Akira Yoshimura: One Man’s Justice
Author: Akira Yoshimura
Title: One Man’s Justice
One of the joys of translated literature is its ability to give you insight into other cultures and, on occasion, to approach well known events from another viewpoint. To observe from the other side of the fence through the eyes of someone who truly understands and experienced the events, rather than a pieced together alternate view from a journalist or historian. One of the best examples of this I have encountered for some time is One Man’s Justice by Akira Yoshimura.
One Man’s Justice is the story of Takuya, a young junior officer in the Japanese Army towards the end of the Second World War, who, in almost his last act in uniform, takes part in the execution, by sword, of a group of captured American airmen. Branded, post occupation, as a wanted war criminal, Takuya changes identity and goes on the run; taking us with him on a voyage through post war Japan.
Given the subject matter, and actions carried out by Takuya, it would be easy to assume from the outset what your feelings will be reading this book, and where your sympathies will lie. Yoshimura however, is a gifted writer, and whilst this book may be printed in black and white, the story it tells is anything but.
Yoshimura places Takuya’s story into context, and without overly taking one side or another, allows the reader to make his own judgements about ‘One Man’s Justice’. In doing so, you are faced with some questions that are more complicated than at first glance. Who judges what is or isn’t a war crime? Is Yoshimura acting out of duty or desire? Are his actions any more or less of a crime than the bombing of civilians carried out by the airmen?
As the story progresses, attitudes to what happened changes in Japan, and amongst the Americans, in a way mirroring the way the readers’ opinions may alter. Has time mellowed? Have our viewpoints altered? Or are principles being compromised and history being re-written in the mind too ease our conscience?
From the rear entrance to the building, among the soldiers carrying bundles of paper, appeared the lieutenant from the legal affairs section, walking straight towards Takuya. His pursed lips were dry and his eyes glistened. Stopping in front of Takuya, he explained that the request he was about to make was an order from the major at High Command.
‘The prisoners are to be executed. You are to provide two sergeant majors to help. If we don’t deal with the last of them before the enemy lands, they’ll talk about what happened to the others. There are seventeen left. It’s to be done straightway. People from headquarters staff up near Yamae village are waiting.’
Takuya understood that, to those at headquarters, the prisoners’ execution was as important now as the burning of all the documents. They had already been sentenced to death, and the fact that hostilities had ceased had no bearing whatsoever on their execution.
Although his duties collecting data and issuing air-raid alerts had finished, Takuya once again sensed that his destiny was linked to that of the captured airmen. He had followed their actions for days and months on end, had busied himself to the very last collecting data about the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, and had himself issued the air-raid alert and the order to evacuate the city. Takuya had been in the position to know the full extent of the damage caused by the bombing and strafing attacks carried out by these men. So far his duties had assigned him a passive role, but that was all over now, and the time had come, he thought, actively to show his mettle. Only then would his duties be finished.
At the time of the previous two executions, Takuya’s responsibilities as officer in charge of the tactical operations centre had kept him at his post, but the Emperor’s broadcast released him from all duties. I want to participate in the executions, he thought. Taking the life of one of the prisoners with his own hands would be his final duty. The lieutenant had said that the executions would be carried out in order to dispose of remaining evidence, but for Takuya it was something personal, something he had to do as the officer in charge of air defence intelligence.
‘Count me in, too,’ said Takuya.
This is the second novel I have read by Akira Yoshimura, having previously been highly impressed by the brilliant Shipwrecks. Whilst the phrasing of this translation is at times not as skilful as I would have liked, it remains a powerful and thought provoking read, very near the standard of his previous book. Unfortunately there is very little else of Yoshimura’s work translated into English, at least very little of his straightforward fiction cannon. I’ll try and hunt down a copy of Parole next, in the hope it matches the standard set by One Man’s Justice and Shipwrecks.