By the late 1950’s I had pretty much recuperated from my wounds and the malaria attacks. My wife had left me for greener pastures, and I was getting accustomed to bachelorhood in New York City during the dawning sexual revolution that the Beatniks and later the Hippies would embrace. Though not yet much interested in dating, I accepted an invitation to a singles dance at Columbia University that was being organized by a friend of mine. She seemed determined to play matchmaker for me, and reluctantly I found myself dancing with a pretty Japanese exchange student, Taki. After a couple dances and small talk, Taki looked me in the eyes and said, “Joe, you seem a million miles away, don’t you like me?” Well, she was absolutely lovely, but how could I tell her of the other faces I could see in her face; that I had killed more than a hundred of her people during the war? But that is exactly what I told her; I gave her a short history of my time in New Guinea and my ten-year recovery. When she heard New Guinea she stiffened, and now she had the thousand-yard stare. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that her brother and two uncles had served in the Japanese Army in New Guinea, and had never returned. I caught her eye and I knew what she was thinking; I may have killed her own kin.
Then she said: “Joe, I have to tell you a story: One day late in the war, when I was just a ten year old schoolgirl, the schoolmaster came to our class and told us we were to have a special celebration. I was very curious, because it was not a holiday. He took us out to the schoolyard, where a bonfire had been set up, and we all roasted eel on long bamboo sticks. It was delicious, and we ate ravenously because very strict rationing was then in effect. After we finished eating, the schoolmaster showed us how to char the ends of the bamboo sticks, which were about four feet long, and then how to sharpen the ends to a fine spear point, using the concrete as a sharpening stone. As I wondered what kind of sport these were to be used for, the teacher told us to line up and follow him around the side of the school, where we were greeted by an odd sight. Lined up against the fence there were a couple dozen burlap rice bags stuffed with straw, with faces drawn on the top! Closer inspection revealed that the ‘dummies’ faces had round eyes! The headmaster then proceeded to demonstrate how to use the spears we had made to kill the barbarian American invaders, jabbing the spears into the faces with the round eyes. In this manner we girls were to dispatch the enemy wounded in the anticipated invasion of our homeland. We later found out that the boys had had similar training, but using grenades instead of spears.”
I was not all that surprised by Taki’s tale, because by then it was well known that Japan had been prepared to fight an all out battle for their homeland, with all citizens as combatants.
Later that night, while making love, I looked into her eyes, and suddenly I flashed back to those countless other pairs of Asian eyes that had looked back at me, with such a different emotion as I penetrated their bodies with my killing knife. Taki shared my bed for several months, and I showed her my New York; the Lower East Side, the great Museums and Galleries, American food, all of which she took to with a passion. One day she took me to her uncle’s Japanese restaurant in midtown Manhattan; it was a very odd experience for me to be surrounded by Japanese culture, and her big burly uncle scared the shit out of me with his shouted greeting “Mushi Mushi, Hai, Hai!” I never told her of the barrels of captured souvenirs, Japanese flags and swords, and other paraphernalia, that I had stashed away in the sub basement of my Dad’s shop down on Canal street.
Taki returned to Japan a few months later; we exchanged a few letters, then time and distance intervened and I never heard from her again.