As the war in China escalated day by day, information flow was controlled by the Cabinet Information Department and the Army PR Division. General public didn’t know the massacre in Nanjing, the use of chemical weapons and other inconvenient truths. And there was a complicit relationship between the military and writers.

This is Part III of the series. Part I and Part II.

Passing through the tunnel of the mossy paved path and green, the temple resides above it. Mount XXX to the east and Lake XXX filled with lotus over the rampart, you can command the view of the town of XXX through the tree leaves.excerpts from the letter from Yasujiro Ozu to Kenji Mizoguchi, published on Tokyo Asahi Shinbun (newspaper), Evening Edition, August 27, 1938. The censors removed the specific names of the locations (XXX). However, it is easily deduced that Ozu was in Nanjing.

Red, Green, Yellow and Other Colors

The Japanese Army had been experimenting with chemical warfare since 1930’s, first possibly in Taiwan, and then in various combat zones. For example, in 1937, the Chinese news reported the possible use of a chemical bomb by the Japanese Army during the Malco Polo Bridge Incident. Then, in April 1938, during the Battle of Xuzhou, the Army began deploying the chemical warfare — poison gas — on a massive scale. It was the Battle of Xiushui River in March 1939 that the chemical warfare played pivotal role in the combat. The total of 15,000 cylinders of diphenylcyanoarsine were discharged and injured hundreds and thousands of Chinese soldiers. Codenamed “Red” by Japanese military, diphenylcyanoarsine is a gaseous chemical that causes nausea and vomiting when inhaled. Ozu belonged to The Second Gas Unit in this combat and he recorded the attack in his diary: “for about 3 minutes from 1715, (we) did a surprise attack using gas cylinders”.

The use of the chemical warfare was the most guarded secret during and after the war, because it violated a series of international treaties and revelation would have compromised the state of international affairs, if not already. Ozu himself never mentioned the fact he was with the Gas Unit. Such an atrocity had been hidden from the public view, and those who not only knew but also participated in the erased ‘3 minutes’ — the gas attack was never mentioned in the official record — must have felt stigmatized by a scar only visible to themselves. Then, knowing what Ozu had experienced in those years, we may realize that the reference to the Battle of Xuzhou in EARLY SUMMER does carry a bleaker and more somber perspective to the hidden narrative about Shoji.

The chemical weapons were secretly produced in Ohkunojima (Ohkuno Island) in Seto Inland Sea from 1929 to 1945. The program was conducted by Japanese Imperial Army Institute of Science and Technology. The manufacturing facilities were expanded over the years and produced mustard gas, cyanide gas, tear gas and other deadly gases. When Japan surrendered in August 1945, the chemicals were disposed by, first Japanese military, then the Allied Occupation Forces. According to the 2003 report the Environmental Agency, the facility held 1,451 tons of mustard gas, 824 tons of Lewisite and other poisons at the time of surrender. They were dumped in the nearby sea, within the 4,000 meters from the island. The local fishermen witnessed the immediate effect of the disposal. “The sea turned to white. The water was filled with dead fish.”

There were also numerous storage facilities across the country. Due to confusion immediately after the war, the chemicals were never properly handled or disposed, and dumped or buried with no regard for safety. As late as 2004, these chemical bombs and cylinders were found to be the source of soil and water contamination in the least expected places. In Kamisu in Ibaraki Prefecture, some residents complained nausea and sickness, and further investigation found the unusual level of arsenic in the drinking water from the local well. It appears the chemical weapons discarded many decades ago leaked their contents into the soil and contaminated drinking water. The more serious problems remain to be resolved, however. The Unit 516 of the Kwantung Army had stashed incredible amount of chemical weapons in northeast China. Upon retreating from the area, the Army either abandoned or secretly buried the chemicals, leaving the large amount of hazardous materials behind. Since 1990’s, the Chinese and Japanese governments have investigated the scale of contamination and negotiated disposal process. Because many crucial documents had been destroyed and those who were responsible have died or simply refused to acknowledge the responsibilities, the negotiation and cleaning processes have become a diplomatic nightmare.

Chemical Weapons used by the Japanese Army (from Masumi Tanaka, “Ozu Yasujiro, Shuyu” p.229)

Guests at War Field

In 1938, very few people knew the Imperial Army was spraying such deadly chemicals in the vast land of China. At the Cabinet Information Department and the Army PR division, the elite officials thought that, the less people know, the better. They gradually tighten the control of the media, and the gruesome realities of the war in China were transformed into something palatable for people to consume. Some writers and artists were banned from publishing their works, while the others struggled to stay afloat.

As we have seen, after the Nanjing Massacre in December 1937, the government and the Army aggressively controlled the flow of information to prevent people from knowing the atrocity. On December 27, 1937, the Literature Section of the Police Bureau had blacklisted seven writers, who, in their opinion, could become ‘liability’ if they were allowed to continue publishing their works. Miyamoto and other blacklisted writers visited the Police Bureau to ask about the reasons for blacklisting — which of their works were considered unsuitable for the “state of affairs” and why —, they were told “it depends on the writer in question, not on the content”. The other writers felt “relieved”, and considered that the blacklist “determined the range” of the safe water.

Some writers and artists considered this government policy a great opportunity to explore the possibility of “promoting the literary art to a higher status” and they themselves should devote their efforts to a “cause”. Kan Kikuchi (1888 – 1948) was the most vocal, most active, and most influential figure in this movement. He was one of the most popular novelists before the World War II and his popular novels such as ‘Chichi Kaeru (Father Returns)’ and ‘Shinju Fujin (Madame Pearl)’ were made into films numerous times. Kikuchi was the publisher and chief editor of “Bungei-Shunju”, the prestigious monthly literary magazine and helped to kick-start young novelists including Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Since 1930’s, Kikuchi willingly collaborated with the government to participate in cultural propaganda activities. As we have seen, he staged the flamboyant prize ceremony for Ashihei Hino, the promising ‘soldier novelist’, and paved a way for his successful trilogy. Kikuchi was also the chairman of Japan Writer’s Association, and when the Cabinet Information Department ordered the Association to form the ‘Writer Corp (Pen Corp)‘ in 1938, he and other prominent writers quickly assembled the 22-member troop of the novelists and writers and visited China.

I don’t know about people who secretly harbors extreme left-wing political ideas, but an ordinal writer would be more fascinated by the war than a man on the street, and should be exhilarated by the victories of the Imperial Military like a child. Kan Kikuchi, “Wastebasket of Stories”, February 1938

Even though the battles in the Yangtze River area were still raging, these members of the ‘Writer Corp’ met with warm hospitality of the Army PR Division. Kunio Kishida, the playwright and one of the ‘Writer Corp’ members, published “50 days on the Front (従軍五十日)”, after the ‘Writer Corp’ campaign, and reminisce how the Army officers and PR people generously coordinated the travel plans and helped him to ‘experience’ the war. Kishida was allowed to be on the bomber plane in one of the daily sorties and witnessed the bombing of villages from the gun turret. He was on the Army boat, truck, and other vehicles all the time, was allowed to visit occupied area freely, interviewed a French Catholic missionary in the hospital and a nun in the orphanage. In Shanghai, escorted by the Navy personnel, Kishida visited the sites where intense battles had been played out a year earlier. The Navy sent the officers to recount the stories of hardship and heroism of their men in detail. It seems both the Army and the Navy were eager and ready to collaborate with the writers of the Writer Corp — and the media in general — to present the positive and clean image of the military to the public. Fumiko Hayashi was the most prolific of the all members of the Corp. She literally visited the various places by herself, and actually reached Hankou, when the Chiang Kai-shek abandoned Wuhan and the Japanese Army captured the city in October 1938. Newspapers in mainland Japan praised her fearless attitude.

EARTH AND SOLDIERS (dir. Tomosaka Tasaka, 1939)

But some writers in the Corp found the coziness of this sort uncomfortable and complicit relationship between the writers and the military PR questionable. Siro Ozaki was one of them. His essay, “A Certain Attached Corp”, published in February 1939, was not a reportage on the war field, but rather a series of backstage stories about Writer’s Corp.

At some point, we are trapped in the poor sense of responsibility and lose the perspective. Siro Ozaki

Even though it reads like a scandalous expose of the selfish writers and the fame hungry novelists, it was nonetheless discreet criticism on cultural-military-politics collaboration.

Consider the case of Tatsuzo Ishikawa, a Akutagawa-prize winner. He and other writers were sent to China by Chuo-Koron, another popular monthly literary magazine, in early 1938, and wrote “Soldiers Alive” (This was a couple month before ‘Writer’s Corp’ campaign). The book was banned and Ishikawa was charged with the violation of the Newspaper Act, and found guilty. Ishikawa’s book contained description about the Nanjing Massacre, including murdering of noncombatants and rape. The message was clear: you don’t write nasty things that the soldiers do. The members of the Writer’s Corp knew Ishikawa’s fate, accepted the Machiavellian hospitality of the Army and the Navy, and tried to be ‘useful’ in the times of national emergency. The chemical warfare was used in the Battle of Wuhan, but no one in the Writer’s Corp mentioned it in the writing.

According to Hisayoshi Tuzuki, the Japanese literature historian, the members of the Writer’s Corp published the essays and works about their experiences on magazines and newspapers immediately after their return from China. However, their popularity waned quickly. Tuzuki observes there was a difference between “inside the war” and “outside the war”. Those writers of the Writer’s Corp can leave the troop if he/she wants to escape from the brutal aspects of the war. However, the soldiers can’t. The members of general public — readers of the Writer’s Corp works — usually had one or two family members drafted and sent to war. In another words, the people had already began experiencing the war from the “inside”. However realistic might have been, people simply didn’t care for the reportage and essays by those who could afford coming back.

That’s why Ashihei Hino was special. He was a “soldier” to the eyes of millions and his writings were from the “inside”.

Then, what can a writer do?

One thing you can do is to write a great story about a hero. People love stories. And people love heroes. That’s what Kan Kikiuchi did.

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