Posts Tagged ‘Motomi Murota’

1945←2015: Reflections on Stolen Youth

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Editors’ note: This post contains references to wartime atrocities that may disturb some readers.

August and September mark the end of Japan’s Asia-Pacific War some 76 years ago. In Japan, remaining survivors of the war are elders whose stories come from their youth and beg to be shared with today’s young people.

But many obstacles can stand in the way of such story-passing, especially after 76 years. The world has changed starkly, so the realities of “back then” can seem impossibly remote. Moreover, Japanese young people of 1945 not only endured but also inflicted suffering in a war of aggression. Can a collection of reminiscences about their “stolen youth,” translated into English, truly touch the hearts of international readers?

These questions were on my mind as I opened the e-book version of 1945←2015: Reflections on Stolen Youth. This volume, compiled by Motomi Murota and Naomi Kitagawa with photographs by Yuriko Ochiai, was published in Japan in 2015 on the seventieth anniversary of Japan’s surrender. In 2020, it was published in English translation by the same Japanese publisher, Korocolor, using proceeds from crowdfunding. The creators and backers of the book clearly wished its content to travel outside Japan’s borders. What is its agenda? I wondered.

My worries that it might present a view of the war overly sympathetic to Japan were erased, however, when I read the opening account by a survivor of the Tokyo Air Raids, who questioned Japan’s failure to compensate civilian victims of the raids. Another account openly described receiving abusive training as a Japanese military recruit and then giving the same treatment to Allied prisoners. Other accounts portrayed official neglect of the residents of Okinawa. Multiple accounts pulsed with remorse for committing violence during the war, some of it under orders: vivisection, pillaging, rape. Sharp critiques of wartime policy and regret for assenting to it filled the testimonies of many of the fifteen survivors featured.

The collection does include further accounts by civilian victims. One was twelve when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. He had to find the body of his six-year-old sister and then cremate it all by himself.

Yet the recurring theme of the accounts is not victimhood, but a longing for the young people of today to know the tragedy of war, that they may avoid repeating it. Many of the survivors have sought to address their past wrongs, in part by unabashedly owning up to their actions.

Following each survivor’s narrative is a letter by a modern-day youth in response. I was impressed by the perceptivity of the letter-writers, and I felt that they succeeded in providing a bridge between the world of young people back then and the world of today. The letters also function to create space for readers to absorb each war story before moving on to the next. Close-up photographs provide another bridge to the present. When I read the e-book by smartphone, I appreciated being able to pause and hold the image of each survivor and letter writer in the palm of my hand.

Mr. Sanae Ikeda lost all his brothers and sisters in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. He was twelve.

Despite my apprehensions before reading, I soon found myself wishing that every high school or college student who studies World War II might have access to these concise, moving stories and vivid photos, which give human voices and faces to a wide representation of locations and conflicts throughout Asia.

The English-language edition was masterfully translated by Deborah Iwabuchi, with the letters by today’s youth translated into English by students in the same age group (and then edited by Deborah). This speaks to the compilers’ wishes to make the war stories personal for people just embarking on their adult lives. The translators came from a variety of places—everywhere from Shizuoka to South Korea, and from Sydney to Senegal. The entire English-language edition was further edited by Stephanie Umeda, resulting in a highly readable work clearly polished by many hands.

I had the opportunity to ask Deborah a few questions about this book:

Avery: Deborah, you mentioned that the creators of Reflections made a point of involving young translators in the English-language edition, just as they had involved young writers of the letters. I understand that the involvement of young translators was exciting for the Japanese public. Why do you think it generated such excitement?

Deborah: From what I’ve seen and heard, the whole point of people telling their war stories is to pass them on to the next generations, so they will know not to support war. Seeing so many young people excited about an anti-war, pro-peace book had to be fulfillment of a dream for many.

Avery: As an extremely close reader of this book, what did you take away from its meditations on redemption? Did you find the different perspectives on addressing past wrongs to be different from perspectives you had encountered elsewhere, or somewhat similar/universal?

Deborah: The survivors seem to have digested so much harm and evil during the war and then managed to survive and lead successful lives. On the other hand, the war, what they lost in the war and/or the harm they caused in the war remain daily parts of their existence. I’m not sure if this is what you are asking, but they managed to move forward without moving on. Lost loved ones continue to be mourned and the atrocities some committed are never forgotten or brushed off. There were so many different situations, but all the survivors reached the same conclusion of not covering up what they did and not toning down what they saw or suffered, all for the sake of passing it down. I guess their redemption is the fact that they aren’t asking for redemption. They believe that survival came with responsibility and that few died deserved deaths. They just want the reader to know war is horrible and there are no circumstances under which it should be permitted or rationalized. What I hadn’t expected was the lack of blame. There was some (mainly against the Japanese leaders), but the survivors didn’t let that bog down their plea for peace. It definitely cleared my brain of the hubris and never-ending controversy surrounding war, and allowed me to focus on peace. They offered me redemption—even though I can’t explain and analyze the war, I can still take a stand against it.

Avery: In the English-reading world, what ages of readers would you say are an ideal audience for this book? Who would you most like to hand it to?

Deborah: The compiling editors definitely want a young reading audience and the survivors wrote about their experiences as very young people, so definitely YA. In the English-speaking world, readers in general will not know much about what happened in Japan and on the Japanese side in the war, so there is lots to learn. In conclusion, I’d say YA and up.

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Avery: 1945←2015: Reflections on Stolen Youth was published in Japan and can be challenging to purchase from overseas, but it’s worth it.

I personally recommend purchasing the Kindle edition via Amazon Japan (ASIN B07TNRKF8R). If you typically purchase Kindle books using (say) an Amazon US account, you will need to establish a separate Amazon Japan account. Using a device that you have not previously used for e-reading (I used an iPhone), navigate to Amazon.co.jp, set the site’s language to English (if wished), create an account (required), purchase Reflections, and download the free Kindle app in order to read on your device. The Kindle app on this device will now receive e-books purchased via Amazon Japan only. Note: Since publishing this post, I have learned that Reflections does not work well with Kindle for PC.

The handsome print version of the English translation of Reflections is available for purchase as well, via both Amazon Japan and Amazon US (ISBN 978-4907239510). Don’t be fooled by the Japanese-language advertising sash that may show on the cover image, or even by labels that say this is a Japanese edition, in the Japanese language, etc. If “Translation by Deborah Iwabuchi” appears on the cover, you have found the English-language edition. Its sticker price at Amazon Japan is lower than overseas.

If you have any trouble obtaining 1945←2015: Reflections on Stolen Youth, please email japan [at] scbwi.org, and we will be glad to provide assistance.