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2014年8月16日 (土)


'What was that war all about?': Ex-Japanese soldier recalls a year in the Philippine jungle
いったいあの戦争はなんだったのか? 元軍人がフィリピンのジャングル生活に思いをはせる(スラチャイ訳)



'What was that war all about?': Ex-Japanese soldier recalls a year in the Philippine jungle
いったいあの戦争はなんだったのか? 元軍人がフィリピンのジャングル生活に思いをはせる(スラチャイ訳)

SHIRAKAWA, Fukushima -- Eishiro Wada carefully opens the old, dark blue notebook. It's no larger than a business card, and looks like it might fall apart just by looking at it. Inside, sentences written in blue fountain pen roll out across the pages.

"My eyes are too old to read this anymore," says the 92-year-old Wada, chuckling. On this particular page are the words, "Dragonflies, mice, snails, earthworms; I ate everything and anything." The little book is Wada's diary from nearly seven decades ago, and in it are the tales of the Imperial Japanese Army veteran's year hiding in the Philippine jungle, unaware that World War II had ended.

Wada was born to a farming family here in Shirakawa, Fukushima Prefecture. After finishing elementary school (which was as far as compulsory education went in prewar Japan), he went to work in an aircraft factory in Kanagawa Prefecture. Though there was a conscription system, Wada did not wait to be drafted, volunteering for the army in 1942.

He was trained as an airfield signals operator and posted to northern Manchuria, but was redeployed in 1944 to the town of Cotabato on Mindanao in the southern Philippines -- just as the American-led Allied forces were closing in. He still has the farewell letter he wrote to his parents when he left Manchuria, in full expectation he would not return to Japan alive.

"I will die to destroy America and Britain, for Japan," the letter says. Looking at it now, Wada points out that his younger self had added the radical for "beast" to the kanji characters for the United States and Britain, "because at that time they were monsters."

In April 1945, 10 months after the Imperial Japanese Navy had been badly defeated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea but still four months before Japan would surrender, the Japanese commander at Cotabato dissolved his units under fierce American attacks. Wada, 23 at the time, sent out the last message.

"I cried," he wrote in the diary. "I cried, and my hand shook as I touched the telegraph key for the last time." The message he tapped out went, "Enemy units of unknown strength have, on the morning of April 18, Year 20 of the Showa Era, begun landing operations (on Mindanao)."

Wada says he truly believed at that moment that Japan would turn things around and win the war, "but I'd have to be patient until that happened." He then smashed his cipher machine, burned his codebooks and fled into the jungle with eight other soldiers. The small band walked aimlessly through the dark forest for days on end. Wada was carrying some dry rice, but the men couldn't cook it because they'd run out of matches to light a fire.

"We ate the rice raw. We shot a monkey and ate that raw, too," the diary records. Snakes and lizards joined the monkey on the soldiers' jungle menu. What they didn't have, however, was salt, and Wada began to show signs of malnutrition. He was also running a high fever from a bout of malaria, yet he walked on. If he'd stopped moving, the other men would have left him behind to become some forest creature's dinner.

One among the group, a private first-class, became too sick and weak to carry on. The soldiers abandoned him to the jungle, and he never reappeared. "We assume he's dead," the young Wada wrote. Later, another soldier, a very young signals operator, shot himself through the throat. Eventually, there were only two men left, and one of them was Wada.

The two men said to each other every day, "I'd die for a meal of white rice and miso soup right about now." One morning, as Wada was trying to give water to his prostrate companion, he thought to himself, "I'm no longer a man of this world. I've become cold-hearted." A little later, he was alone, and thought he'd be following his comrades into death before long. He stayed in one spot for several days, but then decided he had to keep walking.

Sometime later, Wada ran into a man calling himself "Kato," a Japanese civilian living in the area.

"Mr. soldier, sir," the man said to him, "please come and help me."

Kato had married a local woman and put down roots on Mindanao. Attacks by guerrillas fighting the Japanese had forced Kato to flee his home with his three children, however, and the family was now roaming from place to place. Kato did, however, have matches, and Wada shared his first meal of cooked rice in a long time with the man. But Kato had already been in bad shape when Wada ran into him, and he died a few days later, leaving two daughters and a son. Wada's diary records the eldest as 14 years old. Her name was Nobuko.

Wada could not leave the kids behind. He and the children found a jungle hut and moved in. Wada says that Nobuko took good care of her siblings, and the four spent probably more than six months together. They hunted using a rifle taken from a dead Japanese soldier, and were very careful with when and how they lit their fires, worried that they'd be discovered by American troops.

One morning in May 1946, Wada heard voices coming from the jungle. It was a U.S. Army unit sent to secure the surrender of Japanese holdouts. Wada raised his rifle and grabbed a hand grenade, ready to blow himself up on the spot. Then, among the Americans, he spotted a familiar face; one of his former army comrades. Wada knew then that the war was over and Japan had lost, and he was momentarily paralyzed by the realization.

Living in his jungle hut with the three Kato kids, Wada had no way of knowing that World War II was over, though he had noticed that the skies had emptied of enemy aircraft. However, even in the jungle hell that devoured eight of his fellow soldiers, Wada had believed down to the bone that Japan would regain its feet and go back on the offensive. That belief shattered the moment he saw the U.S. troops and their Japanese companion, and Wada suddenly wondered what he'd been thinking, what he'd been waiting for all this time. He broke down in tears.

Wada gave himself up and was sent to a POW camp on Leyte Island in the central Philippines. When he had regained his strength, he was sent back to Japan. It was December 1946, and his family was surprised to see him. They'd received a notice from the army saying he'd been killed in action; shot through the head, specifically.

Back on Mindanao, the nine men who went into the jungle had sworn to visit the families of any one of them who did not survive. Wada kept that promise, traveling to the homes of the eight men across Japan, from Mie to Niigata prefectures. Their parents greeted him with tears, and Wada found he hadn't the heart to tell them what the jungle was really like or how their boys had died.

"He confronted the enemy, and was killed in battle," Wada told each family in turn.

The story of Wada's year in the Philippine jungle did not end with these sad visits, however. In November last year, he got a call he'd never expected.

Wada hadn't talked about the war for many, many years, but the person on the other end wanted to know all about his experiences. Why? "For that girl you met back then," said the caller, a representative of an organization backing the citizenship claims of stateless people born to Japanese parents. The call was about Nobuko, full name Inia Nobuko Kato, now 80.

Nobuko's father had been a Japanese man who worked as a carpenter and in farming. Her mother, a native of Mindanao, had died young from disease. Then her father had died in the jungle. She had no citizenship, and had lived her life in poverty.

Nobuko had always thought of herself as Japanese and wanted to claim citizenship. However, she had no proof her father had been from Japan, leaving her to build a case out of memories and witness statements. On Aug. 7, 2013, Nobuko arrived in Japan with the financial backing of the support organization.

"I'm very thankful for the chance to come to Japan since my father is no longer in this world," she said upon her arrival at Narita International Airport, dabbing at her tears and clutching her mother's Buddhist mortuary tablet, which she says was made by her father.

She thought that the Japanese soldier from the jungle, the man named "Wada," would remember her father, and give her the proof she needed of his nationality. Depending only on Nobuko's dim recollections of this Wada, the support organization began their search. The group finally found Wada three months later, and made that November call.

In January this year, the Tokyo Family Court accepted Nobuko's citizenship claim, and Wada's testimony was one of the centerpieces of her case.

"There's no way I'd forget her. She was a lovely girl, and very reliable," Wada says, looking at a photo the Mainichi snapped of Nobuko at Narita Airport in April. "She's got so many wrinkles now!"

Wada says that Nobuko was all skin and bones when he'd first met her. He wrote about it in his little blue diary. "She's suffered a lot over the years, hasn't she?" he goes on. Nobuko's brother and sister had both passed away before her citizenship case was heard.

As Wada passes his finger over the blue kanji characters in his diary, he mutters to himself over and over, "What was that war all about?" He says he'd like to meet Nobuko again one day, but realizes they are both old folks now, and that wish may not come true.

August 15, 2014(Mainichi Japan)


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