George Kizaki is an 84-year-old second-generation Japanese-American man living in Tokyo, but his citizenship is not the only thing that sets him apart from local men his age. He used to be an interpreter for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), during the Allied Powers' occupation of Japan following World War II.
The U.S.-born Kizaki was in an internment camp -- one of the many where the U.S. government had incarcerated those of Japanese ancestry during World War II -- on Aug. 15, 1945, the day Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender. Subsequently Kizaki, along with many other Japanese-Americans, started working for GHQ, the general headquarters of the Allied occupation, as a contractor for the U.S. military.
Kizaki clearly remembers his first encounter with MacArthur, around 1950, shortly after Kizaki took up his post in Japan. "He was expressionless," Kizaki recalls. "If I dared to avert my eyes even for a moment, he would say sharply, 'Who are you talking to?'"
From Kizaki's point of view, it appeared MacArthur was dedicating all his energies toward his mission. His meals were always simple, like scrambled eggs and smoked ham. "He had a habit of saying, 'If servicemen take Sundays off, who's going to protect the country?'" Kizaki says, and when MacArthur became upset, he would strike his cane down, breaking it. Kizaki saw MacArthur as "a god of servicemen."
Kizaki's tasks at GHQ varied from day to day. Some days he interpreted for MacArthur, while on other days, he was sent to monitor repatriation ships bringing Japanese nationals back to Japan. After he interpreted for MacArthur in meetings with dignitaries, MacArthur gave him strict orders to "forget the face" he just saw, and to "not remember the content of the interaction." The Cold War had begun by this time, and the threat of Communism was being discussed in earnest.
Around 1955, following the restoration of independence to most of mainland Japan, Kizaki left his job as a U.S. military contractor. He went on to stay in Japan and work in the import-export business. It's only been recently that he has begun to talk about his experiences at GHQ.
Seventy-one years since the end of World War II, Japan stands at a crossroads. After the July 10 House of Councillors election, the pro-constitutional-amendment bloc now has two-thirds of the seats in both chambers of the Diet -- the proportion necessary to propose revisions to the Constitution in the legislature -- increasing the possibility that constitutional amendment will take place. The pro-revision bloc argues that the current Japanese Constitution was forced upon Japan by the Allied occupation, but according to Kizaki, "If it hadn't been for MacArthur, Japan would have been a very different country now. There should be a re-appreciation of MacArthur's achievements."
After he left Japan, MacArthur likened the nation to a 12-year-old boy, referring to the immaturity of Japanese society. Has this country matured since that remark? "I'd say Japan is about 40 years old now," Kizaki says. "Tokyo was burned to the ground. And look at how it has prospered since then, and how it has stayed peaceful."
This witness to history is watching -- with a cane in his hand that he says once belonged to MacArthur -- as this country comes up against the possibility of drastic change once again.