It fills his fat ass with trepidation.” The faintest whisper. “With a ton of shit.” His lips were barely parted and scarcely moved. I was actually shocked at such sacrilege, but I also struggled to keep from smiling.

“Nevertheless. . .” our mentor continued, “the grand designs of heaven and earth shall never be frustrated—never, never—never, even in the most infinitesimal manner, even within the mind of a wretched flea.”

The Pig paused for at least a full minute, scrutinizing our faces with much severity. “So now, shinpei. . . .” His tone clearly signaled that the oration was over. “I am going to give you some fatherly advice, especially those who bawl their lungs out every night like snot-nosed babies. You are here at Hiro Air Base for only one reason.” Another lengthy pause. “Do you know what that reason is?”

“Hai honorable hancho dono!” We chorused the words loudly.

“Do you?”

“Hai, honorable hancho dono!” This time we all bellowed from the depths of our bellies.

The Pig shook his head, slowly, emphatically, in a spirit of resigna­tion. “No, you do not. But you will learn. Before the end of your train­ing under Sergeant Noguchi there will be no question.” The pacing increased. “At present, however, you must learn one thing.” For a time, he frowned at his feet as if they were melting, waiting so long I decided that he had lost his trend of thought. Maybe there was something wrong with his brain. Then, with a great surge of energy: “There is no past!” His words were so loud, so unexpected, so formidable, that many of us literally quaked. At that point he actually turned his back upon us, surveying the stars. “There is no past.” More subdued now but equally irrefutable. “Only the present and the future.”

Eventually, he turned to face us again, and now almost gently, as though confronted with some cosmic sorrow: “You must forget about everything except those concepts we are authorized to teach you. Forget about civilian life, forget about your mothers, forget about your families. Live instead for the Emperor—for Emperor and country without the slightest equivocation. If you do so, all fear will distill like frost in the morning sun. And you will attain liberation. You will attain joy, and strength, and freedom—like that of the eagles!”

Even more softly: “So now. . . the binta, the ball bats and other things. . . they are nothing, nothing at all in and of themselves. They exist only to the extent that they help us to make men of you.” His glance was fierce and probing, utterly uncompromising. “Do you understand?”

“Hai, honorable hancho dono!” we roared.

For a moment The Pig almost smiled. “That is good, and now comes the proof.” He motioned to the ever-vigilant Sakigawa and Kakuda. “Bring forth the bats!”

That night many of us were beaten unconscious but no one uttered a sound.

Strangely, although the majority of us were very young, there were a few recruits at Hiro anywhere from forty-five to sixty years old. Stranger still, those individuals were treated with no more consideration than anyone else. Basic training was an enormous melting pot, wherein each man was deprived of his identity as fully as possible. Every man’s head was barbarously cropped. Every man wore the same ugly, swamp colored uniform. The elderly, even people of wealth and prestige in a few cases. . . were all treated just like the rest of us. The hancho who would have bowed in obeisance to some of the trainees in civilian life, or who might never have been able to associate with them, was tyrant and ruler over all. He could kick, strike, bully, and humiliate any recruit with impunity. Even murder in some instances.

Despite our anxiety, however, after the first few days at Hiro we slept as though drugged. Our bodies had not yet become conditioned to the arduous training and the punishment. During the night we lay in a near coma, and at times The Snake and Kakuda would enter the barracks with some of their cohorts to perform their clever tricks. On one occasion they stealthily tied our hands and feet, then flashed on the lights, awakening us with wild shouts. Aroused from our stupor, we struggled from our beds unaware of what had happened, and tumbled to the floor groping about frantically to untie ourselves. This to the uproarious laughter of our tormentors.

When Nakamura had first declared that many of our hancho were perverted, I was startled and incredulous. By now, however, my outlook had changed radically. The Snake, especially, enjoyed humiliating the younger recruits in various degrading ways, and those of us who had barely entered puberty suffered most. During a formation he would leer at some unfortunate who had made a mistake and say, “Hey, shinpei, you still act like a kid—na!”

There was no helpful answer to such questions, because he would merely persist to the conclusion. “Hey, shinpei—aren’t you a man yet? Didn’t you hear right? I asked if you are a man!”

“Yes, honorable hancho dono!”

To this The Snake would feign great amazement. “Ah so! Then prove it-take down your pants!. Now yourfundoshi—quick!”

Then the hapless trainee would stand shamefaced while The Snake, sometimes Kakuda and The Pig as well, poked fun and made snide comments regarding his meager endowments. Such things I actually dreaded more than the physical punishment.

Late one night three of us were rousted from bed to clean the han – chos’ quarters because our work there during the day had allegedly been unsatisfactory. Afterward we were forced to strip down and leap into icy showers. The Snake then herded us out naked into the cold demanding that we run around the barracks ten times before consigning us to the shower room for the remainder of the night.

There for the first hour we huddled on a wooden bench, cramped and shivering in total darkness. As the time dragged on, we decided to exercise. It was the only way we could keep from growing numb, perhaps freezing. Periodically, however, we succumbed to exhaustion, and once I awoke from a half-sleep to begin doing push-ups. In the midst of these exertions, feeling the cold knife upward through my feet and hands, I thought about the showers. A flash of optimism which died as quickly. So far as I knew, the hot water was turned on for only a short period

each evening following our training.

Eventually, however, having nothing else to do, I groped my way over to the showers and barely twisted one of the handles. A slight whoosh of cold water, and I jerked back. Then, as I reached out to turn it off, the water actually felt tepid, steadily growing warmer.

Seconds later it was coming hot, steaming hot. Quickly I turned it off, glancing about furtively. Had our hancho heard the noise, the sound of water running in the pipes, from their rooms? I waited for some time, and decided that by now they were snoring deeply, the sleep of the unjust. I peered through the dark at my companions. Vague outlines, squatting back to back on the bench, dozing fitfully.

For a moment I battled with myself. Possibly the hot water was a mere residue, a bit remaining from the evening before. If I alone were to shower, though, it might last for some time. If the three of us used the showers. . . .

After a moment I whispered, “Yai—Oka! Yamamoto! Come over to the showers.”

“Hot water?” Oka blurted.


Instantly they were next to me, rubbing their arms and bellies, hunching over, treading up and down. “Turn them on quick!” Yama­moto groaned through chattering teeth.

“No, just one,” I insisted. “We won’t turn it on too high, or all the water will be gone before we can even get warm.” Obediently, they stood aside while I regulated the shower. Then we crowded beneath it, back to back, exclaiming our delight in muted tones.

“Ah, this is great,” I murmured tilting my head back, “this is fan­tastic!” Then another idea struck. “I wonder if. . . Where’s something to stop the drain?”

“Sit on it,” Oka replied gleefully. “Your rear is big enough.”

It might be possible, I decided to fill the small shower room three or four inches deep without flooding the rest of the floor. Suddenly I knew what to use—toilet paper! And the plan worked perfectly. I covered the drain with a layer about half an inch thick, and the water expanded across the floor around us, soaking through the paper just

fast enough to prevent the outer room from flooding and to maintain a steady warmth.

“Why don’t you both admit I’m a genius? I said and settled back in the gurgling liquid. Eventually the shower created enough steam to also warm the surrounding atmosphere. I stretched supine in the deepening liquid. There in the midst of all that cold, dark, cruelty, we had found our secret place, and in that warm, beneficent seclusion we fell asleep.

Ashes for the Family Shrine


t seven that morning I awakened. Toyoko was sleeping serenely, and I dressed quietly. Before departing I knelt beside her, gaz­ing into her countenance. They say love blinds one to the defects of the beloved. Perhaps so, but I had never, from our first encounter, recognized any defects with Toyoko, inwardly or outwardly. To me, she was very near perfection.

She was wearing her white nightgown, one with delicate lace on the neck, throat, and hemline, and those high burnished cheek bones were glowing more strongly as the morning light expanded. I had never real­ized how long and thick her eyelashes were, how intensely black, yet the growing light was turning her hair to tints of auburn. Her breasts rose and fell gently with each breath, but now I only felt an ineffable tenderness.

Lying there in the lap of slumber, she looked very much like a mere teenager. Only the very faintest lines at the sides of her lips and outer corners of her eyes belied that illusion. In that final moment, I could hear the sound of her breathing, the soft, slow inhalation and exhala­tion. Even the sound of her breath was perfect. Suddenly it seemed very

important that I imprint her entire image within my soul, etch it deeply there forever.

Bending over her, I placed my cheek ever so gently against her own, barely traced my lips across her brow. For an instant Toyoko stirred, her own lips forming the faintest smile, happiness and sadness, wistfulness and mischief, secret things woven from the depths of a dream. Then I arose with infinite caution and left, casting a final backward glance. Sliding the door shut carefully behind me, I descended the stairs with utmost stealth to keep them from creaking.

The streets and lanes were quiet at that hour, largely untraveled, and clouds were digesting the eastern sky, gradually excluding the light. In the fields and between the houses, tiny whirlwinds captured dust, dried leaves, and bits of paper. A cold front was moving in from the ocean, bearing the odor of dead kelp and fish along a stretch of backwater. It was one of those rare summer mornings, those curious reminders, even in the midst of heat and greenery, that winter will come again.

Nearing the base, I felt the empty tingling in my loins, that inchoate sense of excitement and dread that marked the onset of another mission. Once again, the escort flight, fighter protection and monitor to the demise of my companions. It was a strange calling, and with the completion of each fateful journey, my spirit inflated more fully with apprehension, indeed, with a sense of doom. Fate would play its unassailable hand, and I was caught up in it, along with my companions, like bubbles on the incoming tide.

Who would it be this time? I wondered. Another fifteen or twenty men, but lately I hadn’t been checking the names. It seemed better that way. Somehow, I had convinced myself that as long as I did not view a name on the roster, it did not exist, just as people tell themselves they are not ill until condemned by a doctor’s diagnosis. In any event, I had no close friends there at Oita except for Tatsuno and Nakamura. It was better that way.

At the base entrance, I held out my pass to the MP, a mere formality now, and he waved me on with barely a glance. The place was beginning to vibrate, and overhead, almost out of sight, a plane cried. I walked faster. It was almost time for formation.

The formation was over promptly with the usual, now sometimes suspicious, “all present or accounted for” reports from our flight leaders to the commanding officer. Next, I hastened to the chow hall, planning to eat quickly and give my fighter a final inspection. I was more cautious in this regard than most, almost punctilious, always wanting to be sure that the mechanics had left nothing undone. At least I was confident by now in my own flying ability and was determined not to leave this world because of some trivial oversight. When I left the world it would count for something.

Months of grueling practice were behind me—a series of dog fights, mostly hit and run affairs on our part, but several battles worthy of the name. No longer was I the green and timorous pilot of that first encounter. I now had two enemy planes to my credit, and at Oita I had been promoted to corporal, a rank not easily attained then by Japanese enlisted men. Now, grim though the task might be, I was an escort, lead­ing and protecting our Kamikaze, defending them against the enemy to that final, fateful dive, then returning to give my report. That was my job. Who else, I asked myself, had a more important one?

And at night. . . there would be Toyoko. Toyoko had said she loved me, and that was enough. She had promised me that the war would end before it was too late, and I took refuge in those words. Never mind that they were tendered in the crucible of emotion, in a moment of desperation. Still, I clung to them, strongly immured in the household of denial.

That was the only way by now that I could survive psychologically. Yes, yes—something would happen to save me. Not only would the war end in time but something highly extraordinary would occur. Occasion­ally, in fact, the feeling pulsed strangely at unexpected moments, even within the onset of my dreams. It was a kind of prescience that gener­ated a strange effervescence throughout my veins, my entire epithelium. Even now, though, my moods fluctuated. Doom still hovered and often overflowed the boundaries of my little sanctuary.

Today, in fact, it was encroaching strongly. Today Nakamura and I were flying together. I had spotted him in the chow hall, ahead of me in line and followed him to a table.

“Yai, tomadachi" I said and roughed his head playfully. Simply an infor­mal greeting, an effort to release tension. “Seen Tatsuno this morning."

Nakamura glanced up at me, but the familiar grin was gone. “Yes, I’ve seen Tatsuno,” he said.

“Well, what’s the matter? Where is he?”

“Getting ready,” he answered.

I felt the sudden chill but hoped for the best. “Going with us? Escort now?”

“Going with us—yes. Escort-no.”

Something filled my chest like cold sludge. “He’s lucky,” Nakamura said. “No more worries, not after noon today. You and I. . . we’re still waiting, still on the tines of a pitchfork.”

I placed my chop sticks on the table very carefully as if that simple act were of utmost importance. “When did he find out? Why didn’t someone tell me earlier so I could have at least been with him?”

“It only happened yesterday,” Namamura said coldly. “And you haven’t exactly been the most available man in the world this past month. You should try reading the orders sometime, Kuwahara. You don’t want to miss your own.”

“Really?” I retorted, angry over my very guilt. “So what are they going to do? Shoot me?” Then, riddled with contrition, I bowed my head, eyelids clenched and locked my hands together. “You’re right. I haven’t been a friend to him at all lately. Not to you or anybody else.” Fiercely I bit my knuckle. That was the only thing I could tolerate for the moment, my teeth cutting into the skin and bone.

“I did try to tell you, incidentally,” Nakamura said. “Went to your girl’s apartment about ten, but you weren’t there.”

“We were down at the beach “

“Nice! Lots nicer than being with—”

“Stop it!” I banged my fists on the table and grated my chair back, igniting glances of surprise from those nearby. Then I stood, leaving my food untouched, and blundered my way out of the chow hall. Everyone, it seemed, was staring at me. Where was Tatsuno? I had to find him, tell him we’d go down together. To hell with waiting for orders. I’d cover him all the way, end this madness together. My dearest friend would not go alone.

Without realizing it, I was running, hearing Nakamura’s voice yet not hearing it. Three hundred yards to Tatsano’s barracks, and I was

running at top speed, feeling the blood pound in my temples, hearing my breath rasp in my lungs, vaguely aware that the intense physical con­ditioning of basic training had diminished somewhat. Then, abruptly, I stopped. Tatsuno and his company of the damned would not be in their barracks now; they would be undergoing their final briefing.

Bleakly I turned and shambled off toward my own barracks. Two hours before takeoff time—an hour before my own briefing. Nothing to do but wait. I wouldn’t even check my Hayabusa now, not until time to go. It would either fly or it wouldn’t. All was in the hands of fate.

Nakamura was waiting when I entered the barracks, lying back on one of the bunks, hands locked behind his head, staring at the ceiling. He sat up at my approach, and I settled down beside him, hearing the springs squeak. “Don’t feel bad, Yasbei,” he mumbled. “I apologize for what I said because Tatsuno wouldn’t have wanted it otherwise. Not for you. You’ve found somebody worth spending time with, all the time you’ve got left. I was just envious.”

“But I haven’t even seen him for a week,” I said. “Do you know how long he and I have known each other?”

He nodded. “Ever since you were about four years old—Tats told me. But what good could you have done him hanging around here? None of us know when its coming. We’d probably just be getting on each other’s nerves.” He shrugged. “I haven’t seen him that much myself. He’s been up to the mountain, visiting that priest you told us about.”

For a long time we remained there. Silence, except for a faint and constant ringing in my ears like the sound of a distant locust. “I have a strange feeling about today,” Nakamura mused. His words were scarcely audible. “Today maybe we’ll all go down, one way or another. Pay our debt to the Emperor.”

Somehow the remaining time passed, more as though it had suddenly evaporated. A blank space, a void without dimension or recollection. Then Nakamura and I were there on the airfield, suited up, ready to fly. Sixteen pilots all told—four of us escorts, the remaining dozen never to return. They had grouped now for final directions before an officer holding a large map of the Pacific.

Minutes later it was time for the last formation, and we all stood at attention, hearing the parting words of our commanding officer. From the corner of my eye I could see Tatsuno, but he didn’t look quite real, more like a pallid facsimile of the person he had once been. His spirit had perhaps already gone like the wind among the lanterns.

Around the shaved skull of each Kamikaze was bound a small flag, the crimson rising sun directly over his forehead. These departures were never conducted in a perfunctory manner. Instead, there was much ceremony, toasts, valiant speeches—most of which I had already almost learned by rote.

Boys and girls, drafted from school to work on the base, were permitted to assemble with the squadron on these occasions. Among the fringe of onlookers several girls began to cry then grew quiet as our commanding officer, Yoshiro Tsubaki prepared to address us. His voice commenced in a kind of nasal whine, droning on and on, mingling with the heat waves, occasionally descending to somber guttural tones. . . then, at last, reached its conclusion: “And so, valiant comrades, smile as you go. . . There is a place prepared for you in the glorious and esteemed presence of your ancestors, where you will attain unto everlasting honor. Samurai of the skies. . . guardian warriors, we bid you sayonara"

Now, at last, it was time to sing the parting battle song:

“The airman’s color is the color of the cherry blossom.

See, oh see, how the blossoms fall on the hills of Yoshino.

If we are born proud sons of the Yamato race, let us die,

Let us die with triumph, fighting in the sky.”

So now, at last, the final toast, the sake glasses raised and the resurgent cry: “Tennoheika Banazai! Long live the Emperor!"

Our Kamikaze are saying sayonara now, laughing and joking ner­vously like student athletes before a race. Climbing into their obsolete aircraft—antiquated fighters, even trainers. The old planes don’t matter greatly. After all, it is their final trip as well.

The smiles? Perhaps they will remain on some of those faces to the very last. For others, the smiles will die as they settle into their cockpits. Perhaps for some, very few, the serpents of fear won’t strike until the en­emy ships appeared. And what is courage? A question I have never fully resolved. Who, in fact, is the most courageous—the man who feels the least fear or the man who feels the most and still fulfills his obligation?

But now, there is only one man, a very young one, little more than a boy. Yes, now with Nakamura, the two of them walking toward me. He does not look real, his face pallid, almost transparent. Yes, yes—the spirit has gone ahead. His body will mechanically but faithfully fulfill its duty. What a strange and haunting smile carved upon that waxen visage, the secret perhaps to some immense enigma that the rest of us have yet to fathom.

Tell him! Tell him! Tell him you’ll cover him all the way, that you will die together! But no, that is not what he seeks, and something strangles any words. Your time will come soon enough, Yasuo Kuwahara, the time that fate has ordained. That is right. By repeating those words, I retreat from the groundswell, the sorrow and the guilt. I am no friend, though; I haven’t been for weeks. No friend. And never once has he presumed to tell me the truth.

The lead in my chest is solid now, crushing. The words emerge pain­fully under much pressure. “Tatsuno. . . I—” We reach out, and our hands clasp fiercely, but despite the heat of the sun his fingers are cold. Of course, of course; the spirit is elsewhere. Nakamura, a better friend than I, accords us this final moment.

“Remember, Yasbei. . . .” the words came, almost subliminally it seemed. “How we always dreamed of flying together?”

“Yes,” I said. Our gazes had blended inseparably for the moment. The ultimate searching of souls.

“Well,” he murmured, and the smile increased. “It has come to pass. We fly together today.”

“Yes.” Muscles on one side of my face were twitching. “I will follow you soon, all the way. Perhaps this very afternoon.”

Then, unexpectedly, he extended the other hand. It was wrapped in a meager bandage, and the bandage was turning red. “Here, Yasuo—take care of this for me. It is not much to send, but you know what to do.”

Swiftly, I looked away. Tatsuno had just given me the little finger of his left hand.

Our Kamikaze almost always left a part of themselves behind—a lock of hair, fingernails, an entire finger—for cremation. The ashes were then sent home to repose in the family shrine. There in a special alcove with the pictures of their ancestors. Once yearly, a priest would enter that room to pray.

The first motors were beginning to cough and rev, and suddenly I flung my arms around Tatsuno crushingly as though somehow I might preserve him. Preserve, at least, all that had gone before, all that we had meant to each other. For that instant we clung together on the edge of a great chasm. Then we broke apart, and somehow, following another blank space, I was seated in my Hayabusa, fastening the safety belt, feeling the controls, adjusting the goggles on my forehead. The entire base was grumbling now on the brink of departure.

I checked the prop mixture, pressed the starter button, and one cylin­der caught in a high coughing explosion, then another and another. The motor surged ravenously then adjusted in a steady, powerful roar. One by one, we were moving out—lethargic, winged beasts awakened from their lairs. Uno, a veteran of five kills, was in the lead, and I was close behind— signals coming laconically from the control tower. Already the onlookers were in another world, withdrawn. A ring of sad faces and waving hands, fading as the prop blasts hurled sand, bits of straw and paper.

The commanding officer, the remaining pilots, the students, the mechanics come to bid farewell to the ships they had nurtured for a season. . . all shrinking now as the air field fell away beneath us.