#1
Hey, UG. This is a short story I wrote for Year 12 English. I hope you like it, but please be critical in feedback. Thank you.


***


The year was 1944. Nakamura Kasai and Yamamoto Kashu were among the 500 prisoners captured in a rainforest skirmish between companies of the Imperial Japanese and Australian armies. They were the first of their fearsome nation that had swept through Manchuria, through South East Asia and the Pacific, to be captured in the war. They were taken to Port Moresby, and thence processed and shipped south in a transport that bore them to the homeland of the enemy: Australia. They were stripped of their fatigues and the pamphlets Tojyo’s office issued to every Japanese serviceman.
The thinnest pamphlet any serviceman received was one known as Anami’s Precepts. They had been required to memorise these before deploying for battle.
The Precepts were as follows:
1. Abide by the Imperial Will.
2. Defend Imperial soil to the last.
3. Await the future, after preparations have been effected.
4. Never live to experience shame as a prisoner. Possess a deep-seated spirit of ramming suicide.
5. Set the example for 100,000,000 compatriots.
Kasai had underlined Precept 4 in his copy, twice, in black ink.
He, like most of the other captives, had torn the flap of material that bore his name from his uniform and discarded it before the Australian soldiers could identify him. Most of his friends had been killed in the battle. Kashu had survived. Kashu was twenty, much younger than Kasai, who had many pits and scars on his cheeks and on his body. They were partners in disgrace, now; disgrace to their Nation; disgrace to their families; disgrace and shame to their fallen compatriots; disgrace to the wise and venerated General Tojyo.
They stood side by side at the rear of a rattling truck, with seven other Japanese and two guards, waiting to arrive at a prison compound near a place called ‘Cowra’. Kashu breathed slowly and looked straight ahead into the darkness of the truck’s interior. He kept glancing at his friend, trying to meet his eyes, but Kasai’s chin was bowed stiffly to his chest. The bulky and pale guard strode before the line of prisoners, taking their names down with a clipboard and silver pen. Kashu and Kasai were the last two in the line. The others had given fake names, either vengeful epithets or mocking jokes, in Japanese; “Soul Eater” was one. “Gai-jin eat horse shit” was another. Bitter laughter had erupted at that last, but the guard solemnly wrote it down. Kashu gave the guard his full name and rank. The other prisoners turned their heads sharply. He could feel their reproach. He looked away. The guard approached Kasai, who was still facing downwards. Kashu could feel his friend’s anger radiating, as if as from a furnace.
The guard’s boots stopped opposite Kasai. His voice was weary but firm:

“Namae wa.”

Awful pronunciation, Kashu thought.

Kasai did not answer.

“Namaaae-wa” he prodded him in the chest with the clipboard’ edge.

Kasai’s lips turned thin and pale, but he did not respond.
The guard grunted, affixed his pen to the head of the clipboard, and strode away.


Kashu worried for his friend. Seated across from him in the mess hall, Kasai – or Shi, which meant “Warrior”, as he would only answer to – was tense and sullen. From the very first day – they had resided in B Camp for two months now – he had constantly brooded and rarely spoke. Kashu had never seen him touch the rice and vegetables the guards served them. It was not clear to Kashu who Kasai-Shi detested more; himself, or the Australians. They had to force-feed him, most nights. Three days after internment and the first time the prisoners had been shaved, Kasai had waited until the nurse-warden had drawn the edge of the razor down to his throat, and had wrenched his neck around and upwards with all his might. Blood had spurted out in an arc, onto the mirror before him and onto the nurse’s uniform. She’d blanched and knocked a timetable from the wall as she stumbled from the room, yelling. A pair of guards had rushed into the bathroom and restrained Kasai, who had fallen onto the razor with a reaching hand. They’d hoisted him into the chair and restrained him. The cut was superficial, and Kasai was escorted to his hut hours later, a bandage tied around his neck. Another time, Kasai had feigned illness, and bitten into a thermometer when the nurses were not watching, swallowing glass shards and poison. They’d had to pump his stomach, that day.
There were many episodes like these, for Shi was very inventive. Kashu would have scorned his friend for such behaviour, did he not carry the same self-loathing that prompted it.



They were abominable: living men who had only the right to die. The notion perplexed Kashu. He did not know what to feel, knowing his homeland expected – wanted - his death. But all around him in the camp, Kasai and others cultivated and circumnavigated their shame. When offered, they refused to write letters home; better to let their friends and relatives assume they had died on the field of battle.

But was that honour? Was it? Kashu wondered.

He knew few of them, and Kasai now seemed hopelessly out of reach. Kashu always ate gratefully at mealtimes, bowing his face to his bowl.
Once he had looked up to see Kasai glaring at him, across the table. Kasai sat erect with his back cleaving to the chair; his bowl as usual was full and had been pushed aside.
Kashu raised an eyebrow inquiringly.

Kasai sneered,

- Do you know what you are?

Kashu’s mouth was full. He shook his head, and swallowed the brown-red pork and lentils. He did not know what to say.

Kasai-Shi rose from his seat, and with hands planted on the table leaned forward, searching in Kashu’s eyes with his own, hostile and beetle-black. He spat a dagger:

- Okubyoumono.

He stalked away. Kashu frowned and stared at his empty bowl.

Coward.


They were all very weak to begin with. As he watched his fellow prisoners hitting baseballs and running across the dry sun-bathed field, he wondered where their energy came from. It did not seem as if enjoyment was a concern; they sprinted from base to base in the diamond with a grim, formal economy of movement; their eyes and mouths were grim, set brown masks attached to their burgundy-clad bodies. They were gifted with seemingly endless warm weather, and the bodies that milled about B Camp were soon tensile and taut with solemn physical rigour. They should have been dead. In sweats and groans their forsaken souls drilled, staving their thoughts from an absolution that had to come. Their outer forms only became more restless, and joined the rankling of their minds and spirits against the self-torture of shame.

On a Monday they were informed of an impending division and relocation to another facility. It was a sign. They were strong enough.
In evening whispers, the prisoners drew up their plans for a last stand. They could all still recite the Precepts. They would die with honour.
#2
It’s 2019.

Mr. Yamamoto Kashu’s walking away from a swanky high-tech auditorium on arthritic limbs. It’s been seventy-five years. His wife holds his arm and walks alongside him.
Mr. Yamamoto will die soon. He knows this. He will pass away in a warm bed, asleep or watching a game show late at night. He knows this.
His granddaughter, Kara, is absent. She has been unable to arrange to fly over from the United States, where she lives with her fiancé.
Today Kashu has shaken hands with the dark-skinned Prime Minister of Australia, and with other elderly, white-haired Japanese men he does not recognise but who he is told are the other surviving inmates of B Camp. He has sipped milky tea with old Anzacs and laughed with their families. He has sat with them in the auditorium and received an address from the Japanese Foreign Minister, transmitted from his office in Tokyo to a projection screen that occupies an entire side of the room. Maehara gave an extended apology to soldiers of both nations, and spoke of reconciliation and mutual commitment to friendly international relations, to the preservation of peace and prosperity. He gave his speech first in Japanese, then in English.

The attendees are walking along a gravel path to the In Memoriam Japanese Cemetery at Cowra. Kasai is buried here. It’s been seventy-five years since Kashu has been in Cowra. Walking, he fixes his eyes on the rich blue sky overhead. Clouds like tufted wool hang there.
As he walks he mulls over the speeches given that morning. He has looked into the eyes of both Prime Ministers and seen nothing of consequence.
They say what they need to.
He has lived his entire adult life in Japan. Occupied Tokyo. His late marriage, at fifty-two, and the apartment in Yokohama. His retirement in the Honshu countryside. He has watched his country change as one watches a reformed lunatic, or an alcoholic father. He has observed its character closely, vigilantly, on the streets and on the evening news. He dare not become complacent; politics shift and undulate, and regression to madness can happen at any moment. This morning the Minister called survivors on both sides “heroes”. In 1962 Kashu published a book of lyrical poems. Its words lament, among other things, the devastation that bloated and slippery word has brought, and will bring.
He knows.

He has descended to the burial grounds with the others. It does not take him long to find the headstone he is looking for. He reads

NAKAMURA

SHI

Someone has thought to place the kanji on a white board, surmounted on the stone. The thin recessed strokes have been slightly obscured by wind and rain and time. Kashu thinks, in many years they will be erased completely, and a government will pay someone to replace it with a sign that will last a bit longer. Or maybe they won’t. He thinks, long before then, someone will erect a sign with my name, for the sun to bear down upon, at the place where my bones will be hidden. My name, but only words.

He begins to weep.

Bushido is a word.