A Piece of Mirror: Wartime Memories
I have a mirror. I always keep it with me. Actually, it’s nothing more than a piece of broken glass about the size of my palm. A piece of broken mirror, somewhat on the thick side, the kind you could probably find on any trash heap.
But to me, it’s anything but trash. When my mother married, she brought as part of her trousseau a mirror stand fitted with a very nice mirror. How many times it must have clearly reflected her face as a young bride! Twenty years later however, the mirror somehow got broken. My eldest brother Kiichi and I sorted over the fragments and picked out two of the larger ones to keep.
Not long after that the war broke out. My four elder brothers went off one by one to the front, some to fight in China, others in Southeast Asia. I felt very strong feelings of revulsion against the war effort. My four brothers, who were in the prime of life, ready to work and contribute to our family, were taken from us, each by a single piece of paper—the conscription notice.
I will never forget the disgust and anger with which Kiichi, on leave from China, described the inhuman atrocities he had seen committed there by the Japanese army. Japan was wrong, he said, and he felt deeply for the Chinese people. I developed a profound hatred for war, its cruelty, stupidity and waste.
Tragically, the Pacific War saw the savage rampage of Japanese nationalism across Asia. The Japanese became emissaries of hell, causing untold suffering and grief to both our Asian neighbors and the citizens of Japan. We must never forget the terrible cruelties we inflicted on the beautiful countries of Asia. I offer my sincere apologies for the untold misery caused by the Japanese military at that time.
My mother, her four oldest sons taken away from her, tried not to show her grief, but she seemed to age suddenly. Then the air raids on Tokyo began and soon they were a daily occurrence. I kept my piece of mirror with me always, sticking it carefully inside my shirt as I dodged my way through the firebombs that fell all around us.
The war had cast its shadow into every single corner of our lives. Finally, the end that we all knew was coming arrived. Defeat. On August 15, the war, which had been started and fought in the Emperor’s name, now ended with the Emperor’s voice on the radio, urging the Japanese people to “. . . bear the unbearable.” At seventeen, my heart was torn between hope and anxiety.
People just sat around in a daze. But then we realized that the skies were quiet for the first time in months. A sense of relief seemed to spread. That night we could turn on the lights at last. How bright! I thought—what a good thing peace is. We were all relieved, but no one dared come right out and say, “I’m glad we lost. Thank goodness the war’s over.”
My mother’s only wish, her only hope, was for the safe return of her sons. She was particularly worried about Kiichi. We hadn’t heard a word from him since he reported having left China for Southeast Asia. From time to time, mother would tell us that she had seen Kiichi in a dream, and that he had told her he would soon return.
Eventually, nearly two years after the war ended and after my other brothers had returned, one by one, we received notification that Kiichi had been killed in Burma. I thought at once of the piece of mirror I knew he carried in the breast pocket of his uniform. I could imagine him, during a lull in the fighting, taking it out and looking at his unshaven face in it, thinking longingly of his mother at home.
When my mother received the news of Kiichi’s death, she turned her back to us, shuddering with grief. This was the greatest loss, the deepest sadness she experienced in her life. I felt, in the depths of my being, the tragedy and waste of war. War, which brings such suffering to a mother who is guilty of no crime whatsoever, is an absolute evil.
War brings only suffering and misery to ordinary people, to families and mothers. It is always nameless and unknown people who suffer and moan amidst the mud and flames. In war, human life is used as a means to an end, an expendable commodity. It is said that it takes 20 years of peace to make a man, but only 20 seconds to destroy him. This is why we must always oppose war—neither engaging in it ourselves nor permitting others to do so. All rivalries and conflicts must be resolved, not through power, but with wisdom and through dialogue.
In the dark and troubled times after Japan’s defeat, I left home and moved into lodgings. The room was small, bare and ugly, but fortunately, I had my piece of broken mirror with me. Every morning before I went to work I would take it out and use it while I shaved and combed my hair.
In 1952, when I married, my wife brought along with her a brand-new mirror stand, and from then on I looked at my face in the new mirror. One day, I found my wife with the piece of old mirror in her hand and a puzzled look on her face. When I saw that the mirror was likely to end up in the trash basket if I didn’t speak up, I told my wife about the history attached to it. Somewhere she managed to find a neat little box of specially beautiful wood and she stored the piece of mirror away in it. The mirror is still safe in its box today.
The piece of broken mirror, whenever I look at it, seems to speak to me about those hard-to-describe days of my youth, about my mother’s prayers and the sad fate of my eldest brother, and it will continue to do so as long as I live.