Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Toshie Chapter 3 and Two Grave Markers

Chapter 3 of Toshie, aptly titled "The Village Goes to War," begins with the small fray in Beijing between the Chinese and Japanese that would eventually escalate into a full-scale war lasting eight years. The chapter chronicles the eight years both generally, for Japan as a whole and for the Niigata prefecture, and specifically, for Toshie's family. During these eight years, drastic changes for both would take place; the war effort touched the life of every Japanese. For most rural families, the war brought on even more extreme hardships than they were used to - higher taxes, the necessity of increased food production in order to feed the troops even though many of the villages' labor pools were significantly lessened by the draft and large-scale movement of workers to urban jobs, and a greater amount of community involvement than ever before. For the Sakaue family, these years saw the decline in mental stability of Toshie's elder sister, Kiyomi, and the death of her brothers, Takeharu and Rikichi, in Sumatra and Guadalcanal, respectively. Also as a consequence of this war, Toshie was forced to give up her dreams of going on to the two-year higher elementary school, and settle for a life of the hard manual labor which she dreaded.
One of the most interesting points that I came to realize in reading this chapter was not only how impressive the rise of the women's movement and crucial their role in aiding the Japanese through the war was, but also how strong this movement was even before the war began. In October 1937, the Patriotic Women's Association and the Women's Defense Association joined the National Spiritual Mobilization Central Committee; instead of these organizations springing up as a result of the war and necessity of the rising role of women at that time, they were already established, viable political organs at a time when, concurrently, the women's movement in America was not even two decades old. What in Japan's past made them so much more progressive, in this aspect, than their mainland counterparts (ie, China)?
"Two Grave Markers," by Hayashi Kyoko, tells the story of a fictional fourteen-year-old girl, Wakako, and her experience in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was dropped. Wakako was working in a factory with her best friend, Yoko, when the bomb exploded, and while Wakako survived the event, Yoko did not. They both managed to make it to the surrounding mountains, but Yoko's injuries were too great, and Wakako left her when she realized that Yoko was going to die. Wakako lived for two months longer, and her descent into insanity was brought on by her guilt at having survived where her friend did not, as well as the guilt of leaving her and all the others whom she felt she could have helped.
This story brought home to reality of this event for me in a way that history textbooks never can. Even in Toshie, the words of Koyama Motoyasu ("The flies and maggots ate them down to the bone within two days...") did not make me shudder as did Kyoko's eloquent (though fictional) portrayal of the sorrows and burdens of young Wakako. One aspect which particularly stood out for me was when Wakako became more afraid of those who were still alive than the dead - "...that attachment to life frightened her. Wakako ran on, avoiding those who appeared to be still alive." I could sympathize with her, and begin to comprehend the utter horror of this event in Japanese history.

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