Interview by Steve Stefanko

Interview With Hiroko Mori:
A Look into the Experiences of a Japanese Civilian During WWII (12/04)
By Steve Stefanko

When we think of a war veteran, the first impression to come to many of our minds is that of an American soldier, or an American civilian.  When asked to interview a war veteran and re-tell his/her story, I thought outside the box and interviewed a Japanese woman who lived in Tokyo when it was bombed during World War Two.  Not only could I get a unique perspective of the war, but I could also hear war stories that could only be shared by one who lived through the bombings.  I was hoping to relate those stories to the reader, not only to provide another view of war, but to try and represent the experience of the “enemy” that is so infrequently written about in American war literature.  I will examine how this interview has echoed the themes from the readings in this class, as well as how it goes above and beyond what is in text books, and American collections of war stories.  In the process of analyzing the interview, I will share stories that were told to me in order to illustrate certain points and emphasize others.

Whether it is a blockbuster movie or a Pulitzer winning novel, we have all been exposed to some form of “war story.”  The depressing part of that statement is that almost all of the experiences we have had are American interpretations of American veterans, and not the experiences of the “other.”  We as a culture rarely tell the story of “the enemy” or of the “other” in a conflict.  We fail to adequately represent the views and experiences of the “other” and therefore become ignorant to their lives and sufferings.  Renny Christopher has written that:

Most U.S. discourse about “Vietnam” the war is enmeshed in the history of stereotypical representations of Asians that make it almost impossible for that discourse to break from the idea of “Vietnam” the war in order to consider the participation in that war of Viet Nam the country.

While she writes about the Viet Nam War, her message can be extended to all war literature.  In talking with Hiroko Mori, the Japanese woman whom I interviewed, I was privileged enough to hear stories that could not have been told by an American and stories that would not have been recorded otherwise.  Thus I am able to have a better understanding of, and greater appreciation for the Japanese experience during World War Two.

I had asked Hiroko how she felt about the documentaries and movies that America has produced about WWII, and she said that she doesn’t like to watch them because they do not portray the Japanese as legitimate adversaries.  The Japanese are made to look crazy, for example the kamikaze fighters.  She doesn’t feel that there would not be as many movies or documentaries if the United States would have lost the war.  She also said that she thinks the Japanese were stupid to try and fight such a large country.  Thus I was able to get the viewpoint of a Japanese civilian and her feelings about the Americanization of the “war story.”

While the interview allowed me to connect the experience to our class, it also revealed things about her experience that were different from what was discussed.  All of the material we read dealt with the American soldier, and how brave or real the experience was for that soldier.  The World War II literature we read never covered the treatment of the Japanese civilians by the American soldiers.  I was told that the Japanese people hated the Americans because they killed innocent civilians for no reason.

One story she told me was that some of her friends were playing in tatami rooms, which are like multi-purpose rooms, when they heard planes outside.  They went outside to see what was going on, and when they looked up they saw Japanese fighter planes.  They started waving, and the planes opened fire and killed civilians that were in the street.  Her friends dove back inside and did not get killed however, there were many dead civilians in the street when they came out of the house to see what had happened.  She said she remembers the bullet holes in the sides of the houses.  It turns out that Americans had taken some of the Japanese planes and tricked them into thinking they were friendly and then opened fire on the innocent people.

Other times, the American soldiers would rape the Japanese women if they were outside after dusk.  In fact, Hiroko was almost raped by a black soldier who confused her for a “pon pon,” which is, in other words, a lady of the night.  He followed her home and started asking her crude questions and then before he could rape her, an older Japanese man came to her rescue.  He was able to talk to the soldier and express what Hiroko was trying to say so the American soldier could understand.  There were many instances of rapes by the American soldiers leading to many mixed babies.  Because the Japanese women didn’t want mixed black babies, they were sent to the orphanages.  These instances are never covered in the material we have read, and they need to be.  We rarely discussed the evil done by our own troops, but we are eager to read how evil the “enemy” is.  I guess this is natural, but for one to fully understand war and its events, we need to study all of it.

The literature we have read was written by middle-aged Americans, and was about events that occurred during their teenage years.  In this interview I was able to get the experience of a child from the adult perspective.  While this is similar to the stories we read, I think it is unique because of the age at which Hiroko experienced these atrocities.  Because she was so young, she was not aware of everything that was going, but she did know about the struggle between America, Germany, and Japan.  She moved to the countryside, Maebashi, in order to escape the dangers of war.  Her family spent much time in the mountain tunnels for protection. As a result of the bombings, she lost her house, all her possessions were destroyed, she lost her pictures, the family lost all record of money, and she didn’t go to school much between 3rd and 6th grade.  What strikes me the most was that she was most upset about the loss of her pictures.  This depiction of a child’s experience was very different than what we have read in the course.

As a secondary witness to the war, I do have a limited experience of the war.  Due to this, I feel that all of the stories I was told are important to tell because the more we learn about a subject the more real it becomes.  There were two stories I was shocked by that I thought I would share.

In 1945 Hiroko and her family were living in Maebashi.  Hiroko was tired of living in the tunnels, and wanted to go see her friends in Tokyo.  After much pleading, her sister took her into Tokyo to see her friends.  They stayed two nights and then they went back to Maebashi.  Her sister went back to Tokyo that night and that night, the city was bombed.  Her sister survived by hiding under the futon, but everything else was destroyed; the house, their pictures, their bank records, everything.  After the bombings ended, Hiroko went back to Tokyo to look for friends and personal belongings.  What she found was heart-wrenching.  When they were searching her friend’s house, they found her friend’s mother and brothers in a closet.  They weren’t just the remains, they were the ashes in the form of their bodies.

The other story is happier and shorter.  She told me that after the war, she went to work at a naval base in Yakoska, Japan.  While there, she met her future husband, and in 1956 they moved to the United States.  She currently resides in Munson Township, but makes frequent trips back to Japan.

I think that anyone who is lucky enough to hear stories from anyone involved in war should take note of them and try to remember them.  They are important information you will not learn in school, and they are reminders of everything that has happened.  I know the next time I read a piece of war literature, I will be asking myself about the “others” in the story, and I will try to find their story and understand their experience.  I feel this is the only way to be able to learn about the “real” war that Ernest Hemmingway was describing during the Civil War.