Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I've Always Loved You by Ann Seymour

Ann Seymour has written a true story of WW II in the Pacific, in California, and in the Imperial Palace, Tokyo. She interlaces the history with the story of her own family including her father who served in the armed forces. She has also used sections of Emporor Emperor Hirohito's diaries which were unclassified in 1995.

Below is a short excerpt from I've Always Loved You. It shows the situation in the Imperial Palace of Japan as the emporer contemplates the Japanese defeat at Midway. Part II, an excerpt from Ann Seymour's home life follows tomorrow.

MOTHERS-IN-LAW and daughters-in-law sometimes don’t get along.

Such was the case in the emperor’s family, where his hawk wife pitted herself against his dove mother. Though Japan allegedly teems with ten thousand kami spirits who reside in the rocks, fields, and trees, their holy presence could not save the emperor from the struggles of these two strong women.

He feared his mother, adored his wife, Nagako, whose patriotic haikus stiffened his resolve to fight with greater ferocity. However, his mother, Teimei Kogo, Dowager Empress Sadako, took a resolute antiwar stand. She dreaded the Americans and believed they would crush Dai Nippon. When she wasn’t lecturing him, her thin, dry lips trembling, she sent him haikus around themes of the traveler who seeks the seed of the green tree of peace or a moment of peace as a bar of gold. Worse, she called everything he did a “stupid mistake.”

He would point out that the pride of conquest united the Empire of Japan, and added that Westerners did not learn the customs of others, befriending only each other. Now Shinto priests migrate through the empire teaching Dai Nippon’s ancient ways. Asia for Asians.

Instead of agreeing, she’d stare at him with hostile black smudge eyes that unnerved him.

He called her the world’s “most ungrateful mother,” while she referred to him as “delusional.” They scowled at each other, he with his thick eyebrows, she with her delicate arches.

Supposedly no insults existed in the Japanese language, only infinite degrees of apology, but the dowager empress forgot this courtesy when speaking to her son. When he replied, she crossed her arms to signify boredom. What an anomaly she was in a country where a tiny breach of courtesy prompted the apology, "Moshi wake gazaimasen, if you please, my transgression is unforgivable, and I wish I were dead.”

After encounters with his mother, the emperor rolled round crimson rubies in his hands like worry beads to calm himself. She thought of herself as Japan’s true ruler, and schemed with her snickering sycophants, which created yet another morass of problems.

Today, she paid him a rare visit, and he wanted to palliate her, especially after the Midway news. He presented her with a magnificent Burmese necklace of egg-sized emeralds and rubies. Did she thank him? No, she said she would have one of her advisors sell the necklace for
money to spend on her peace efforts, and added she doubted that her son obtained it in an honorable way.

He pictured the advisor selling the necklace, pocketing the proceeds, and telling his hoax of a mother that every penny would go to printing her haikus on fine paper, and offering them to worthy Japanese homes.

In Hirohito’s opinion, the sly American president, operating under a “constitutional dictatorship in time of war,” actually had far more power than the Emperor of Dai Nippon did.

After she left, dusk arrived. Bats flew in circles around the imperial palace, and new guards arrived, bearing lanterns. Dark, sealed people, they swerved in tandem. The emperor brooded within. The palace seemed somber to him at this time of day. Its post and lintel construction made the interior quite dark, so large screens with burnished gold backgrounds covered the walls.

Even the sumptuous sliding wood panels, carved and lacquered in bright colors, seemed to absorb the scarce light. Still, he liked them, as they illustrated myths and historical triumphs of the Yamato family. Tonight, however, past glories couldn’t cheer him. The Americans had avenged Pearl Harbor at Midway. He insisted that his people never hear about Japan’s first significant defeat in more than three centuries. He would have to camouflage it for propaganda purposes into a triumph and issue an imperial rescript praising his Midway victors. Then he
would crush the barbarians before another summer replaced plum blossoms with leaves.

Beginning with Midway, the imperial commanders tried to explain Japan’s deteriorating military position to Hirohito, only to hear lectures on botany by way of reply. As the war progressed – or regressed, from Japan’s perspective – they became frantic, but the emperor refused to discuss surrender. When it came to native intelligence, his commanders reminded him of the nearly decerebrate shishigashira in the palace ponds.

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