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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 13-14

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Uda Rei

Author's Note

On 7 July 1937, when I was seven years old, war broke out between Japan and China. The fighting began near the ancient stone bridge named Lukouchiao (Marco Polo Bridge), on the outskirts of Beijing. The war continued until 15 August 1945. My father, who was in the reserves, was drafted and sent to China.

Because my family had been assisting students from China before the war, I had friendly feelings for Chinese people. I was still a child, but the thought of Japanese and Chinese killing each other made me feel guilty and terribly sad. I remember, when my father came home three years later, how relieved I was to hear that his duties had kept him behind the front lines, so he'd gotten through the war without firing a single bullet.

When the war ended with Japan's defeat, I was fifteen. I liked literature and had already made up my mind to study Chinese literature at university. After graduation, I joined the Chinese Literature Association and began to publish papers on modern and contemporary Chinese poetry. Through my readings of Chinese texts, I discovered that Chinese children had actively participated in the war against Japan. They must have hated Japanese children. I began to feel that I, as a child at that time, had a responsibility to atone for my country's sins.

When I was an adult, my desire to see China with my own eyes grew strong, but Japan had no diplomatic relations with China. Even after relations were restored, China was in the midst of the Great Cultural Revolution, which made a visit impossible. In 1979, when the Great Cultural Revolution was over and stability had at last returned to Chinese society, I received an invitation from the Chinese Institute of Social Sciences. For thirty years I had devoted myself to the study of contemporary Chinese literature without being able to set foot on Chinese soil. Now seven friends and I, all of the same generation, were thrilled to finally be going to Beijing as members of an official "literary research team."

Upon our arrival in Beijing, we listed Lukouchiao as one of the places we wanted to see. At the time, the area around the bridge was off limits to foreigners, but our request was finally granted. While walking slowly across Lukouchiao, I was filled with conflicting emotions. To determine whether or not these thoughts and feelings were simply products of that moment in time, I allowed myself a cooling-off period. Several years later, I wrote the poem "Lukouchiao." The logic and emotions expressed in this poem are personal, of course, but I believe that any [End Page 13] Japanese who was a child during the war has had similar thoughts. I imagine that whenever Japanese my age or slightly older see or hear the name Lukouchiao, they are stricken by the absurdity of war and by a need for expiation.

I walk across Lukouchiao
The riverbed bright with glittering streams
Carved in my mind
This bridge across
All those watching eyes
What do they see in me
What do they see inside
Deep inside of me?
I am neither pebble nor tree nor fish nor bicycle lying on its side
Wanting to run through this deadly silence
I walk across Lukouchiao
Once a long, long bridge
Crossing a distant sea
Stretching out toward me
Was Lukouchiao
Now it crosses straight over me
Over this life now beyond my control
Yet still I am living, so
Starting and stopping, stopping and starting
I walk across Lukouchiao

Translation by Margaret Mitsutani

Uda Rei is the pen name of Abe Toshiaki. Born in Yokohama in 1930, he graduated in 1951 from Tokyo University of Foreign Languages and Studies, where he majored in Chinese. His books include The Desolation of Voiceless Places, a biography of He qi fang; The Philosophy of Healing in Chinese Poetry; and the poetry collection The Boy Who Turned into a Beech Tree, where the poem in this issue first appeared.

Margaret Mitsutani was...