Mama would not ever fall asleep before three or four o’clock in the morning when I was growing up. When Dad would come home from one of the many military jobs abroad and would sleep in the house—these would be the only times that my mother forced herself to sleep at the same time my father did. But usually, she often would get out of bed and wander around, read a book, or do some housework. I, being raised primarily by her, while my father would need to be away for his military travels, became an insomniac whenever I was not in school. On weekends, I wouldn’t get up until 11 o’clock. It was all so normal. But of course, when friends would comment, my mother and I were either “lazy” or just plain “weird.”
In mainstream American culture, insomnia is often seen as a psychological problem that needs curing. No matter the history or the conditions. Mama had nightmares, sometimes night sweats. She would hide it really well, and as the years moved on, these discomforts seemed to vanish from her life, but showed up in other ways, no longer performed through her sleeping. So what was happening? It wasn’t until I was doing serious research for my book (to be published Spring 2018 as of this writing), that it finally jumped out at me, and then was able to ask Mama about it. The Americans bombed nightly during the war. It was meant to make the Japanese crazy, to deprive the Japanese population from sleep, any notion of peace. My body, as her child, was a residue, an offspring of war’s hands, war’s molding. I did not experience “direct” occupation, but did. The numbers of U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan were in the hundreds of thousands. American military men and women were not required to follow Japanese law. Americans ruled. No questions. Anyone questioning the occupation laws or going against occupation personnel, were beaten up or jailed. There were murders.
Inside the fenced-in privilege of American military life, I would be protected from the glare and violence of Japanese prejudice against their victor and occupier but living with the racism of American life on military bases.
These conditions were more prevalent during my mother’s experience, but not mine. During my childhood, there were a couple of riots, and occasional violences, but on much lesser scale by the time I was born. But still, it was Jim Crow America of the 1950s to 60s Japan. Black, white, and yellow were divided. Hidden from too much public exposure in my early life, then in American military base schools—Mama protected me. My parents felt that my mother and I may not survive life in mainstream Japan. Inside the fenced-in privilege of American military life, I would be protected from the glare and violence of Japanese prejudice against their victor and occupier but living with the racism of American life on military bases.
Whenever Mama and I would visit Shakudō, just minutes outside of Kyōto, to visit her brother and his family, I was surrounded with friendliness and love, care and attention. Uncle Teruo, his wife, and two girl cousins, lived on a large compound. He was a lawyer, and well-respected in Japan. My mother’s family is from a wealthy upper-caste family with heavy ties to Japanese nationalism and militarism. Uncle Teruo was an officer in the Imperial Japanese army during the war. He had fought against the British in Burma—one of the bloodiest battle sites in World War II. The brutality of the Japanese army officers against their own soldiers has been well-documented, especially toward the end of the war. The civilians were “sacrificing” by starving, just as the soldiers were in the jungles, mountains, and cities where the Japanese burned and killed other Asians, the British Commonwealth and Americans. All the while, my Uncle resisted his upper commanders and would try to prevent certain violences against local Burmese and Chinese during the war, being “different” and an outsider within the Japanese army. He mentioned that he is lucky to be alive, just as much from not being killed from his own commanders as from enemy fire. Japanese upper-class people had many decades of contact with foreigners, doing business with them and becoming friends, unlike the Japanese general population.
So when Uncle Teruo and my father would meet, it was always friendly. There were no condescending attitudes toward me, from my mother’s family and friends. But it was decided that my father would never visit Shakudō, making the only time my father and Uncle Teruo and family would meet each other would be whenever they visited us on Tachikawa Air Force Base. The two girl-cousins and I acted like family. They called me Nii-chan (big brother) and treated me as such.
I became more of an exotic foreign object that Japanese wanted to touch and exploit, more than destroy. The memories of Japanese parliament arguing for a better treatment of mixed-race Japanese in the schools through education about racism and nationalism, has all been forgotten.
In Tachikawa City or Shinjuku, where Mama and I would go shopping, she would have to be alert, as would I. In my early memories, when we’d go shopping, invariably there would be a person or two who would create violent situations in relation to me and my mother—and where Mama would usually step in and become “a toughie.” But as the years wore on, the need for this grew almost non-existent. I became more of an exotic foreign object that Japanese wanted to touch and exploit, more than destroy. The memories of Japanese parliament arguing for a better treatment of mixed-race Japanese in the schools through education about racism and nationalism, has all been forgotten. War brides and mixed-Japanese were not assimilated and the focus had changed.
Japan is still occupied. This means that its citizens have been educated to benefit elite Japanese and elite U.S. interests, which will not address militarism and historical revisionism, or racism.
As years recede, the need to say that all this is past and therefore irrelevant to the present is strong. This is where the Amerasian is considered an anomaly, a unique being that, when all dead and gone, would take the terrible memories of those times with them. I have had young Japanese nationals, tell me so to my face.
Japan is still a client-state of the United States. Japan is still occupied. This means that its citizens have been educated to benefit elite Japanese and elite U.S. interests, which will not address militarism and historical revisionism, or racism. However, due to popular culture’s push in both nations, I think I see glimmers of possibilities for change.
Featured Image by Edward M. Haugh