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Thewanderingjew

Thewanderingjew

The human cost of war is tragic!

The Translation of Love: A Novel - Lynne Kutsukake

The Translation of Love, Lynne Kutsukake, author; Nancy Wu, narrator

Through the friendship of two young girls, the plight of post-war Japan comes to life. Before World War II had ended, many Japanese families in Canada, were being given the unfair choice of voluntarily being deported from the country they lived in, to their country of origin, Japan, or of relocating east of the Rockies. Their former homes and businesses had been stolen, taken over by others and were not being returned. They had lost everything and nothing was being done for these innocent people, guilty only of being Japanese. The Shimamura family had been living in an internment camp. There, Mrs. Shimamura had died. Toshio Shimamura agreed to voluntarily be deported to Tokyo with his thirteen year old daughter, Aya, because to remain in Canada would have meant starting over in a strange new place where he felt he would not be accepted. He chose to return to a place where at least everyone looked like him. Yet, were they truly like him, in all but appearance, after having lived in the West?

For both Aya and her father the adjustment and transition was huge. There were few jobs available. The poverty and food shortages made life very difficult. Aya had been born in Canada and had no real knowledge of life in Japan. She was much more comfortable with the English language and with her freedom to think and speak there. In Japan, she was ridiculed as an “imin”, an immigrant who should have stayed where she came from because Japan was experiencing such great hardships, there was not enough to go around. She was very frightened. Her father was now remote and sad. His behavior was more controlled and formal, like that of most Japanese. He stressed obedience and respect. He wanted her to behave like a “real” Japanese. He worked long hours, and they had little contact.

In school, Aya was in Kondo Sensei‘s class. He teamed her up with a young girl, Fumi Tanaka, who was a year younger than Aya. At first, Fumi resented her as the “repat” girl, but soon they developed a friendship, and they confided their secrets to each other. Fumi told Aya that she had a sister, Sumiko, whom she missed terribly. She had not heard from her in a very long time, and she wanted to find her. Sumiko had gone to work in the Ginza, a place of dance halls, when both Fumi and her mother had gotten sick and money was needed for their medicines. Once there, it was hard for her to leave as her own debt to her unscrupulous employer continued to mount. Although Sumiko’s effort to provide for her family was noble, her type of employment also brought unfair humiliation and shame upon her.

When Fumi heard that everyone was writing letters to General MacArthur, asking for his help to solve their problems, she implored Aya to write one for her, in English. She wanted his help in finding her sister. In the past, they had prevailed upon the Emperor, so now they simply transferred their concerns to the shoulders of General MacArthur who could do little for them. When Fumi recklessly attempted to give the letter to the General, as his motorcade passed by, she was stopped by a policeman who made an example of her, intending to arrest her. He was then ridiculed by a passerby for not understanding the new freedoms democracy provided. In the hubbub, Fumi escaped from his clutches. Together, a Japanese GI, Matt (Yoshitaka Matsumoto), a translator, and a typist, Nancy Nogami, had been watching the goings-on from the window in their office. They went downstairs to the street and came to Fumi’s aid. They tried to comfort her. When Fumi discovered that Matt worked for the General, she insisted that he give her letter to MacArthur.

Soon, the letter and a misleading photograph take the girls on a dangerous journey as they become obsessed and embroiled in their search for Sumiko. Their foray into the Ginza caused grief and anguish for their families. When their family contacted the teacher and principal at their school to tell them the girls were missing, the dichotomy in the nature of the Japanese people was illuminated. While Kondo left a sickbed to help, the other, the principal of the school, was more worried about the school’s reputation than about the welfare of the missing children. For him, it was all a matter of appearances and control.

The girls were young and ill equipped to deal with the real world in which Sumiko had lived. The Ginza was a place where behavior was sometimes unscrupulous. Young and old preyed upon each other. Because of the hardship they experienced, they excused their behavior, even when it was selfish and cruel, believing they were simply doing what they had to do to survive. The children stole from each other, as well, with the stronger taking advantage of the weaker. As they witnessed everyone taking unfair advantage of each other, they merely followed suit. Even Aya’s father briefly behaved badly, because he felt the “whites” had taken everything from him, so now he felt justified in taking from them. He took supplies sent to the United States military that were poorly monitored. It was easy to be corrupted under such circumstances.

In Japan, there seemed to be little show of outward affection, and certainly, it seemed as if there was even less compassion. Behavior was formal, and often cold and distant. The young were forced to grow old before their time in order to help their families and the adults were forced to do things against their nature to take care of their families. There was sadness from the loss of family members, homes, businesses and personal stature. The atmosphere was one of general despair. Understandably, also, many felt a deep resentment toward the Americans who were the conquerors, although some, too, had deep respect for the democracy they were trying to set up. They all had to learn how to be independent and deal with the greater amount of freedom offered. There was no longer an Emperor to dictate their way of life and behavior. People became calculating and often worried more about what others would think of them than about the safety or condition of others. They were able to turn a blind eye to suffering because they were all suffering. In some cases, the naïve children had more sense and concern for others, but they soon acquiesced to their parents’ expectations. It was expected that one would always maintain control, show no emotion, especially men, because emotion was considered a sign of weakness.

I found the story bittersweet. It was sad, and yet, what else could it be? The Japanese had lost the war with the United States that they had instigated with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the condition of the innocent Japanese children when compared to the image painted of MacArthur’s son Sergeant as he was being taken for a political photo op. He was well dressed and pampered, watching from the limousine window as the starving and ill dressed Japanese cheered his motorcade. This book is not really about the war, but rather about its aftermath. It is about the women the GI’s left behind, the abandoned mixed race babies, the suffering of the innocents, and the truly human cost of war as cultures clashed!

 

Through the friendship of two young girls, the plight of post-war Japan comes to life. Before World War II had ended, many Japanese families in Canada, were being given the unfair choice of voluntarily being deported from the country they lived in, to their country of origin, Japan, or of relocating east of the Rockies. Their former homes and businesses had been stolen, taken over by others and were not being returned. They had lost everything and nothing was being done for these innocent people, guilty only of being Japanese. The Shimamura family had been living in an internment camp. There, Mrs. Shimamura had died. Toshio Shimamura agreed to voluntarily be deported to Tokyo with his thirteen year old daughter, Aya, because to remain in Canada would have meant starting over in a strange new place where he felt he would not be accepted. He chose to return to a place where at least everyone looked like him. Yet, were they truly like him, in all but appearance, after having lived in the West?

For both Aya and her father the adjustment and transition was huge. There were few jobs available. The poverty and food shortages made life very difficult. Aya had been born in Canada and had no real knowledge of life in Japan. She was much more comfortable with the English language and with her freedom to think and speak there. In Japan, she was ridiculed as an “imin”, an immigrant who should have stayed where she came from because Japan was experiencing such great hardships, there was not enough to go around. She was very frightened. Her father was now remote and sad. His behavior was more controlled and formal, like that of most Japanese. He stressed obedience and respect. He wanted her to behave like a “real” Japanese. He worked long hours, and they had little contact.

In school, Aya was in Kondo Sensei‘s class. He teamed her up with a young girl named Fumi who wanted Aya to write an English letter to General MacArthur. Her sister Sumiko was missing and she wanted him to help find her. Sumiko had gone to work in the dance halls in the Ginza when both Fumi and her mother were sick and money was needed for their medicine. The job brought shame upon her, although her attempt to help was noble.

Fumi hands the letter off to a Japanese American GI who works for the General, but when no help comes, she and Aya set off on a dangerous mission to the Ginza to search for Sumiko.

I found the story bittersweet. It was sad, and yet, what else could it be? The Japanese had lost the war with the United States that they had instigated with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the condition of the innocent Japanese children when compared to the image painted of MacArthur’s son Sergeant as he was being taken for a political photo op. He was well dressed and pampered, watching from the limousine window as the starving and ill dressed Japanese cheered his motorcade. This book is not really about the war, but rather about its aftermath. It is about the women the GI’s left behind, the abandoned mixed race babies, the suffering of the innocents, and the truly human cost of war as cultures clashed!