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Thread: "Taiwanese" Solider in Japan

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    14 Mar 08

    "Taiwanese" Solider in Japan

    What's the point of this article? To get sympathy?

    Though a native of Taiwan, Chien Mao-sung has spent the last 50 years in Tokyo, much of it driving a taxi. A veteran of the Japanese Imperial Army, his feelings toward the nation he once called "my country" are complicated, for he sacrificed his best years for his country only to have the authorities wash their hands of him. Tooling around Tokyo in his taxi, he has told his tale to many a customer. For virtually all of them, it was only a taxi conversation, but veteran journalist Koichi Hamasaki heard the story and became indignant. In a slightly tipsy moment, he promised to write a book on Chien's life.

    Although a journalist, Hamasaki was a bit fuzzy about Japan's invasions of its neighbors during World War II, and he knew nothing about his government's steadfast refusal to provide compensation to Taiwanese and Koreans who had served in the Japanese military forces. As he wrote the book, however, he was mortified at the Japanese government's evasion of its responsibilities. He accused his government of underhandedness, and criticized it for violating humanitarian principles.

    Chien Mao-sung's life story is not just another account of one man's suffering during World War II. More importantly, it sheds light on the sacrifices that the people of Taiwan made under Japanese colonial rule. According to Huang Chih-hui, a researcher at Academia Sinica's Institute of Ethnology, Chien's story trains the spotlight on a less savory side of the vaunted "Japanese spirit," and might serve as an antidote to the somewhat rosy view that many Taiwanese tend to take of their former colonial rulers.

    Recounting his tragic story, Chien sometimes breaks into tears. At many key points, circumstances seemed to have it in for him. "It's been damn tough. First the Japanese took me for all I was worth, then I was convicted of war crimes and locked up for five years. 'For the country, and for the emperor,' as they used to say, I sacrificed my youth, but then the Japanese government said, 'You're not Japanese,' and refused to pay me anything at all for all the time I had served in the military. I want today's young people to know about this part of history."

    Reading this biography is a lot like watching a movie set in wartime, for Chien's story has all the elements of a moving tragedy.

    The Emperor's loyal subject

    Chien's father was a coal miner in rural Taipei Prefecture, where Chien was born in the 14th year of the reign of the Taisho emperor (1925). At the Japanese-run public elementary school where he enrolled at age seven, the principal led the students in daily worship of the Japanese emperor. The children sang Kimi ga yo, raised the flag of the rising sun, and in history class memorized the names of Japanese emperors. The youngsters thought that being subjects of the emperor was in the natural order of things.

    In 1940 the colonial authorities launched a "name change movement" in the opening volley of a campaign to assimilate the Taiwanese people as loyal subjects of the emperor. The 15-year-old Chien responded by changing his name to Shigematsu Takenaga.

    Shigematsu joined the Imperial Army, where he served in a non-combat role at the Taiwan headquarters: "It was the most natural thing in the world for a young man like me, with his country at war, to join the army and serve the emperor." Entering the army full of hope and enthusiasm, he never imagined the trouble he was getting himself into.

    He was later dispatched to Kuching, Borneo to guard prisoners of war. There his commanding officer would frequently bark, "Show me the spirit of an officer of the Imperial Army!" Chien still has not forgotten the time he slapped a British prisoner in the face upon the order of his commander.

    After Japan surrendered in 1945, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and the other Allied nations, acting on the Potsdam Declaration, launched war crimes proceedings against Japan.

    Convicted by an Australian military tribunal in 1946 of torturing prisoners of war, Takenaga was sentenced to five years in prison as a BC-class war criminal. He served out his sentence on the islands of Morotai, New Britain, and Manus.

    Released from prison at age 26, he returned to Japan only to find his Japanese citizenship revoked. And he could not withdraw the 1,500 yen that he had saved up in his Japanese postal savings account. Then his family contacted him from Taiwan and warned him to stay away. Taiwan was then in the iron grip of the White Terror regime, and they feared for his safety. So he made a life for himself in Japan, and there he has stayed for the past half century.

    On the margins

    Chien married a Japanese woman against the opposition of her family, who managed after more than ten years of interference to bring about a divorce. Forced to raise his four children alone, he took to driving a taxi, which afforded a good income and allowed him the flexible schedule he needed as a single parent. His youngest child was only two years old at the time. He has now spent the last 30 years behind the wheel, and during this whole time he has been seeking compensation from his "former homeland" for the time he spent in military service.

    Statistics put out by Japan's Ministry of Health and Welfare indicate that a total of 80,432 people from Taiwan served as soldiers of the Imperial Army during the colonial period, while another 126,750 served the army as coolies or took other non-combat positions. Over 30,000 of these people were killed in combat and some 170,000 were returned home due to injuries or disease.

    The Japanese government finally began in 1989 providing compensation of �D2 million each to Taiwanese who had served in the Imperial Army (about NT$360,000 to NT$400,000 at 1989 exchange rates). This compensation only went, however, to those who had been severely injured, or to the families of those who had died in the war. And the �D2 million was a paltry sum in comparison with the �D30 million paid out to Japanese nationals upon their retirement from military service.

    Chien fell through the cracks. Having survived the war uninjured, he didn't qualify for the compensation awarded in 1989 to many of his compatriots. Not recognized as a citizen of Japan, the government cited its nationality laws in refusing him the compensation awarded to Japanese veterans.

    Chien is owed much-the salary he never received as a soldier, the retirement benefits that other soldiers received, salary for the time he spent in prison as a war criminal-and he has applied again and again over the years to get it, but his efforts have earned him nothing but cold, bureaucratic rebuffs.

    Now 76 years old, Chien asks the Japanese government: "You were quick enough to recruit me as 'Private 2nd Class, Shigematsu Takenaga' during the war, so how come after you lost the war you called me a 'Chinese' and told me to go back? Is this the 'Yamato spirit' you're always beating your chest about?"

    No more "culture of shame"

    Koichi Hamasaki, a former Yomiuri Shimbun reporter and currently a professor of journalism at Eiwa Junior College in Yamanashi Prefecture, charges the Japanese government with callous disregard for human rights and prevarication in face of historical facts.

    Noting the American anthropologist Ruth Benedict's description of Japan as a "culture of shame" in her book Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Hamasaki declares that this culture went by the wayside when Japan's samurai class faded from society. Denouncing the Japanese gov -ernment's intention to consign this chapter of history to oblivion and shirk its responsibility to compensate individuals for what happened to them during the war, the author sneers that the "culture of shame" has been replaced by a "culture of shamelessness."

    Says Hamasaki: "80% of Japanese people believe that the issue of compensation was put to rest by the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951. Most Japanese don't have a very clear understanding of the matter, the news media don't give it much coverage, and the Japanese just aren't very good at handling outside criticism."

    One of Hamasaki's purposes in writing this book was to provide a highly readable account of Chien's life so that more Japanese people would come to understand this episode of their past. Unfortunately, the book hasn't sold very well in Japan. Shinchosha printed 6,000 copies, of which only about 4,500 have been sold.

    Return to militarism?

    Social commentator Nan Fang Shuo has described militarism as the only part of contemporary Japanese thought that Japan can call its own. Hamasaki, who considers himself a rightist, agrees. Pointing to the collapse of the bubble economy, a decade of economic stagnation, a dearth of outstanding political leaders, and a general feeling of malaise among the Japanese people, Hamasaki argues that militarism is the only way to restore the pride and vigor of the Yamato race.

    To resolve Chien Mao-sung's predicament, Hamasaki proposes three specific legislative measures to ensure that Taiwanese and Koreans who served in the Japanese military receive a certain level of compensation.

    Although Chien is well advanced in years, his indignation still burns red-hot: "I'm not willing to die until I get an apology from the Japanese government!"

    But will his former homeland ever see its way clear to giving him his due?
    Taiwan Panorama- A Taiwanese Soldier in the Japanese Army

    Too bad the rest of his ilk in the Japanese camp guards didn't get their just dues.

    Edit: Incidentally, the website wouldn't let me copy and post the text.

    Edit: Never mind, figured out how to do it.
    Last edited by Skywatcher; 08 Aug 10, at 01:15.

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