On Aug. 15, the anniversary of the end of World War II, I walked from Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo to nearby Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, which houses the remains of Japan's many unknown soldiers. In the scorching heat, I noticed lots of young people. There were fewer elderly folk who might have personally experienced war.
Sixty-six years have passed since the end of the conflict. How time flies.
Previously, the stooped visitors walking with sticks at the cemetery were the parents of slain soldiers. This year, Miyako Baba, 97, the widow of an officer, was the oldest person to take part in the government-sponsored memorial service held at nearby Nippon Budokan hall. While widows made up 40 percent of the attendees 20 years ago, now they account for less than 1 percent.
Time is passing. The Asahi Kadan tanka column in the vernacular Asahi Shimbun on Aug. 14 carried fewer poems about the war than usual. Each August, poems to remember and mourn the war dead inundated the column and touched the hearts of the postwar generation. Many of the writers were the parents, wives, girlfriends, brothers and sisters of that generation.
Take, for example, the following poem by Makiko Inoue: "Just before making a sortie/ For the first time/ You addressed me without an honorific/ In writing." The poem was composed in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Yoshimi Kondo (1913-2006), who chose the poem, wrote that its subject was probably the writer's boyfriend or fiance and that he probably never returned. The number of people who can speak about the pain and grief of war from first-hand experience is dwindling.
War photographer Tsuneo Enari said: "The absurdity and truth of human society is in the hearts of people who have been forced to shed tears and put up with deaths." When I look at the exhibits of the photo exhibition "Japan and Its forgotten War: Showa," which is now under way in Tokyo, each of the photos drives home Japan's past and present.
Did people die for their country or because of it? While people's thoughts may be varied, the world we live in has been shaped by their deaths. Along with our pledge not to make war, I wish to renew my determination not to forget the past and let memories fade.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16
* * *
Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
* * *
- « Prev
- Next »