For decades, Masami Yano led a quiet, comfortable life in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku before his death in February 2012 at age 92. Before he died, though, he left behind a legacy of personal testimony that describes brutal murders, rape and cannibalism in the Philippines when he was a soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army.
But Yano’s war and remembrance are more than tales of atrocities; they offer a message of hope that future generations never forget what occurred during the awful days of World War II and that they strive for a world where wars are no longer waged.
Seven years ago, Yano told his story to 35-year-old Naoko Jin, who was recording testimonies from those who fought in the war and had since moved mainly to the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Although Yano was living in Ehime Prefecture, he contacted Jin after he saw a TV program about her project. The veteran said he had a story to tell.
Jin met with Yano at his home in Saijo, and over the course of two days of interviews, Yano described his harrowing wartime experiences.
Yano said that when his unit was searching for guerrillas in a village on the island of Luzon, an elderly woman emerged from a church. Yano’s superior officer ordered him to stab the woman with his bayonet because she appeared suspicious.
“I had to follow orders, so I stabbed her chest and blood just spurted out,” Yano told Jin. “She reached out before collapsing in front of me.”
In another village, Yano attacked a woman with children who had remained behind.
“Burglary, rape, murder and arson. Even though it was based on military orders, I was the one who committed those crimes,” Yano said. “I felt a sense of guilt. Despite that, I have gone (to ceremonies) on a number of occasions to remember (my fallen comrades), but I have no idea how to apologize for my acts.”
Yano admitted to other gruesome atrocities.
On the run from Allied troops and struggling with starvation, Yano and his comrades were hiding in the mountains. One of the men in his group killed a fleeing Japanese soldier. That night, their mess kits gave off the smell of meat for the first time in a long while.
“We were in a mad rush to eat it,” Yano said of the grisly experience.
The next day, Yano himself went to where the dead body lay and carved off meat from the leg.
Yano entered the Imperial Japanese Army in 1941, and in the summer of 1944, he was sent from what was then Manchuria to the Philippines.
About 500,000 of the 600,000 Japanese soldiers who fought the U.S. Marines and other Allied units in the Philippines died.
In Yano’s unit, only about 10 percent survived. More than 1 million Filipinos were killed in the fighting.
After the Japanese surrender, Yano, then 25, returned to Japan in December 1945. He soon was married, started a family and worked on a gravel transport ship that he purchased. He eventually started his own company and led a comfortable life.
About 40 years after the war, Anjin Abe, 74, a ceramic artist from Ehime, found a diary Yano kept of his war experiences. Yano had written notes on toilet paper while he was held prisoner in a camp. After he returned to Japan, Yano rewrote those accounts into what would eventually become six notebooks.
“Yano had written clearly about what happens when humans fight one another,” Abe said. “He did not embellish anything. I was very surprised.”
Abe and others approached a publishing company with Yano’s diary and it was published in 1986 as “Rusonto Haizan Jikki” (Actual account of defeat on Luzon island).
Yano gave copies of the book to his children and grandchildren. His oldest daughter, Miyuki, 66, was shocked. The book contained things about her father that she didn’t want to know. When she was much younger, all she heard about were the warm exchanges Yano had with Filipinos and fellow Japanese soldiers.
Yano’s wife, Kiyomi, 86, was not surprised. She knew about the bullet fragments that remained in Yano’s hip from the war.
“I knew that he had a number of scars,” she said.
A few years after the book came out, Yano asked Tetsuo Kondo, 71, a sculptor who lived nearby, to create a bronze statue of a soldier.
“I don’t want just an ordinary memorial,” Yano told the sculptor. “I want something that will show that war is so brutal that it can drive humans to commit abnormal acts.”
The statue was completed in March 1991, and now is on display in the yard of the Yano residence. A kneeling soldier who is nothing but skin and bones uses a stick to support himself. The statue is called “A Monument for No More Wars.”
Close to 70 years after the end of World War II, there are fewer survivors who can talk about their personal experiences from the battlefield and the home front.
In 2006, after Yano learned of Jin’s project to record the memories of survivors, he knew he had to talk about the things he experienced one more time.
“You are doing what I could never do,” he told Jin. “I have to try once again to talk about what I did.”
Jin edited Yano’s testimony along with those of other former soldiers on video and uses it to teach young people about the importance of peace. She also showed the videos to people in the Philippines who fell victim during the war.
In the final years of his life, Yano often talked about his war experiences to audiences. Whenever he met young people or groups who wanted to learn about World War II, Yano would often provide support by making a monetary donation and giving lectures.
He entered the hospital in January 2012 with failing health.
On the last day of his life, he repeated, “I want to live until Aug. 15.”
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