Even though it was nothing compared to the great bath tab in Japan, it was nice when I could take a bath. I wore the underwear dried in the sterilization room, put on clothes and a coat, then stepped out to outside. The sun was shining low in the snow-covered world.
“I have come really far!” I thought, but I had no idea how much farther we were going to be taken to. I did not even know how many more days we had to go in the cargo. The only thing I knew was that I was still alive and there were many Japanese with me.
Group psychology is really interesting. Even though we were named “captives” that were taken to the west of Siberian railway just like packages in cargos, somewhat we felt okay because we were with many other Japanese, as a member of the group of a big army. That made us feel the Soviet would not dare to kill us all without any particular reason.
Such group psychology was something I experienced in the middle of the war when I was working for the military commanding office in Hankou. There was air raid by American planes almost every evening. As we were walking on the street in town, the siren rang, sometimes followed by bombing.
It happens so quickly that we had no idea where the shelter was. When I sat down in the shade of a building, seven or eight others who were drinking with me in the store quickly followed me. I wonder if they thought wherever I escaped to looked safe perhaps because I was a military officer. In reality, I think it was a group psychology which is expressed as “Medaka (Japanese rice fish) wants to belong to the group of medaka.” If we all stayed together, we felt we were safer.
Before I entered the army, I heard it is not that hard to be in the army. However, while I was the first year soldier, the reality was completely different. The physical and mental torture I was exposed to was something I could not imagine. If I recall, there were some dreadful scenes. Someday, I would like to write about it.
Except for commanders and other officers in higher ranks, most of the soldiers in the army do not have any need to worry about the next day. The given order is the order from the emperor. Therefore, there was no room to doubt if it was good or bad—we only had to obey the order and act accordingly. In that sense, our lives were pretty easy going. Food and the bed for the day were guaranteed in the army. In my opinion, there is no other easy way to live than not having to worry about what to eat the next day. However, human greed is endless, and accepting lower level of living style was not an easy thing to do.
In my case, I had no interest in advancement of ranks since I was not a professional soldier. The environment that allowed wearing the same clothes as others, eating the same food like others made me think that all I needed to do was to follow up with what others were doing. It was a bit animal like way of living, but human beings just get used to the environment like that.
When I was a student in “Ichiko”-First High school in Tokyo, I have read a novel, “how much land does an individual need?” by Tolstoy. Ivan, the main character, was a farmer. He began to walk in order to reach as far as he could since the time of sunrise in the east to the sunset in the west on condition that someone would buy the area he could cover on foot at a certain price. He became so greedy that he ran and ran as far as he could, but by the time he ran back to the starting point, his heart broke and he died. The story ended with the line that the amount of land he really needed was a handful of soil that was necessary for his burial.
The reason why I remembered this story by Tolstoy was partly because we were in Russia, but because of the realization I came up with myself after three years of life in the camp. I truly understood there was not that much that I needed for living. In the end, I thoroughly understood all I needed was the salt for rice, spoon (which something else could have been used instead) and cold weather protection. My way of living- not to worry about the next day-was reinforced in such a circumstance.