On September 2, 1945, World War II ended when representatives from the major countries involved in that great conflict witnessed Japanese officials formally signing the document signifying the Japanese acceptance of unconditional surrender. This took place on the deck of the American battleship U.S.S. Missouri.
For Allied soldiers and their families, the mood was great relief. The anticipated massive casualties that would ensue if an invasion of the Japanese main islands occurred was avoided.
In the United States, at least two infantry regiments composed of Filipinos were earmarked for use in that planned invasion. Another regiment, dubbed the new Philippine Scouts, was also being organized for use in that planned invasion.
The Japanese surrender forestalled that.
For the Japanese, the war was a costly one. Nearly three million Japanese died, including over two million soldiers, sailors and aircrew.
In comparison, the Philippines suffered nearly a million deaths, with nearly 60,000 military fatalities and the rest being civilian deaths.
About a hundred thousand Filipinos of that fatality count occurred when units of the Japanese Imperial Navy transformed Manila’s bay area into a defensive strongpoint.
History recorded the numbers. But the individual stories of people who lived through that war ensures that the story of the conflict is also about a person’s struggle to live a decent life.
The history books told what government officials, generals and admirals said and did.
There are other tales out there, from those who survived the war and experienced how it was like to be in a country recovering from the devastation of war.
CHILDREN OF THE EMPEROR
One such tale that struck me was from a short essay written by Nobel Laureate Oe Kenzaburo, who was born in January 31, 1935 in Ehime prefecture on the island of Shikoko.
He recalled in his essay the moment when his ethics teacher asked him a question in school. This was before Japan surrendered.
“What would you do if the Emperor asked you to die?” the teacher asked.
The Japanese Nobel Laureate recalled his answer: “I would die, sir. I would cut open my belly and die.”
His father, who was a soldier, didn’t survive the war.
The Japanese writer’s essay depicted the massive indoctrination of Japanese children during the war years.
And there are other recollections from folk who were children at the time of Japan’s surrender.
On the occasion of the 73rd anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the Philippines Graphic brings you a tale from one of those children who survived the war.
Osamu Osada was born on April 14, 1937 in Aichi Prefecture, near the coast of Okawa Bay.
He was eight years old when the Japanese public heard Emperor Hirohito’s voice for the first time. On August 15, 1945, in a recorded broadcast, the Emperor announced to his people to “endure the unendurable.” It was a way of saying Japan was surrendering without using the word “surrender.”
For Mr. Osada, it was not the moment when Japan surrendered that came first to his mind.
The most memorable moment for him was when his father, a soldier who was assigned in Formosa, returned home alive. Today, Formosa is now known as Taiwan.
Osada also shared the sentiment of the Nobel Laureate about the Emperor’s influence during the war years.
“I will follow the Emperor, too, during those days,” Osada told the Graphic. Such was the power of the Emperor’s influence at that time.
TIME OF WANT
The Japanese people had to give up a lot because of the war, he added. By 1942, war procurement was such that people had to give up iron from machines and temple bells to the Japanese government. Gold, silver jewelry and the like were all taken to finance the Japanese war machine. The economy was on a war footing.
His other recollection was the hunger the Japanese people had to undergo when the U.S. Navy successfully imposed a blockade of Japan’s waters.
American aircraft, ships and submarines roamed Japanese waters at will after the successful U.S. invasion of the island of Okinawa.
Osada counted himself lucky whenever he was able to eat two meals in a day. And rice was scarce.
Whatever rice was left was reserved for soldiers, Osada recalled.
“Fortunately, my house was close to the sea,” Osada wrote. “My family derived half its income from farming, the other half from fishing. However, for those in the cities, food was a great problem.”
But the end of the war didn’t bring immediate relief for many. Yet it meant an end of the killing.
“World War II was over in 1945,” Osada said. “Japan was bombed by the United States armed forces. Japan in 1945 was in ruins. It was burnt to the ground and reduced to a barren landscape. Industry was destroyed. Nearly three million people were killed.”
“It was a time when many people lacked food to eat or clothes to wear,” he added. “It was a totally severe state.”
It was now the time for rebuilding. Slackers were not welcome.
“In those years, everybody worked hard,” Osada wrote.
That industriousness brought forth good results.
“My hometown is Gamagori, a Japanese town,” he recalled. “It was a good town where the textile industry prospered after the war. My father worked in textiles, too.”
Osada explained that it was the people’s industriousness that propelled Japan’s recovery in the first 10 years after the war.
He noted that an important factor in that recovery was the revival of an efficient and reliable electrical grid, adding that the textile mill in his town, along with other businesses in the country, wouldn’t have thrived without it.
This was something that Osada knew personally because in 1948, his father started a textile mill. In 1956 after graduating from Gamagorio Senior High School, he began working with his father in the textile business.
HONORING AN AMERICAN
For Osada, looking back over the seven decades after the end of the war, he expressed appreciation for the role one American played in Japan’s recovery.
That person, Osada said, was Col. Howard Ayers, Sr. of the U.S. Army, a member of Gen. Douglas Macarthur’s staff.
Born on July 26, 1899, at Columbus, Indiana, Ayers served in the U.S. Army in 1918 during World War I. After the First World War, he returned to the U.S., earned a master’s degree and worked for Northern Indiana Gas and Electric Co.
Ayers rejoined the US Army at the start of the Second World War as a major. At war’s end, he was in Macarthur’s staff as a colonel. Because of his background of working as an engineer in the electrical industry as a civilian, Ayers was given the task of rebuilding the electrical utilities throughout Japan.
In 1983, a grateful Japanese people expressed its gratitude towards Ayers. The Japanese government awarded Ayers “The Order of the Rising Sun.” This was the third highest award that can be given by the Japanese government. The highest award was reserved for heads of state or members of the Japanese royalty while the second highest award was reserved for Japanese citizens.
“Without electricity, Japan’s recovery would not have been possible,” Osada said. “Electricity is the backbone of all infrastructure. The work of Col. Ayers and Yusuzaemon Matsunaga were invaluable.”
“The current electrical power system was built by the shrewdness of these two people,” Osada added.
While Ayers worked in rebuilding Japan’s capacity to generate electricity after the war, Matsunaga was largely credited for having a private consortium responsible for electrical generation in the country.
Osada’s career can be described as a reflection of Japan’s recovery and boom years. It was the time for people who knew how to adapt to changing conditions. And Osada was among those people.
By 1958, Osada said the textile mill closed. But he took that as an opportunity to open a hilltop coffee shop which he described as giving the “best scene in Japan.” By 1962, he was married and considered a successful entrepreneur with his own business that provided health-related services and products.
Today, happily retired, he stays active as a writer, publishing various stories about Japan’s postwar development and the war between Japan, Korea and China, which occurred 1,500 years ago. G