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What Pearl Harbor Wrought

A Soldier is a Soldier - Part 1

June 25, 1950: North Korea invades South Korea. The United States was convinced that the Korean War made an early peace treaty with Japan imperative…President Truman announced in mid-September, 1950, that the United States intended to begin informal discussions with the Allies on the question. (Hugh Borton, Japan’s Modern Century.)

Jo studied the other passengers on the bus. Could any of them be a relative? The farm woman in baggy, unbleached denim workpants, a pin-striped blue blouse and a graying bonnet—could she be a cousin? The heavy-set man with white whiskers and an unlit pipe in his mouth might be an uncle. A woman in the dark purple kimono with a girl maybe six, the five girls in navy blue school uniforms—another cousin, nieces? It was silly, he knew. A chance meeting of a relative on the bus? Practically nil. But the closer he got to Hachiman, the more his curiosity grew, and his mind kept feeding on any possibility, no matter how remote.

It was late fall, 1950. Jo had taken the night train from Tokyo to Gifu, riding in one of the first-class coaches reserved for Allied Occupation personnel. But now he was on a regular bus with the Japanese on his way to Hachiman, a town deep in the southern Japan Alps. From there he was to go to his father’s native village, still further into the mountains.

Jo had never met any relatives outside his immediate family. He did not know what the relatives might look like, nor did he even know how many there were.

The visit to his father’s native village was one his parents in New York were especially anxious for him to make, he being the first of the family to return to Japan after more than 25 years.

He had arrived in Japan three months earlier, shipping out of the U.S Army depot in Oakland the day the Korean War started. Luckily, he was assigned to the Translators and Interpreters Service at GHQ in Tokyo instead of being sent immediately to Korea as were most of the others on board the troopship, the General Pope.

The bus stopped at a small countryside store to pick up a woman in farmer’s clothes and her five or six-year-old son. As the two were making their way to an empty seat a few rows in front of Jo, the little boy yanked on his mother’s sleeve, “Mama. Mama. Heitai-san—a soldier,’ he said.

“Sh…,’ the mother said, as Jo looked up. She smiled her apology, then put her arm around the boy’s shoulder to turn him so he would face the front.

It’s okay, Jo indicated with a smile. But he suddenly was aware that everyone on the bus was looking his way; even the bus driver glanced up into his rear view mirror.

The sudden attention brought into sharp focus what was at the core of Jo’s emotions since his arrival in Japan. Japanese American? American Japanese? Born in Tokyo, raised in America since he was a six months old, now back in Japan as an American GI, speaking only elementary Japanese but still legally a Japanese national since, even as a soldier, U.S. laws barred him from U.S. citizenship—Jo wondered what others thought.

“The Japanese—how do they see you? As a renegade? A traitor, even?’ Barfield, his first sergeant, kiddingly asked when Jo went to pick up his leave papers.

“Shit no.’

He was PFC Joji Kono, an American GI with the U.S. Occupation Forces in Japan.

Maybe it was the newness of his experience, maybe just the atmosphere of the Occupation. Anyway, what he found most galling since his arrival in Japan was the theme—repeated over and over during orientation, in training classes, during briefings and in pamphlets, that they, the Americans, were there to teach the Japanese democracy, and the air of superiority the theme engendered among some of the Occupation personnel. He wondered if they were so naive as to think the Japanese weren’t aware of America’s anti-Asian laws on immigration and citizenship, or housing, for examples, or the segregation of blacks in America’s South?

At home, Jo could live with the situation; things could be changed. In Japan, however…the hell with it, he thought, but a bitterness he didn’t want to admit to remained in the pit of his stomach.

As the bus chugged up and around sharp curves, occasionally pulling off to the side of the road to let an on-coming truck or car by, Jo caught glimpses of the morning sun reflected off of a stream a hundred feet or so below. Paddy fields flanked by thatched-roofed farm houses and sheds seemed carved out of mountain sides. Men and women with conical straw hats could be seen bent over their tasks. Jo could feel an urge—one he felt from the day of his arrival in Japan—to be one of them; to toil and sweat, feel what they felt. How else could he understand being Japanese?

© 2010 Akio Konoshima

family fiction identity Japan Korean War racism soldiers travel

このシリーズについて

What Pearl Harbor Wrought is an episodic novel written by Akio Konoshima, an Issei who was interned at Heart Mountain during WWII. The stories within are based on the author’s observations taken from his youth in California, his time spent in Heart Mountain, and his years serving the United States Army. Discover Nikkei will be publishing a few select chapters from this work, starting with “Flo,” the story of a young woman in love and the effects of the war on her family. Look forward to “A Soldier is a Soldier” and the novel’s epilogue in weeks to come. Konoshima hopes that his words will help “give his children and grandchildren a sense of their heritage.”