The Fourth of July celebration was a lot of fun, a rare treat for me since Anime Expo usually falls across the holiday. I decided to take J-List’s manga and photobook-meister Yasu (who was heading home the next day) to see the fireworks over San Diego Harbor, so we headed for the beautiful Coronado Bay Bridge, one of the most famous symbols of America’s Finest City. They were great, especially with the accompanying patriotic music on the radio. This led to an interesting study in comparative culture for us: there is no “patriotic” music in Japan, no way to express the love of one’s own country through music. The nearest thing Japan has to “America The Beautiful” or “Yankee Doodle” are gunka (goon-KA), dreary military songs that were used to rouse patriotic spirit during World War II, like the famous ditty “Monday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Friday,” about a bronzed sailor breathing in the salty sea air as he polishes the guns on his battleship. After the war ended, Japan understandably moved away from these wartime hymns, and now they’re exclusively the domain of right-wing nuts who drive around in big loudspeaker trucks blasting the songs in everyone’s eardrums (they also play the Space Battleship Yamato theme song from time to time, which always brings a tear to my eye, but for different reasons than they intend). This is roughly equivalent to the KKK taking over “This Land Is Your Land,” and I wish Japanese would get upset about it. But if you know anything about Japan, you know their mantra is sho ga nai or “it can’t be helped,” and thus no one feels the need to change anything.
Speaking of the war, I’ve always been interested in the experiences of Japanese in my (adopted) home prefecture of Gunma during World War II, and during the months I worked as my city’s “Facilitator of Internationalization” (whatever that means), I took the time to look up some local history of those sad years. The end of the war, of course, saw bombing of many Japanese cities, and Gunma was no different. In nearby Ota there’s a really long, straight road that’s famous because it was the former runway for a major airbase during the war before it was bombed flat, an interesting bit of local trivia. My wife’s father was just five when he heard the sound of the B-29’s coming to bomb the Fuji Heavy Industries factory in our city — it was wiped out but rebuilt, and they make Subaru cars there now. Our prefectural capital of Maebashi was bombed on August 5, just ten days before the end of the war, although the city’s lone Catholic church miraculously emerged unscathed. Many Japanese were called away to fight in the war, and sadly, many would not come home. Those who did return, like Yasu’s grandfather, are considered lucky, and people still hammer off chips of his family grave to share in some of that good luck. Of course, some didn’t leave to fight in the war at all, like my wife’s grandfather, who faked an injury by jumping off the roof of his house to avoid serving in the army.
If you want to experience the difference between war and peace, check these two movies out. One is the original “Monday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Friday” song: