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HOME  > Past issues  > 2013 September 18 - 24  > Ex-Siberian detainee talks of preciousness of Constitution
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2013 September 18 - 24 TOP3 [PEACE]

Ex-Siberian detainee talks of preciousness of Constitution

September 19, 2013

Okano Koji, 86, was a pilot in the former Japanese Imperial Army’s suicide corps, known as kamikaze or banzai units. He is now active in educating young people about why they must not allow the Constitution to be revised in a backward direction.

He went through rigorous training but had no chance to go on a sortie because Japan was running short of fighters. He said, “If we had had enough aircraft, I would have sacrificed myself for my country.”

The war ended when 20-year-old Okano was in Manchuria (northeast China). The Soviet military carted off about 600,000 Japanese people, including soldiers assigned to Manchuria, to Siberia as captives and imposed harsh labor on them. Okano himself was detained in Siberia for four years after the war. He was put to work on railway construction and deforestation. In the earlier days of his detention, he caught snakes and frogs to eat because his camp had a meager food supply. “I ate anything eatable,” Okano recalled.

The hierarchy of rank in the Imperial Amy greatly affected prison life. He said, “A few superiors had food for themselves while rank-and-file soldiers died one after another of hunger and malnutrition. It was like ‘superior’ Japanese was bullying ‘inferior’ Japanese.”

He recalls one bitter episode that he cannot forget even if he wants to. One day while chopping wood, he was praised for his skill and given two loaves of brown bread. After everyone was asleep, he quietly stuffed himself with the bread while hiding under the blanket.

A few days later, he discovered that a person in the bed opposite was dead. Many other captives then died off from pneumonia and malnutrition.

“Why didn’t I share the bread with my hungry comrades? I’m still deeply ashamed of myself,” said the aging ex-soldier.

His ultimate ideal is world peace - not fighting with any ethnic groups and not invading any territories.

He now devotes his life to speaking to students about his own experience in war and the importance of peace. He said, “That war was wrong. We must never ever go back to the past by changing the Constitution. Thinking of what is the best for the public, you will naturally find it is peace, not war.”
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