- Features The War and Its Aftermath
- A Blessed Life: Taiwanese Soldier Who Fought for Japan Recounts His “Good Fortunes”
- [2017.03.14] Read in: 日本語 |
During World War II, many foreign nationals fought as members of the Japanese Imperial Army, including 200,000 from Taiwan, which Japan ruled at the time. One of them was Go Masao, now 89 years old, who lectures widely to young people on his unique experiences during and long after the war.
At a lecture held on a January weekend in Tokyo’s municipality of Chūō, Go Masao told the audience of around 30 people, “I’m often asked to speak by young people because I’ve had some rather unusual experiences in my life.”
At the beginning of his talk, the audience is surprised by the gap between Go’s age and his sprightly demeanor. Over the next two hours, he recounts his experiences during and immediately after World War II. He explains how he served as a Taiwanese member of the Japanese army and notes that even after the hostilities ceased the shadow of war continued to hover over his life.
Absorbing the Japanese Culture of the Time
Go Masao was born in 1927 in the southern part of Japanese-ruled Taiwan. Both of his parents were Taiwanese, but the culture of the time, including the administrative system, were all Japan-based. That was the society in which Go was raised.
At home he spoke Japanese with his father, who had attended a Japanese college. In nursery school, Go became familiar with all of Japan’s seasonal holidays and studied alongside Japanese classmates in elementary school. Today he humbly admits that his language ability in Taiwanese “is at the level of a child.”
In the spring of 1941, at the age of 13, Go moved to Japan to continue his studies in middle school. Quite naturally, given the atmosphere of the time, he became a gunkoku shōnen (militarist youth). Three years later he enrolled in the inaugural class of the Japanese army cadet school without asking his parents’ permission and then enlisted in the Nagaoka educational corps of the Mito aviation and communications school. After that, he became a wireless operator for heavy bombers, and at the time of the war’s end, on August 15, 1945, he was stationed at the Sentoku Air Field on the Korean Peninsula, where he had volunteered to carry out a kamikaze mission.
Two Years in a Soviet Prison Camp
But the war did not end for Go in 1945. After demobilization, when he and his comrades were heading toward the 38th parallel on their intended journey back to Japan, they were captured by the Soviet army. The men were transported to a prison camp in Kazakhstan, where they were forced to toil for long hours in semi-desert conditions.
Go’s muscular 170-centimer frame, which he had built up through the martial art of kendo steadily wasted away from malnutrition. The conditions were also terribly unsanitary. The prison camp for 1,600 men had just one bathing facility, so the prisoners only bathed two or three times a year, and the camp had only one toilet. Amidst these horrendous conditions, false rumors regularly spread among the prisoners that they would soon be released. This situation gradually took a toll on the mental health of Go and his fellow prisoners. Fortunately, he was released after two years, but by that time he weighed a mere 40 kilograms. “If I had stayed at the camp for another year,” he recalls, “I would have died for sure.”
Go was treated as a Japanese upon repatriation and sent from the Soviet Union to the Japanese port of Maizuru on the Sea of Japan coast. If he had said that he was Taiwanese, he would have been conscripted by the Chinese army, but he used the Japanese name of Ōyama Masao and gave his Japanese address. He returned to Japan and experienced the peace that he had known before leaving for war, becoming reunited with the young woman for whom he had a secret affection.
Impact of the War Still Felt Later
But the shadow of war continued to hang over his life.
Postwar Taiwan entered a period of tumult. After the end of Japanese rule, the island came to be ruled by Chang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Party, which had fought against Japan during the war. At first, local residents warmly welcomed their new rulers as compatriots, but they became subject to discriminatory treatment and subsequently revolted. This culminated in the February 28 Incident, an anti-government uprising that was violently repressed. In the wake of the revolt, the Kuomintang-led government imprisoned elites from the era of Japanese colonial rule, many of whom were eventually killed.
Go thought of going back to Taiwan, where his family was living, but his father strongly advised him to resume his studies in Japan and not return home. He threw himself into his studies alongside younger classmates and made up for the time he had lost during the war by completing two years of high school and four years of university.
His former Taiwanese classmates in Japan who had gone on to university without fighting in the war all ended up returning home around 1952 or 1953; Go recalls that, “in almost every case, I never heard from them again,” probably killed amidst the chaos of the time. The social turbulence in Taiwan was to last until the time martial law was dissolved in 1987.
Troubles Seem “Fortunate” in Retrospect
After graduating from university, Go worked for the credit union Yokohama Kagin, based in the city of Yokohama, eventually becoming its managing director. Today his business card lists the many positions he currently holds in a number of organizations. He also played a key role in getting NHK to hold its Nodo Jiman singing competition TV program in Taiwan, which came to fruition in 2011. Anyone in Yokohama’s Chinatown who is involved in business or cultural ties between Japan and Taiwan is sure to know about Go.
In his private life as well he has put down roots in Japanese society, marrying a Japanese woman and becoming the parish representative (ujiko sōdai) of Iseyama Kotai-jingu, a tutelary shrine (chinjusha) located in Yokohama. “I’m probably the only foreign national serving as a parish representative in Japan,” he says with pride.
In recounting his wartime experiences, one word that the soon-to-be 90-year-old often uses is “good fortune.” His audiences are often surprised that Go even describes the hardest period of his life, his incarceration in a Soviet camp, as his “greatest good fortune.”
“If I had returned to Taiwan after 1945, it’s nearly certain that I would have been rounded up by the Kuomintang government because of my service in the Japanese army.” Thanks to many chance incidents he managed to avoid that fate. Some of the fortunate things that happened, at least in retrospect, included his capture after the war by Soviet troops, his return to Japan after his release, and his decision to resume his studies after a five-year hiatus.
But not everything was so fortunate for Go after the war. It was particularly hard for him to accept that he was deemed not eligible, as a non-Japanese national, to receive government compensation for his internment in a Soviet camp, despite having fought for Japan in the war. Nevertheless, whenever recounting his past experiences he is quick to emphasis his good fortune, noting that he would surely have been killed in Taiwan had he returned there.
Go says that he will continue to recount his experiences as long as young people are interested in hearing about them. In his talks, he never preaches about the importance of “never going to war again.” This is because he does not see the wartime period as a curse, nor does he look for someone to blame. Instead, he takes an authentic and frank look at his memories of the war and its aftermath, describing them as a blessing. And he plans to continue to recount his tale to audiences in Japan.
(Originally written in Japanese by Masuda Miki and published on February 28, 2017. Banner photo: Go Masao stands in front of a collage of photos taken while he was enrolled in the Japanese Imperial Army’s cadet school. Photograph by Hanai Tomoko.)