Photo/IllutrationKuniyoshi Takimoto speaks about his warime experiences in Osaka in March 2018. (Tsuyoshi Shimoji)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

OSAKA--Kuniyoshi Takimoto, it is fair to say, was no fan of the politicians who sent him to fight a futile war.

He blamed them for sacrificing countless lives for the glory of Japan.

Having survived almost certain death from starvation on a far-flung island during World War II, while watching his comrades die one by one, he spent the rest of his life trying to instill a fierce anti-war spirit in the hearts of young Japanese.

"Don't be fooled by the country as I was," he kept saying.

Right up until he drew his last breath, Takimoto expressed rancor about having swallowed, like so many others, the government's line that sacrificing one's life for the country in war would make him a hero and place him in the pantheon of deities.

In more recent years, Takimoto came to believe that Japan could be dragged into new horrors with a spate of legislation rammed through the Diet by the second Abe administration.

Takimoto, who died here on Dec. 28 of aspiration pneumonia at age 97, served in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II and saw action in faraway Pacific Island jungles.

Haunted by having watched his comrades expire one by one from starvation, thinking he must be next, Takimoto's heart burned with indignation at the unfairness of it all. He was especially galled at the government's policy of hailing the dead as "eirei," or departed war heroes who would forever be honored at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine.

His fury was directed at those who regarded husbands and sons as cannon fodder simply to satisfy their aspirations. He vowed never to forgive such politicians, bureaucrats and high-ranking military officers who instigated the war while ensconced in the "safe zone."

After the war, Takimoto ran a real estate business and worked in other fields in the city of Osaka. Then in 2008, he became a “kataribe” storyteller to share his war experiences with younger generations.

Takimoto said he felt a keen sense of “responsibility" as a survivor to recount the horrors of war.

But in August 2016, the resident of Osaka’s Higashi-Yodogawa Ward decided to call it a day.

The catalyst for this was the Upper House election held the previous month in which political forces supporting constitutional amendment scored an overwhelming victory.

Journalist Hiroshi Yano, 59, recalled that Takimoto was deeply despondent about the direction Japan was taking under the Abe administration.

“Nothing changes, no matter how many speeches I give,” Takimoto told Yano. “Things just keep getting worse.”

By then, the writing was already on the wall as Takimoto had become increasingly disenchanted with legislation promoted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that was rammed through the Diet by the ruling coalition's force of numbers. He felt it was moving Japan closer to a war footing, despite its pacifist Constitution.

He was infuriated by the state secrets protection law enacted in 2013 and outraged at a Cabinet decision the following year to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, overriding a taboo that had been upheld by successive administrations. In 2015, contentious national security legislation passed the Diet.

The icing on the cake came when the "anti-conspiracy" law came into effect in 2017.

“It's finally reached the tipping point,” said Takimoto, seething with fury.

His fear was that Japanese people were paying no heed to the heightened risk of being dragged into a war.

“At the front, the lives of ordinary soldiers, like me, are simply expendable or replaceable objects for the military,” Takimoto said. “It was pretty much the norm for soldiers to be cut down, just like vermin.”

Hailing from Kagawa Prefecture in western Japan, Takimoto enlisted in the Sasebo naval training unit of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the age of 17. He was present at the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 as well as the Battle of Midway, which turned the tide of war against Japan, in June 1942.

Takimoto reckoned that Japan's defeat in the war saved his life just in the nick of time.

He said he was “five minutes from perishing from starvation” on one of the Truk islands in the South Pacific, now part of the Federated States of Micronesia, when he was rescued.

As a storyteller, Takimoto's occasional witty narrative brought him acclaim, and invitations to visit schools across Osaka Prefecture to share his stories.

In July 2017, he suffered a stroke and collapsed. It left him with some difficulty in speaking, but he made a full recovery and finally resumed telling stories again in March 2018.

But on Nov. 28 that year, he suffered a second stroke. Against the odds, he recovered and was due to be moved to another hospital to begin a course of rehabilitation a month later when he died, according to his family.

Takimoto’s body was transported to a university hospital in accordance with his wishes as he had registered to donate his body for medical education and research.

Of his decision to stop his storytelling activities, Takimoto said the outcome of the 2016 Upper House election “made me fully understand what to do.”

Declaring that “I cannot trust adults anymore," he vowed to devote himself to protecting the lives of young people from then on.

He took delight in writing down his tasks--when and where he would deliver a speech--on a calender.

'CHERISH YOUR LIVES'

He recalled the Japanese military's exhortation that soldiers should be prepared to sacrifice their lives for the emperor and that death on the battlefield was the ultimate honor as the souls of the fallen will be honored as deities at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

Takimoto naively believed in the propaganda and enlisted even though he had not turned 20, the mandatory age for military service.

Robbed of his youth, Takimoto found himself at the age of 23 stranded on a Pacific island and dying of hunger.

His comrades around him wasted away to skin and bone--and perished one by one.

Takimoto even couldn’t give them decent burials.

In his fading consciousness, Takimoto thought, “how could dying like a dog here to become food for insects under the palm trees be equivalent to dying for the sake of the country?”

He realized he had been duped by the state.

Takimoto could not bring himself to find anything good about Japan’s war of aggression that ended in catastrophe with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. He lashed out at the politicians who had instigated the conflict.

Takimoto even reached the point that he must be insane to have believed, without batting an eyelid, the propaganda put out by military authorities in Tokyo.

“Young men, don’t be fooled by the country as I was. Don’t be deceived by honeyed words such as 'defending the country,’” Takimoto kept telling young Japanese: “The government will kill the youth in war. Never go to such a war. Please cherish your lives.”