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105-yr-old vet opens up about war, pleads for defense of Japan's pacifist Constitution

Taku Kawarai, left, speaks at a war experiences talk event in Omitama, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Aug. 10, 2019. His son Tadao is seen at right. (Mainichi/Naohiko Takura)
Taku Kawarai is seen in his Imperial Japanese Army uniform. (Photo courtesy of Tadao Kawarai)

OMITAMA, Ibaraki -- It took Imperial Japanese Army veteran Taku Kawarai decades to start talking about his World War II experiences, but this year the 105-year-old self-published his fourth book on the topic.

"War is people murdering each other like beasts, and then dying miserable deaths in turn. We must never repeat it (the war)," he said recently.

Kawarai was a farmer in the eastern Japan city of Mito when, in September 1941, he was mobilized as an Army reservist. Leaving his 22-year-old wife at home, he was assigned to transport duties in a rear services company. The unit was deployed to Southeast Asia, and he spent time in several spots including Cambodia and Vietnam as the Japanese military built up forces to invade the British-held Malay Peninsula and Singapore.

He later landed on the peninsula, and found himself in something like hell. On the route south, a truck drove over the dead bodies of enemy soldiers who had fallen on the road.

Singapore surrendered in February 1942. Kawarai remained posted to the area, and in late 1944, with the Japanese war effort spiraling into disaster, he experienced an episode he says he cannot forget even as other memories have faded since he passed 100.

The unit had no food supplies, and one of his friends, "Kasuya-san," came down with dysentery. There were no doctors and no medication. There was nothing to do for those who contracted the disease but wait to die. But Kawarai could not ignore his friend's groaning pleas for help, and began nursing the dying man.

That meant helping Kasuya-san with his 20-plus bouts of bloody diarrhea each night, and wiping him off afterwards. At times he couldn't help his friend with the bedpan in time, and used his bare hands to prevent Kasuya-san from making a mess.

"I thought I'd be infected and die as well," Kawarai recalled. One day, Kasuya-san told Kawarai, "Even in death, I won't forget what you've done for me." He put his hands together to show appreciation for Kawarai as he labored for breath, and died. Kasuya-san was still in his 20s.

"It hurt terribly and I cried uncontrollably," said Kawarai, who dug Kasuya-san's grave alone and then buried his friend.

"I think I was able to survive (the war) because he was looking out for me," he said, his face flushing and his eyes wide as tears rolled down his cheeks.

Kawarai was demobilized in 1946, and spoke to no one about what he had seen in the war. Until, that is, he passed 70. It was then that he paid to publish the first volume of his memoirs. In May this year, he released his latest reflections on the war and daily life, titled "Hyakugosai Hinatabokko" (Basking in the sun at 105). His 72-year-old eldest son Tadao helped him put together the volume over the past four years.

Every summer, there is a war experience speaking event in Omitama, Ibaraki Prefecture, south of the Ibaraki prefectural capital of Mito. Kawarai began telling his stories there three years ago. It became difficult for him to walk due to a broken leg, but appeared this year on Aug. 10 with Tadao, speaking from a wheelchair. He had a stern call-to-action for the audience:

"I want you to defend the present Constitution, which dispensed with war. If the Japanese people combine their efforts to oppose (revisions), then Japan will not be able to make war. I ask this of each and every one of you."

(Japanese original by Naohiko Takura, Lifestyle & Medical News Department)

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