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Ex-Japanese soldier recalls day he didn't pull the trigger

Susumu Kanda (Mainichi)

They were just 2 meters apart. Susumu Kanda, an Imperial Japanese Army soldier on the frontlines in China, had run into two enemy soldiers on his left. He got to his weapon faster, and the enemy soldiers, taken by surprise, took flight. But Kanda did not shoot.

    "Whether one lives or dies is nothing other than fate," says Kanda, now 91 and living in Moroyama, Saitama Prefecture.

    After leaving elementary school, Kanda worked for six years as an apprentice at a joinery business, and entered the Imperial Japanese Army at age 18. His strongest memory in his three years of military life is that moment in June 1943 when he encountered the enemy soldiers in China's Anhui Province. Late that night, he and four comrades were ordered to escort an officer heading to the company headquarters about 15 kilometers away. He was scouting the area about 30 meters ahead of the others when he came face to face with the enemy soldiers.

    One of the soldiers was carrying a rifle over his shoulder, and the other one had a rifle in his hands. When they noticed Kanda, they stood bolt upright. In an instant, Kanda took aim with his Type 38 bolt action rifle, its bayonet flashing, and rested his finger on the trigger.

    This photo provided by Susumu Kanda shows him upon joining the army.

    "The enemies were probably a lot more surprised than I was," he says. "They took to their heels."

    It was only later that Kanda realized that even if he had pulled the trigger, his weapon wouldn't have fired -- the safety catch was still on.

    His comrades arrived soon afterward and asked him what had happened, but he was still too tense to speak. The officer picked up a rifle that one of the enemy soldiers had dropped, and inspected the weapon to find it was loaded with three bullets.

    "If a shot had been fired from any of the weapons, a young life would have ended," Kanda reflects. "Every day you strain every nerve on the line between life and death, and focus on killing the other person, but when it comes down to it, not much is up to you -- that's war."

    Kanda was an army corporal on the outskirts of Shanghai when Japan surrendered in 1945. He was part of a residual force that helped hundreds of thousands of soldiers return home from remote regions of China through Shanghai. In April 1947, he landed in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, on a U.S. vessel.

    After the war, Kanda put his joinery skills to work as an instructor at a vocational school. He opened a bookstore, and when he turned 88, he handed the store over to his son.

    At the age of 70, Kanda started writing haiku, and he joined a society named "Aun."

    "If those two in China have lived long lives, I imagine they, like me, have felt the joy of being alive and are probably living in peace in their old age," Kanda says.

    In 2006, a haiku penned by Kanda was honored at NHK's national haiku and tanka contest. Translated, it reads, "Becoming a father / and a grandfather, too / day of the war's end.

    Kanda didn't lay his pencil or paper to rest during the war, and he still continues to write an autobiography. The six years of his apprenticeship after he graduated from elementary school forms the first volume, and his three years of military service form the second. The final volume covers the 70 years since the end of the war.

    "My military days left the strongest impression on me," he says, before adding with a distant gaze, "War is no good. People who have nothing to do with it fall victim."

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