Before comparing the novels The Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama and In the Realm of a Dying Emperor written by Norma Field, it is very important to describe the historical events, which are tied to the subjects of the books.
By the outbreak of World War II, Emperor Hirohito, who was ruling in Japan, decided to participate in it. Hirohito signed the treaty, named the Tripartite Pact, in which Japan, Germany, and Italy reached the agreement to make a military alliance.
This decision has cost Japan great efforts, suffering, devastation, and casualties wrought by war. Japan lost the war and after the capitulation, the structure of the country was needed reorganization. Hirohito or Emperor Sh%u014Dwa has not been held publicly accountable for war crimes. After the war, he was the symbol of Japan's recovery and the new state. During his reign, Japan had become a strong and rich country.
The novel The Harp of Burma (or Biruma no Tategoto) by Michio Takeyama was published in 1946. This book was written after the end of World War II. At that time, most of the people felt happy because there was no danger. They tried to restore balance in their life, but it wasn’t so easy to heal the scars of war, repair the ravages of war. That is why a lot of museums were opened and the books written in memory of those who died during the war.
Michio Takeyama was not a supporter of the Tripartite Pact. Other Japanese could not understand Hirohito’s decision. After the treaty, Japan participated in World War II and created a military administration inside the country. The result was very tragic: devastating defeat in the war, financial crisis, and disdainful global public opinion about the Japanese army. After the war, the information about the cruelty of Japanese soldiers got spread far and wide.
The Novel The Harp of Burma
The novel The Harp of Burma of Michio Takeyama disproved the myth of the cruelty of the Japanese army and showed the real unfeigned feelings of these soldiers, who, by virtue of a number of circumstances, found themselves face to face with death. Though the novel was not about death or war, it was about the feelings which flooded over people when they involved in difficult life situations and could not change anything.
It was a story about a group of soldiers, who, during the war, were practising choral singing. One of the main characters Mizushima had a harp, on which he was played. The Harp of Burma began with:
“We certainly did sing. Whether we were happy or miserable, we sang. Maybe it is because we were always under the threat of battle, of dying, and felt we wanted to so at least this one thing well as long as we were still alive.” (Takeyama 11).
It showed the reader that only the singing songs helped them. Once the sound of a harp was saved them a life. In Burma, where they had been fighting the British troops, a lot of them were having many tropical diseases; also the soldiers knew that Allied Bombing was destroyed Japan and they were not sure that their families were survived. Only singing songs helped them to raise the fighting spirit, instil the necessary discipline and retain unwavering faith in the affluent future. They knew that the war was lost and did not want to fall on the field of battle for nothing.
After getting a word about finishing the war, this group of soldiers, like other Japanese units, decided to surrender to the enemy. The British respected them. One day the British captain told them that he wanted to send the Japanese soldier to the jungle because one of the Japanese units did not know about the end of the war. Mizushima volunteered to do it, knowing that this trip would be very dangerous. He would never come back. He lived as a Burmese monk. In the jungle, Mizushima became a Buddhist. There, he saw the fallen soldiers and decided to bury their bodies. His unit got its liberty and was sent back to Japan. This story was narrated by one of the Japanese soldiers in the first person, which is why the novel showed the readers the horrors of World War II and taught them not to forget human values.
The book of Norma Field In the Realm of a Dying Emperor was published in 1993. The author was born after the end of World War II. Even though her perception of the war was not an eyewitness account, her novel was interesting in terms of war details. Norma Field was born in Tokyo, where she grew up. After finishing high school, she went to America to visit her father. After returning home, she saw the democracy, which Field named repressive. A postwar country could not forget the war and was struggling against the crisis inside the country. The Realm of a Dying Emperor was covered in 1989, which was the year of Hirohito’s death.
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The book consisted of three chapters. These chapters were possible to read separately, but each part worked together with the others in an interlocking way, and such that the whole idea would fail unless each part was present.
The first chapter called Okinawa was about the supermarket owner Chibana, who burnt the Japanese flag before the beginning of the national competitions in Okinawa. He made it because he thought that this dismal symbol could not fly over his town. For the supermarket owner, it was represented the cruel actions, which had a place in the battle between Japanese and American armies, and the presence of American soldiers in Okinawa. It was his protest against the returning to the flagpole. Some citizens supported Chibana, others advised him to forget the past. He was attacked by a group of people who burnt his store. They did not like that he criticized the country and the symbols. Chibana was not the only one with such belief. A lot of people thought identically. They did not like how the Emperor manipulated the state. After the occupation, the Japanese in Okinawa expected the stabilization and improvement of the quality of their life. Though, Americanization only brought problems. The flag was the symbol of their past, which they could forget.
The second chapter named Yamaguchi was about Nakaya Yasuko. During the sixteen years, she was fighting against the system of the Emperor. It was the protest of the deification of her husband after his death. It was the only story, which did not deal with World War II and the struggle. The deification was the ritual of fighting and dying for the empire and the Emperor. The policies of the government and practices relating to military issues were inconsistent. Field tried to show a reader how the government bent the constitutional law for retaining the emperor system.
The third chapter The Mayor was about the Nagasaki mayor, who decided that the Emperor was guilty of World War II and of the atomic bomb, which was dropping on his city. Also, he was the object of the unsuccessful attempt to kill him. In this chapter, the author showed that with the Emperor’s death the entire system was also slowly dying, and the country was waking up.
Both books were devoted to Japan, but the time frame of the novel The Harp of Burma was World War II and the novel In the Realm of a Dying Emperor was the postwar period. Both books were about the government of Emperor Hirohito and the participation of Hirohito in the war. The authors were judging his actions.
A very interesting fact was presented in the novel The Harp of Burma. The author described the Japanese soldiers, who did not want to fall on the field of battle for nothing. They could not understand the main idea of this war, but they did not have a choice. The thought about useless death showed a reader that the Japanese soldier was not a mindless person, who only wanted to die in the name of his Emperor, named Imperial God. Why Imperial God? For many centuries Japanese blindly served Emperors and fulfilled all their orders without thinking. At that period the Emperor was equal to God. In the 20th century, this meaning was changed.
The novel In the Realm of a Dying Emperor has presented the same meaning about the cult of the Emperor. In the second chapter, Yamaguchi Field told the story about attempts to deify the man and to show everybody that he died in the name of his Emperor. His wife did not agree with it and she did not want to live complacent with a thought about the deification of her husband by the state.
In the twentieth century, the people got through hell and wished to live in peace with their families. The cult of the Emperor was ingrained.
No accident that in the novel The Harp of Burma the author described how Japanese’s troops surrendered to the British. Norma Field in her book also touched on the subject of captivity. In her case, the story was not about the imprisoned soldiers, but about the civilians.
When Hirohito understood that the war was lost, he was afraid that the people would take the American’s side, that is why the Emperor sent out the order to commit suicide and to not be prisoners.
Their suicides were equal to the spiritual status of soldiers who died in combat. More than ten thousand Japanese committed suicide. It happened in the last days of the war. In the first chapter Okinawa Field described the analogic situation, which was in Okinawa. There the citizens needed to sacrifice themselves and showed the enemy the power, and proved equality with other people in Japan.
The novel of Takeyama showed the war inside, with his drama of the young soldier, and the novel of Field described the civil meaning about war and politic in the country. In the book The Harp of Burma, people died in the battle, and in the book, In the Realm of a Dying Emperor, the citizens were risking their lives in the postwar time expressing their views on the political and historical life of Japan.
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In the novel Of Takeyama, the soldiers were killed by the enemy and in the novel Field, the country and its system were killed by the civil. The end of both books was very encouraging. The authors believed in the affluent future of Japan. Takeyama thought that it would be after the finishing of the Word War II and Field showed that it was possible only after changing and reorganization the emperor system. Both books recommended never forget the past, they had a common idea: showing Japan’s political life and the meaning of people about it.
Emperor Hirohito made a lot of mistakes during his reign. Though, till the end of his days, he was a well-known Japanese person. The Emperor played a great role in restoring the country’s diplomatic image. He was travelling abroad and was meeting with many leaders of foreign countries, including American presidents.
His government was distinguished by the transformation of Japan into a country with a large economy. During his reign, Japan became a strong country, but it also experienced many misfortunes and mortifications.
The novels of Takeyama and Field are amazing books. They affirm the values of Buddhism and taught not to forget about the past. These books are the cultural treasure of Japan.
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