My Ojiichan (grandfather), on my mother’s side of the family, was very kind to me as a child growing up in 1950s and 1960s Japan.
This was at a time when violent racism ran rampant against anyone who had the looks or blood of the former enemy country. After all it was 1945 when the war ended and the Occupation of Japan began, and it was a scant ten years after this, that I was born. In those days, I was violated and stalked, teased and bullied. However, not always. I found a few friends who would play with me, away from the eyes of their parents who scorned both my mother and I.
My Ojiichan took me places, defended me when there was trouble. He was from a high caste family lineage and people knew the clan name. Some people continued to salute, although a few times, I saw American soldiers berating people for saluting former nationalists. My Grandfather worked for the Japanese government railroad system. During the war, he worked awhile on the Manchurian railroad that allowed Japan’s colonization and occupation of much of China. After the World War was over, properties my grandfather and his son owned, were given to the Occupation administration, then to new Japanese officials as a way of punishing the former government and disempowering them. Of course it was hypocritical. Later, the same U.S. Occupation would let the war criminals free to then, gain power in the Japanese government.
Those in Japan and the U.S., throughout my life, off and on, would hate me or my family for being Japanese. Some have gone as far as saying he should have died for what Japan did to the Chinese, Burmese, Filipinos, Guamanians, Okinawans, Koreans, Ainu, etc. etc. If he died, I would’ve never been born. What these people are saying, by extension, is that I and my family should not be.
I understand that sentiment. I have my own demons of resentment and trauma, violation and hate. But it should be a daily struggle. The stories are complex. Our ancestors continue to live. I remember his kindness, his protection, his allowing me to live as one of his family. This wasn’t the case for some of my Black-Japanese friends whom I knew. Some of my mother’s friends were ex-communicated from their homes and families and lived meager existences trying to provide for themselves and their child or children. In some cases, they killed their children and then themselves because it was too unbearable. Shall we continue to punish?
And before those of you reading this go off on the Japanese culture as racist, I want you to know that when my mother and I moved with Dad to the U.S., it was almost as bad. I received violence and exclusion here as well. However, there were more people who did not participate, and more teachers that protected. America was not a country that lost the war and resented the enemies’ face. The residues of anti-Japanese, anti-Asian racism continued, while the anti-Black attitudes were the most violent and continuing today in various different forms.
How can we see each other, really see each other, WITH OUR HISTORIES, yet not succumb to the trauma that overwhelms us, and perhaps guides us to hate. It is too much, perhaps. But I think one way, is to heal. To allow the ugliness so it will not fester and become a part of identity. We must express, then move to shift. Tenderly and strongly. With insistence for ourselves. Then, perhaps, we may be good for others. Others need us. They go through similar issues. Otherwise, we can let the world become a cesspool of hatreds. Can we not see the effects of silence, forgetting, ignoring, refusing, and fear?
Ojiichan, thank you. You protected me and your daughter. You did not agree with your own countrymen. You felt bad about your participation in the imperial Japanese project, yet it continued the family legacy. It is a legacy of wealth and power status, yet provided for your children. You were compassionate with all that you came in contact with, although quite paternal. You, like everyone, are human.
Ojiichan, thank you. You are here with us.
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