These pages weave the personal narratives of Hajime and Michiko against the backdrop of World War II. The characters’ individual stories give an intimate insight into the broader historical event, showcasing the sacrifices, traumas, and heroism of ordinary people. The pages also introduce the Australian character, Don.
Remembrance & trauma: Hajime’s memories of his time in training and the psychological turmoil of the war are vivid and haunting. The shock of the Emperor's surrender and the sense of purposelessness it brought reflects the collective trauma of an entire generation.
Legacy of war: Hajime's collection of memoirs and letters from those who flew with the Divine Wind represents an attempt to honor their sacrifices and ensure that their stories are passed down to future generations.
Gender and generational differences: The generational difference between Hajime, Michiko, and Yuri is evident in their perceptions of the war. Yuri sees her mother's stories as grand adventures, romanticising them, while Michiko and Hajime grapple with the weight of their experiences.
Identity & belonging: The clubs and associations Hajime joins represent his attempt to retain his cultural identity and establish a sense of belonging in a foreign land.
Shifting perceptions of heroes: The kamikaze pilots, once hailed as heroes, suddenly became symbols of national shame after the war, reflecting the changing societal views on wartime sacrifices. Note the parallel's with the artist in Ishiguro's "The Summer After the War".
Everyday struggles: Amidst the weight of wartime narratives, Michiko's struggles with her fussy eater daughter, Yuri, and her memories of hunger during the war offer a glimpse into the mundane yet very real challenges of daily life.
Cultural insights: The narrative provides insights into Japanese culture, such as the importance of group belonging, the significance of regional dialects, and cultural associations, highlighting the nuances and complexities within Japanese society.
Contrasts: The stark contrast between wartime sacrifices and post-war normalcy is evident in the scene where former naval officers meet and reminisce about the war at a restaurant, juxtaposed against their current roles in trade and industry.
Friendship and connection: Hajime’s relationship with Tokugawa and Saburo shows the deep connections formed during wartime and the importance of shared experiences.
The complexity of patriotism: The sacrifices expected of individuals in the name of national pride and patriotism are depicted through the rigorous training and the challenges faced by the characters. The story raises questions about the true nature of loyalty and the costs of allegiance.
War documents: Hajime and Saburo collect over a hundred documents related to the Tokkotai, a group of WWII Japanese pilots better known as kamikaze. Hajime leaves for Australia and leaves the collection with Saburo. In Sydney, Hajime meets Ken Tokugawa, a businessman who strongly believes in reviving the 'kamikaze spirit'. Tokugawa joins business elites rebuilding Japan post-war. Tokugawa uses Hajime’s collection to counter the narrative that paints the kamikaze pilots as victims.
Don: Hajime meets Don in Australia. Don is hired to find business opportunities for Hajime's trading company. Thanks to Don's connections, Hajime’s company brokers a major coal deal. Hajime's family frequently hosts Don. Hajime's daughter, Yuri, grows fond of Don. Rumors circulate that Don is being wooed by another company. Hajime fires him pre-emptively. Years later, Hajime's company invests heavily in an Australian coal mine. Hajime recalls moments with Don, including lighthearted moments about claiming the mine. Yuri remembers Don as a gentle figure in her life, but recalls a poignant conversation with him about trust and wartime experiences. Don reveals to Hajime his POW experience in Nagasaki during WWII and how he saw the atomic bombing. Don's recounting of his sympathetic view towards the Japanese creates distance between him and Hajime. Yuri's last interaction with Don is an intimate conversation, marking the first time she feels deeply understood by an adult. Don's departure leaves a significant impact on Yuri.
Discussion questions for pages 8 to 19
Yuri sees war stories as adventures, while her parents see them differently. Why do you think this is? How does the way we talk about war change how young people see it?
How do Hajime's actions to honor the kamikaze pilots show the way people remember and view heroes?
Hajime and Don had very different war experiences. What do their interactions tell us about trust and understanding between people from different backgrounds?