Were Japanese Soldiers Frightened?

The last known photo of my Uncle Suetaro. He did not return from Leyte during the final stages of World War II. My Grandmother Kono – having suffered a stroke – is propped up by Japanese “shiki-futon” for the picture. Taken in Hiroshima, 1944.

Yes, a small percentage of Japanese soldiers were anxious to die for their emperor.

But a vast majority was frightened of having to go to war.  My opinion, of course.

Young Japanese boys were drafted from farms and fishing villages – just like we did here in the US of A during that time.  Boys from Parsons, Kansas or from a sea coast shrimping town in Louisiana.

And they all had moms.


Like all Americans of my age, we were taught that the Japanese soldiers of WWII were fanatics.  That they all were hell-bent to charge into a hail of Allied machine gun fire.  To willingly die.

We were also taught that when a US Marine charged well entrenched Japanese soldiers with a satchel charge, he was a hero.  Not a fanatic.  He was John Wayne or Kirk Douglas. Was Esprit de Corps driving the young Marine to offer his life to save his buddies?

There is no intent to question our American values of valor or honor.  Just a quandary.


My Hiroshima cousin Masako mentioned in Hawai’i having seen a photo of Uncle Suetaro and Grandmother.  It was taken the day before Uncle shipped out for war (1944).  Masako said Grandmother – having suffered a stroke the day before – was propped up by “shiki-futon”, or Japanese bedding for the picture.  She felt strongly it was the last picture taken of Uncle Suetaro but doesn’t know what happened to it.


A few weeks ago, my California cousin Janice came across a number of old photos; she had forgotten about them.  She said there were some family photos from Hiroshima.  Her father – Uncle Suetaro’s and my Dad’s oldest brother – had apparently been able to hold on to them through the decades.

I asked Janice if there were any photos of my Dad’s two youngest siblings, Suetaro and Mieko, or of Michie (Masako’s mother).  Janice then described a picture of Uncle Suetaro in a uniform and Grandmother (seen at the beginning of this story).

I was stunned.  Topo Giggio meets Godzilla.  It was the photo Masako vividly recalled seeing decades ago.

Is there an air of fearfulness…of fright?  You can decide.  But as we were led to believe, all Japanese soldiers were fanatics…yes?

War makes fright.

25 thoughts on “Were Japanese Soldiers Frightened?”

  1. What a beautiful family picture. Am I imagining it or can we see the effects of the stroke on Grandmother’s right side? What a beautiful woman! And such a handsome son. I think it would be a very rare person who did not feel fear there. He knows she is ill, she knows where he is going…. even though the picture is a moment captured in time from long ago, that moment had to be very painful.

    1. Yes, I am sure some of the effects can be seen. From what my cousin Masako described (who cared for her from when she was about ten along with her mother), Grandmother was able to use her right arm to pull herself about the house. Because the photo is so faded, I believe her good right hand is holding onto her left hand/arm.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by – especially during the heat wave.

      1. Some relief from the heat! I love your family stories. I love the history of our families. In that picture I just want to stare in to their faces…to read something….

    1. I had to google that title. A movie about a mother and two daughters at about the same time as this photo was taken, I see. I think I may have to get a copy. While a movie, it should be entertaining to watch. I wonder if my Hiroshima cousins watched it. Thanks for telling me about it, hoofin.

    1. Words elude me, too.

      I like to think researching WWII Pacific Theater history is my hobby because of my family’s link to it on both sides of the ocean. I now understand there are two “histories” written about the Pacific War. One is generally centered on MacArthur. The other is not known to us here in the US. It is the one written by the Japanese (although they seek to ignore it). Which one is correct? Both to some degree…but personal experiences, I feel, may tell a truer albeit undocumentable story.

  2. What a nice picture – I see an honorable young man and a mother who loved him. My mother was a young lady during WWII. People would tell me the same about the German solider. When like most men when faced with any war, did not desire it. Her family did what needed done to survive. She told us that like here, men were drafted and my uncle who was afraid to fly was drafted in the Luftwaffe and was much relieved when they made him a mechanic. My mother was “drafted” into the female version of the Hitler youth. She said there was no choice and you did not object. Yes, war makes fright..for both the soldiers and the civilians. I am sorry he did not make it home – I pray that he has the peace he was not able to attain here. Blessings ~ Patty

    1. I am astonished and touched by your family’s history as well, Patty. Thank you for sharing that and for your prayers.

      Indeed, it’s a small world after all – because of the sacrifices made by the people of that time.

  3. To the victor goes the pen which writes the books – usually a lopsided tale. It is only with time that the truth might get told. It reminds me of Roman, Jewish, and Biblical histories – the attempts to demonize and dehumanize the “other side” are apparent.

    I found the photo poignant, and can not help but wonder if the grandmother’s stroke was in part initiated by the impending departure of her grandson. I rather imagine she wasn’t interested in sacrificing him for the glory of the Emperor and nation. Like any parent, I think she feared for his happiness and well-being, as well as his life and limbs. By this time Japan had been entrenched in wars for a long time. I have little doubt she knew about the horrors and deprivations he would be facing. After all, they had the Chinese to the West – the Americans on the East, Allies on the South, with Russia making threatens from the North. Not that that would have mattered to her; she may not have known due to news restrictions. Nor he. “Keep moral and patriotism up!” You know how national leaders are. Tell them lies if nothing else. Whatever it takes to keep the war effort going.

    As to Suetaro – I cannot help but feel for such a young lad. He looks dissociated and his eyes seem to pondering something. Perhaps he knew he was being sent to death. I did some reading on Leyte battles (both naval and land) as a result of your post. There was that convoy with some troop ships sunk. Leyte itself was a mess. And from what I’ve read, the Japanese soldiers did not have it good: poor food, harsh discipline, inhumane conditions, chronic shortages of food and water, and lacking in medical care. But then again: I read mostly the victor’s words.

    I imagine you, like me, wonder what Suetaro’s last moments were like. As a a soldier who thought “this is it!” – well, I hope he either had enough time to die, or it was so quick he didn’t even know it. “Enough time” is the time it takes to get past that initial fear, your lifetime review of regrets, thinking about your loved ones, and moving it into acceptance of your oncoming demise. Perhaps there at the end you might give it a good fight – I know I did, and that’s what saved me – but I think by then you have made a choice.

    I doubt Suetaro was thinking about “honorable death”, “glory for the Emperor”, or even “dying for my country” at the end, assuming he had that time. Having “been there, done that” I can tell you – after that intense bout of sadness over things left undone – it becomes about family and your loved ones. Sorrow over your loss of friends (some of whom you may have seen die around and before you). And the the acceptance. I feel for him – or any unfulfilled life. It’s a hard way to die. Lets just hope his life was not too hard while in the Army, and that his end came quick – mercifully, towards the beginning of the battle, before things got too bad.

    We shall never know, will we. The fate of him and millions like him who died on every side, both civilian, military, and innocent alike.

    War is never good.

    1. My apologies for this belated response. Your words have tremendous insight and depth…and you echo the same words that my father and old man Jack have said about war. There are times when it becomes a necessary evil, nevertheless, and those that endure it on our behalf deserve a lifetime of support and thanks from us that do not endure it.

    1. Sorry for the belated reply as well.

      I believe a vast majority do hate war, shermangerherd. It is when it becomes necessary that only those that were there can understand what it was like… Old man Jack said he wasn’t brave and Mr. Johnson said you just do it or die.

  4. I am happy that this precious photo of your grandmother and your Uncle Suetaro has finnaly found its way to you and eventually to your blog. I am not one who believes in coincidences … the photo merely hadn’t reached you yet. 🙂

    When I look at the Uncle Suetaro and his mother I see what needed to be left unspoken between them. Not “unsaid” but unspoken, because in truth we communicate just as much in silence as we do with words under special circumstances such as these two dear ones were facing … sharing. Each understood what lay ahead, each had already imagined the worst outcome, each had already played out different scenarios in the daydreams and night dreams of loss and grief … as well as the imaginings of a happy return and a warm embrace. These things are understood between mother and son, and the emotion has nothing to do with nation or a cause. Perhaps the expression on their faces look like one of detachment, but I see it more as acceptance. When my son asked me about how I would want to “be notified” I simply had to answer and he simply had to ask. I had to be in as much control as he was. So that’s what I see in your photo of Suetaro and his mother … the acceptance being supported by the unspeakable love.

    I know of what you speak, Koji … about how we (meaning folks my age) were taught to view Japanese vs American men of war. Our history books, unfortunately have been very lopsided on many subjects, but that is a subject on which one could write volumes. I think it is silly to believe that a soldier from any nation would not have fear on the battlefield or the prospect of facing a battlefield. Could it be that in order to survive and manage the fear other aggressive behaviors must take over? I don’t know … I’m simply thinking and asking. Can bravery and sacrifice overtake fear? Yes … it has been proven many times. I have no answer as to whether it would be better to meet ones death instantly or slowly on a battlefield … I think it is something I can’t truly grasp emotionally.

    Reading that your Uncle did not return from Leyte gave me pause, because my father was also in Leyte … I know I’ve posted at least one picture on Flickr which he labled “Leyte.” To think that they were on the same soil and walked as enemies is a notion I can’t express in words either. It leaves me simply with a feeling of sadness.

    When my son’s deployment was near … I became very disoriented in my daily life, to the point that I couldn’t concentrate on anything for any substantial amount of time. I slept sitting up in an arm chair, because I could not lie down and relax or sleep. Could your grandmother have suffered a stroke out of worry for her son? I think that it could have been very likely. She looks like she was a very brave woman.

    Thank you for sharing your family history. Your writings are thoughtful and heartfelt and it is a privilege to read your blog.


    1. Jeannerene, the words from your heart speak volumes. Your thoughts and feelings are expressed so very well… Yet, not being a parent of a child who is protecting our liberties, you and my grandmother have shared the exact same feelings.

      Your family has decades of service to our country. I am positive your dad is looking out for his grandson, Jeannerene. Try to seek some rest knowing that he is.

      As this blog tries to illustrate (and rather poorly – I wish I had your writing skills), we were taught in classrooms that war is totally absent of individuality…but as with your father, eventually, individuals come together albeit decades later. It is a small world after all, yes?

  5. What a great blog! I have to completely agree with you. War does cause fright. I can give you so many example while I was apart of the current war in Afghanistan.

    1. Sir, it would be blase to say thank you for having served our country. Combat is something many of us are lucky to have not experienced, unlike you. I wish that you are able to find happiness today.

  6. You raise some good questions. Of course on ‘our’ side (the US) the soldiers were all devoted Americans and loved the idea that they would kill the enemy. Of course those who were brave heroes in their country (Japan/Germany) could only be fanatics. Crazy individuals who hated us. Who could hate the US?

    I love your blog and learn so much each time I visit.

    1. Indeed, appletonavenue. But as the two WWII combats vets that lived across the street from me said, you GOTTA hate the enemy – or else they’d kill you. They never said, though, they were fighting for the red, white and blue. Rather, they were fighting for the buddies next to them. And your blog gives a person much to contemplate, too. Very unique thoughts… Thank you for taking the time to stop by as always. 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s