Japanese Prisoners Home From Russia

Japan with her (indent heritage so different from ours is non poised on the threshold of democracy. Will she turn our way or Russia’s? NORA WALN, author of The House of Exile and Beaching for the Stars, has been living m Japan for the past two years. II ith her disarming Quaker spirit, she has penetrated farther than most Americans in her understanding of the uncertainty and the aspiration of the Japanese people. Her findings will come to us in the form of a regular monthly article; next month she will tell of “The Grass Roots Revolution in Japan ami of how the wealthy Japanese family has responded to the reform.

by NORA WALN

1

RAIN pelting the roof woke me. Sliding back the walls of the room which opens to the court of the wing where I sleep when I am Yasuko’s guest, I was close to the downpour yet protected by the eaves. When the shower was over, the darkness was the fragrant dark of country night in an upland hamlet. I heard the river and the clatter of wooden sandals on the highway as a traveler passed. The hell insect called suzurnushi hummed a tinkling cadence. Light came. Above the wall, through the branches of a walnut tfee, the lull moon shone down front a sky veiled bv float ing clouds. I saw the beauty of the courtyard in while light dappled with shadow. Peace was on every clean washed stone and shrub.

There was light enough to read or write. I reached for my diary and put down, as well as I could remember, all that had happened the previous day after Mrs. Masa Mukaibo, my companion-interpreter, and 1 went to 1 jeno railway station in Tokyo at seven-thirty in the morning to board the train that brought us north. Into the car with us came children and the adults who were taking them to country relatives now that schools had closed for doyo — the season of greatest heat; and old men and old women in neighborhood parties, wearing the names ol their villages on arm bands, who were en route to the big Buddhist temple at Nagano City where they believe that the keys to heaven, which should be touched before life ends, are kept. And others.

I he school children offered the old people seats. Places were found for everyone. The crowd was in holiday mood excepting several men, who acted hostile and suspicious, and the tired women and children with them. They were men of Nagano prefect ure on t heir way home after long absence, yet 1 here was no radiance in them. In the company of two thousand, the vanguard of ninety-five thousand prisoners of war expected back from the Soviet I nion, they had come into the port of Maxuru w ith manners more brusque and with singing more harsh than when they went away. They were separated now from the great company of repatriates with whom they had shouted in the streets of the capital that they were back to unite Japan with the mainland of Asia. A few looked bewildered. Some were alert as if to an unseen danger. The women and children who had gone south to meet them were very quiet.

The train left Tokyo and crossed the fertile plain which was under water in disastrous flood when f arrived in Japan two years ago. Now, as far as mv eyes could sec, on either side were neat settlements, firmly banked rice paddies filled with good crops, patches of soya beans, root vegetables, many kinds of edible plants, and busy people. Homes had been rebuilt, shrubs replanted. Groves of graceful bamboo flattened by the rushing waters had stood up and grown taller since the flood subsided. Stone images ol Jezu— protector of children and wayfarers — if knocked down, had been set up again at the crossroads they guarded. One near the train window had vases filled with fresh flowers at his feet. We came to the hills. Their barrenness had caused the flood. The slopes from which lumber had been taken by government order during the war had been reforested by General MacArthur’s order with little t rees.

Among the hills were valleys gardened as trimly as well-tended English kitchen gardens. Fruit trees were trelliscd against the outcroppings of gray rock. Every tiny space, in valley or on mountain ledge, that could be tilled without causing soil to slip away was cultivated even if it held no more than a few potatoes. Wheat, buckwheat, and barley were grown in rows like garden plants because farmers have learned that the most handfuls of grain can be produced this way. Occasionally we saw a small ox or a horse drawing a little plow or cultivator, but nearly all ihe work was being done by hand. Where every clod has to be carefully husbanded, farmers fear that waste will be caused by the clumsiness ol animals or machines, though agricultural advisers want to modernize farming.

At homes with thatched roofs women had their bright quilts out to air. Spread in patches of whiteness, newly washed clothes drying in the sun were like snow upon the grass. I saw the repatriates looking intently. Children outside waved to children in ihe train and our children waved back. Nobody in the car or in the fields we passed was in rags and tatters this fourth summer of the Occupation. Many of ihe field workers had on new widebrimmed straw hats. A young woman wearing a blue cotton kimono and a crimson obi had her skirl pinned up to save the hem from soil. She straightened from her reaping and waved a bundle of cut grain.

2

BEHIND me, I heard the sound of weeping. One of the hardest-faced repatriates sat straight up and cried. 11 is sobs were heartbreaking. He had neither wife nor child with him. We were all quiet. Nobody spoke or went to comfort him. Impulse moved me but caution held me to my seat. Long ago in China, i was taught never to intrude when another lost control. He regained self-control as soon as he could.

We passed through the first of many tunnels. Water wheels turned on the swift current of little streams close by little sheds in which there are always many homemade arrangements for using water power in domestic tasks. Hoys who had been fishing both had strings of trout.

“The Americans have helped us stock our rivers and lakes better than ever before,” a mother told her children so loudly that it seemed as if she wanted the repatriates to hear. “The Americans of Natural Resources section of t he Occupation know how little we have had and they try to make it more. The old fish hatcheries have been improved and new ones made.”

“Can we go fishing tomorrow?” her boy and girl asked and she nodded yes.

Soon after this, directly across from us, a repatriate stood on his seat. “ Have you forgotten that we take off our shoes?” reminded bis wife gently. He glared at her and she smiled at him. He looked at his feet, slowly sat down, and took off the Russian boots he wore. Then stood on the seat again.

“Mime ga ippai,” he began in a rough voice, meaning “My heart is full.” “Sa nanto mo iyen,” he faltered, “1 can’t put it in easy words.”

“Don’t try,”interrupted a man who did not look as if he were a repatriate — he did not look so rough, well fed, and physically strong as they did. He pulled a red Hag up from his vest pocket and pushed it clown again. “Let’s sing,” and he stalled a song about “Wake, my country.” A few joined in. Some women. Several boys and girls. Hut it was feeble. “Comeon,” said he addressing the repatriate who had cried. “You can sing.”

The man hesitated, then sang. He Had a big voice. Soon he was leading — conducting with his right hand. There were scattered voices from all over the ear. When those willing to try did not know the words, he went back over the verse as if practiced at this. They sang one song and then another, until I felt caught in a nightmare. Was I back in Nazi Germany again? Inner terror gripped me. The school children were following him. They closed with the Japanese army song “Banda no sukara” right after the Red “Youth of the World” from Prague.

The repatriate who had tried to make a speech did not sing, although he was ordered to do so. He sal down. For a while he held his head in his hands and then he looked up and down the car and finally stared beyond his wife — out of the window. She touched his knee. He jerked away.

Finally the singing was over. It was noon. We opened our lunches. Venders on station platforms offered fruit for sale. Watermelons, plums, apricots, and fine peaches. Purchases were made through open windows. All the journey, passengers got off and on at every depot. Trainmen in uniform came on the platform nl each halt — welcoming the incomers, saving farewell to country people going away, and generally attending to things, as if the railway were theirs.

“The railway men all look worried,” said a farmer in front of us to his son. “Sixty-five thousand were dismissed Inst week. IPs rumored that the American-advised plan is going to throw a million or more out. Railway men have counted on the job for life. As a nation, we have all been happy that we could build this foreign idea of travel and find work lor so many in it. Where the British used eight men, we could find employment for forty-eight or more.”

“It’s the Dodge plan,” said his son. “It’s reduction of staffs in all branches of industry and government to the number who can do the work. We arc studying it at high school in a new course called social economics. Efficiency without humanity, our teachers call it. The fathers of many in school have lost their jobs. The families are frantic. They don’t know what to do. Jim’s mother is selling her kimonos to the U.S. Military Government Team’s wives.”

“That won’t help for long.”

We went into a tunnel. The farmer was silent until we came out. Now he said firmly, “Mm remember this, son. Shogun Mac, aloof and benevolenl, is one of the best rulers we have had in alt our long history. A man is not judged by his nationality but by his deeds. You must not forget what I am going to say. Pass it down the generations. He came in — a war lord — and he got our men disarmed and back into their homes without the use of his soldiers’ violence. There was bitter feeling among us and yet not one dared to fight another in civil war. He has seen to it that we got enough imported food to keep down famine and he has helped bring our farming to the highest yield we have ever had. We have got good seeds and good fertilizers.”

“Our teachers say that others are now making the plans he must execute.”

“Whatever the future, the past is to be remembered,” insisted the father.

A repatriate turned to speak to them: “The problem is exactly the same as before the war — not enough land for so many people. All that the Americans have done is to keep down social unrest by supporting you at the cost of their taxpayers. That cannot go on forever.”

“They have an industrial program for getting in enough raw materials, processing them, and finding Oriental markets which will buy enough to pay for the margin of food we must import to live on a modest scale. I’m president of my Women’s Club and I do not want to hear criticism of the Americans, They have helped us. The Soviets send us nothing but trouble.”a matronly woman spoke up.

“We don’t want violence here,” said another woman. “We had enough of war. The Americans brought in an era of peace.

Without saying anylhing since the singing, the man with the red handkerchief got off at a lonely stalion. With his knapsack on his back he went briskly up a mountain path. After he was gone, a woman with a baby in her arms began to sing the song of the beavers that danced in a temple courtyard. Nearly the whole car sang, one simple lyric after another. A boy played softly on his mouth organ. The repatriate who had been interrupted made his speech, standing on his seat with his shoes off.

“I’m glad to get home,” said he. “Home alter five years. I thank you who have been here for keeping things nice, as you have. If eighty million of us can get a living on the space of these four small islands it will be just fine. The land seems little for so many. Everything is small after the vastness we have seen. Small and pretty.”

“Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!” they cheered him, led by a middle-aged man in a brown kimono.

An old man came from the other end of ihe car to give him a cigarette and his wife an apple. They took the gifts with bows and smiles. I bis time he did not pull away when his wife touched him. They sat holding hands.

“It’s the new way,” she told him. “American democracy.”

“He will be all right when you get him tamed,” remarked the old man before he went back to his seat. “He’ll settle in if he can find work. A baby would gent le him.”

“We have a boy and a girl waiting at home. I am afraid that they will have forgotten me,” said the repatriate.

“They are eager for you to come,” assured his wife. “With grandfather’s help they count the hours.”

From every narrow valley beautiful wooded hills rose steeply. Near every hamlet milk goats were grazing. On one open glade were small brown cows. Amid the serenity a volcano belched puffs of blackness. We were nearing Komoro, the station where we gel off to come to Shiga. We had to gather up our luggage and prepare to leave just as a conversation I wanted to listen in on had started.

“I am an engineer,” one of the repatriates had volunteered. “I was in Manchuria and then in Siberia. I have been away since 1932. I secured a place to come on the repul rial ion ship — to worship at the grave of mv ancestors. I could have stayed. I have an offer to ret urn. It’s a big place — there is work over there. The conditions are hard if you get into trouble—but not so hard as starvation will be when it starts here after the Americans stop their help. Japan cannot gel along separated in ideology from China, and China has turned to the Soviets.”

“There will be unrest here, increasing unrest ibis winter.” A man put down his book. “We have practiced the policy of dividing work thin—jobs divided so that none are exactly idle. Turning men from their useless jobs with no new jobs provided — we will have suicides by men who cannot give the dismissal orders strikes — riots — and the multitude of workless not knowing where to turn — except to the Reds, who will offer guidance.”

Yasuko’s son Tadshiko, her eldest, who is studying to be a doctor and intending to practice in this valley with his cousin, was bowing to us at the car window. We had to get off. The train boy passed our luggage to a waiting handcart. Komoro is a friendly place. The stationmaster greeted us. Behind the station, the local taxi was enveloped in smoke and there was the smell of burning wood. The car is an ancient Dodge, built high, excellent for cart roads; it goes well, propelled by a contraption on the back which the owner invented after looking at pictures and reading a book.

The road to Shiga follows M winding branch of the Chikumagawa, the river whose waters have rushed round a thousand bends. As soon as the taxi’s firebox showed a bed of red embers and gave off no smoke, we started. For an hour or more, we went up a well-farmed valley with good apple orchards and fine mulbery trees for the silkworms, and came to the second of the three hamlets jointly called Shiga.

Twenty-eight members of the Kozu family were on the roadside to welcome us to the “heart center” of their clan.