Monday, 28 June 2010

Tales by Japanese Soldiers by Kazuo Tamayama

The thoughts, feelings and experiences of Allied and German soldiers during the Second World War are well documented. Numerous films, books and documentaries have been produced. However the same cannot be said of the Japanese. The thoughts and feelings of their soldiers have been largely overlooked.

Two members of my family encountered the Japanese during the Second World War. Unfortunately I never got the chance to ask either of them what Japanese soldiers were like. Perhaps they could not have given me an answer if I did.

I imagine most people have seen the haunting footage of Japanese kamikaze aircraft crashing into battleships, heard accounts of the unspeakable atrocities committed against prisoners of war and the Japanese propensity to commit suicide rather than face the perceived humiliation of capture. History is full of these bleak images. I had hoped, by reading accounts from the soldiers themselves, I would learn more than just these often repeated and well documented facts.

The book is a collection of diary entries made by Japanese soldiers. It is often very detailed in its description of Japanese fighting tactics, troop movements and use of aircraft and mountain guns as support and of the high regard the Japanese had of bayonet charges. The book also covers the fear and shame some soldiers felt at being wounded or pinned down by enemy fire and therefore unable to continue fighting.

Curiously enough although it is clear Japanese soldiers were afraid of being wounded they seemed much less afraid of dying, whether this was bravado, genuine courage or recklessness is sometimes hard to tell but I think on the whole the soldiers seemed to feel that if it was necessary for them to die for the betterment of Japan then they were OK with it when compared to the apparent shame they would feel if they were sent home with a leg missing. It was also interesting to read that the average Japanese soldier seemed far more concerned about contracting cholera than catching an enemy bullet!

Despite the insights this book provides ultimately I was left somewhat disappointed. Throughout the book there does seem a lack of real human feeling or expression from the Japanese. Occasionally a Japanese soldier would write that he felt sad about something but that was it, a brief mention of emotional pain but nothing else. The whole thing seems so clinical, so devoid of emotion. Perhaps a lot was lost in translation or heavily censored but most of the writing is surprisingly functional, non-emotional and to the point. Sometimes it almost felt like reading an official report rather than a diary entry.

Ultimately I feel this book was a real missed opportunity.

Final verdict 2/5


1 comment:

  1. I haven't heard of this book, but it definitely sounds interesting even if it seemed a little bland. I just finished reading The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose and while it doesn't cover how a Japanese soldier felt, it did go into great detail how they treated American POWs in the Philippines. I posted a review of the book and the show on my blog if you are interested.

    I think part of the concept of bushido comes into play with how the Japanese behaved in WWII. It was pretty horrific. Honor definitely came before self-preservation and it wasn't a terribly long time before the war that samurai still existed so I think that was still quite pervasive in the culture. There is a book called The Japanese Mind that you might be interested in reading if you want to know more about how the Japanese think. They think entirely different from Westerners which I find interesting but not surprising.

    I really liked this review. I am interested in Japanese American culture because my mom's family immigrated from Japan in the early 1900s. I think some of what I was brought up with still comes from that old Japanese culture so I like learning about all things Japanese.

    Here is my review of The Pacific if you would like to read it:
    The Pacific, Pt. 1
    The Pacific, Pt. 2 (HBO series review)