by Elous Telma
Chapter 8: Toes in the Water
Apparently, J-Cap had had a tumultuous upbringing. He was by no means a problem child, and his family was a normal middle-class quiet family living in the suburbs of one of the largest Japanese cities — Mari wasn’t sure which one. But something happened between him and his family that forced him out of the house even before he became an adult.
He was dealt a really tough situation. Many people in Japan had similar problems, and many had handled them without much drama. But not J-Cap. Mari had to backtrack a little and start a complicated story from the beginning.
One of the great injustices in history was its recording — or lack thereof — of events that happened in Japan and Japanese-controlled areas during World War II.
At the end of the First World War, Japan earned the reputation of a supremely civilized power who had cared for their prisoners of war; at the end of the war they returned a vast number of prisoners in good shape to their countries of origin. Twenty years later, Japan built special units where prisoners of war — men, women, and children — were subjected to unspeakable torture and experimentation that dwarfed most Nazi atrocities.
In these units, like the most infamous one, Unit 731, prisoners were referred to as “logs” to strip them from any label of humanity and to cover the true purpose of these units. Cholera experimentation was a major focus of the research.
Infectious diseases were tested on prisoners, and germ warfare attacks were made in China, killing almost half a million people through diseases like cholera, anthrax, and plague. Damage to prisoners was assessed with vivisections involving denial of anesthesia or pain medication.
The efficacy of grenades and other explosives and all sorts of weapons was tested on prisoners. Those who survived, mutilated and amputated, were then often used for infectious-disesase experiments, given the plague and then vivisected. People were mutilated, amputated, frozen, infected, bombed, shot, and burned over the years of the operation of these units.
Historians had not been fast at setting the record straight. Most people learned of these things by their own reading, after they had finished school. J-Cap had learned of that darkest chapter in Japanese history mostly by his own extracurricular reading. Learning these things felt to him like being cut in half. The operation of these units was overseen by the highest ranks of the Empire. Emperor Hirohito’s brother, a biologist, had visited these units repeatedly.
At the end of the war, U.S. forces and Japan made a deal to prevent the Soviets from getting their hands on the research results, which could help them establish their own biological warfare program. With the Cold War looming, the U.S. chose exclusivity to the Japanese data in exchange for freedom for the Unit monsters. The Unit’s records did not make it to Nuremberg, and part of history was swept under the rug for decades. Many of the lead scientists got high-paid jobs in the Japanese bio-industry.
This knowledge rattled J-Cap. But it also made him wonder about his family’s involvement in the war. His grandfather on his father’s side had been in the war, but J-Cap wasn’t sure what he had done there. In fact, no one at home ever spoke about it. It was a taboo subject, and it hadn’t yet rung any alarm bells in J-Cap’s ears.
It was difficult to get many words out of his grandfather, who was a fairly unpleasant character and more often than not in a state of mild inebriation. When J-Cap asked him, while still a pupil in school, what he had done during the war, he got no answer, just a scolding from his mother to leave his grandfather alone. J-Cap kept at it; he realized that the family was hiding something.
J-Cap’s persistence paid off. During a family lunch, his grandfather, under the influence of too much alcohol and the annoyance inflicted by his grandson, went on a rant about his time in Unit 731.
J-Cap’s parents were mortified. The secret had been revealed to their adolescent child, and it could tear the fabric of the family apart. They were also livid at their son for poking into issues he should have kept out of.
J-Cap stared at his grandfather in anger as he heard him acknowledge his participation in the Unit. He was certain that no one went to such a place simply because they were following orders. Some form of complacency, even volunteering had to be involved. There was no respect left in J-Cap for his grandfather.
But he was still angrier at his parents for letting him grow up in the same house as with him. He recognized the weakness of his parents who now represented the conformist population of a country that had so brutally violated the most basic human rights.
His father wanted this conversation over and he would have gladly slapped his child to stop it. But there was too much intensity in J-Cap to touch him at that time.
His grandfather could sense it easily. Ending his rant, he claimed, “And if I had to do it again, I would do it all over again!”
“Would you?” asked J-Cap.
“Yes, I would,” shouted his grandfather back.
J-Cap turned away, disgusted by the spectacle of his grandfather. And at that moment, a powerful backhanded slap landed on J-Cap’s face. J-Cap didn’t see it coming as it was served from behind his back by his father, who thought such a stupid action would manage the crisis.
J-Cap’s face jolted left and downwards but he didn’t even blink. His grandfather saw this. His plan of action was set and it did not involve losing his temper at that time. He straightened his posture and calmly pointed his finger at his grandfather.
“Tomorrow, be sober,” he told him. And then he left.
“Ichiro!” his father called at him but J-Cap did not reply, turn, or slow down.
J-Cap spent the night in a field, wondering how the most basic human emotions, those a person has for their family, could vanish so totally, completely, in an instant. They hadn’t dissipated; they had disappeared as if they had never been.
His parents were harboring the worst kind of war criminal. Blood ties were no excuse. He thought it would be intimidating having a torturer as a father, but that was no excuse either. He knew what he had to do and he had to do it in a state of calmness to demonstrate that his actions were not out of passion and impulse but out of reason and method.
On the next day, he returned home before lunch time. His parents and grandfather were there, and they didn’t know what to do. J-Cap appeared calm, stoic. His mother’s back was at the wall in denial, trying to stay out of the drama and hoping that things would just go back to normal.
Ichiro’s father’s body language suggested he was contemplating another slap, but his eyes revealed he didn’t have it in him. In fact, he was scared of his son as yesterday’s blow had seemed completely ineffective. He was in no place to be able to read his son’s state of mind or predict his actions.
The grandfather appeared sober indeed. J-Cap moved towards him without any hesitation and dealt him a front kick blow to the stomach. That hurled him backwards towards the wall breaking a small table between him and the wall. His grandfather fell down clutching his stomach.
As he started to get up, J-Cap dealt him another blow, a side kick to the right side of his face, which smashed his head on a large wooden cupboard. All he could do was groan as he tried to get up, but he could not. J-Cap’s parents were frozen stiff. J-Cap left the house never to return. He took none of his belongings with him.
J-Cap started a new life. He took scuba training and turned himself into an on-demand professional diver. He worked for the oil industry and on rescue operations, and he discovered a vastly exciting world in marine biology. He gathered enormous experience working with scientists and eventually teamed up with Taro, with whom he stayed for many years.
Taro appreciated many aspects of J-Cap’s personality and was happy to give him an increasing number of responsibilities. Over long conversations with Taro, who became a friend and mentor to him, J-Cap had come to realize that most people are capable of inflicting enormous suffering on others. The distinction comes from what makes each person do it. To protect loved ones? To feel powerful?
He could never reconcile his own greatest fear: judging his mother and discovering her reasons for accepting to be in the same house as his grandfather. It would tear him apart to think she may have had some sympathy or excuses for the atrocities. That possibility was so scary for J-Cap that he never contacted her, even when his father died some years later.
Copyright © 2015 by Elous Telma