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Japanese music therapist shares unique war stories recounted by US veterans in new book

Yumiko Sato is seen giving a music therapy session at a hospice in Ohio in this photo provided by Sato.
This image provided by Kashiwa Shobo Publishing Co. shows the cover of the book "Song of War" that was published in July.

TOKYO -- A Japanese music therapist living in the United States has written a book on the stories of war gathered from listening to the confessions and memories of veterans she encountered at a hospice in Ohio.

    As 75 years have now passed since the end of World War II, the generation that went to war has reached the last years of their lives. Recollections of retired U.S. soldiers tell stories of war from a unique perspective.

    Music therapist Yumiko Sato, 43, supports terminally ill patients and their families by performing songs and playing musical instruments. In 2004, after about a year had passed since Sato began working in her profession, she encountered for the first time the story of a patient's war experience. "I killed Japanese soldiers," so confessed a man who was a veteran that fought in Saipan as soon as he found out that Sato was Japanese. The man looked down and said, "I'm very sorry," as he kept on crying like a child without being able to hold back his tears.

    Unlike the Vietnam War, which provoked a wave of antiwar movements, World War II is deemed as a justifiable war in the United States as it was fought for democracy. Nonetheless, there are a number of former soldiers who struggled to adapt to their life back home. The man who spoke with Sato also suffered from alcohol addiction. While Sato was taken aback by the man's state, which was far different from the image of a regular veteran, she also felt, "He must have held within himself feelings that could not be digested for a long time as he couldn't talk about it with anyone."

    Sato provided support to around 1,200 patients during the 10 years she worked in the hospice as a music therapist. She has not deliberately tried to find out about their war experiences. Rather, the patients start to tell fragmentary stories about that time as their memories are brought forth by their encounter with Sato, a Japanese person, and her music. The instructor during her internship expressed concern and told her, "Among the patients that you meet, there are those who fought in World War II or lost loved ones during the war. I don't know what kind of reaction they'll have when they find out you're Japanese." However, Sato has never had an experience where she was met with anger or hatred.

    There have also been cases where patients are overcome with feelings of remorse in their last moments before death. A man who was involved in the Manhattan Project to develop and manufacture atomic bombs, said with an agonized expression, "I really didn't know that something like that would happen," and "I'm not proud of it." Although he led a seemingly happy life surrounded by family, he talked of the atomic bomb repeatedly in each encounter with Sato even though his physical strength had weakened and it had become difficult for him to keep talking.

    A man who left an especially deep impression on Sato was a veteran who had scars on his left hand from being stabbed with a bamboo spear by a Japanese soldier in the Philippines. The man lost his close friend right before his eyes to a hand grenade that came flying their way. He said that when he visited Hiroshima on duty soon after the atomic bombing he was shocked by the sights of melted light bulbs and burnt corpses of children. In his last encounter with Sato, he told her, "Please don't forget."

    "I think that each and every word was not addressed to only myself," said Sato. She added, "I happened to be there, but for the longest time it felt like they were speaking to society, and to people who have not experienced war."

    At the hospice, there were also patients who screamed, "The Nazis are coming," and "The bomb has been dropped." Sato remarked, "The events of the war, which have not yet ended (within each individual), emerges at the end of their lives. By imagining a bit about their viewpoint, my way of understanding World War II has changed within myself."

    Sato, who has left the hospice and now lives in New Mexico, published a book in July containing these episodes whose title roughly translates to "Song of War."

    "The stories that were told by them are different from the stories of war I'd heard growing up in Japan, as well as the stories that were told in the United States. I want to convey the side of war that is unknown," said Sato. The Japanese language book contains 264 pages and costs 1,870 yen (about $18) including tax.

    (Japanese original by Kayo Mukuda, City News Department)

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