Tom Marsh - Take a Bow

There were a bunch of Korean men and women working in the shipyard. These Koreans were virtually prisoners and had very little use for the Japs and were always glad to annoy or humiliate them. They provided our boys with a good deal of correct information as to the progress of the war. I believe that both the Chinese and the Koreans had a well organized underground that functioned in Japan itself, and distributed news and supplies. Once while taking paint to a ship I was accosted by a smartly dressed Chinese Quartermaster who beckoning me aside slipped me a packet of cigarettes saying, I am Chino (Chinese) and then slipped furtively away.

The Koreans working along side the Canadians favored the Allies to win the war and often tried to ingratiate themselves tous, but when they came into our already crowded paint shop and crowded our boys away from the stove, and this after we had scrounged the fuel, we got mad and kicked them out.

“You scrounge your own fuel you yellow bastards.”

The Koreans were rather disappointed in us and retaliated by painting and saying, “Horyid”, which meant that we were cowards and had surrendered to the Japs. We did not care about this. The Japs and all Orientals seemed to place a lot of importance on what they call ‘losing face’. No matter how wretchedly poor you are supposed to be ashamed if you do not live up to the expectations of someone else, mostly those who are exploiting you. Emperor worship was one of these manifestations. Through the divinity of the Emperor the army and officialdom functioned. The rest of the population, or the majority of them, are his very neglected children. They are taught to obey without question first in the home where the father is supreme and the women do not count, and later in the school, workshop or army. The Jap believes everything the Government tells him. The way the war ended was expected and prepared for by the leaders but most of the people actually thought they were winning up to the very last. In the shipyard it was different. The workers had better means of knowing what was actually happening, especially to their shipping, than were the Japanese in other employment. Every day ships left never to return until finally most of the shipyard workers were convinced that the whole of Japan was surrounded by the American Fleet. Then came the bombers, those mighty fleets of American planes. Added to all this was the growing scarcity of food.

There was one little Jap whom I met in this shop who seemed better educated then the others. He had taken a sort of liking to myself and spent most of his time, when speaking to me, in defending the Japanese viewpoint.

“Japan he is refined and cultured. We like simplicity. America depends on machines. We depend on the spirit of our people.”

I knew enough at the time to foretell the early bombing of Japan and pointed out that the Americans already had Saipan. I asked, “Where is the Japanese fleet?” a question that some Japs themselves would like to have answered.

“Ah.” Said my informer, “Here we have the supreme cleverness of the headquarters staff and the Emperor. Let our enemies come closer and closer.” He gathered an imaginary fleet in his arms.

“ Closer, closer, then wham! Out springs the Imperial Navy and the Imperial Air Force joined by the Imperial Army. We have got you. The war is over. Japan has won!”

He walked away satisfied for the moment that it would be so. However another day he would say to me as we discussed the war, “America has everything. Japan has nothing. I am very sad. Maybe Japan will not win.”

To say anything like this was treason in Japan. They had spies everywhere to see that the people thought right and an outspoken confession of defeat would soon put the speaker behind bars and to applied torture.

Towards the end when food became very scarceand the bombing was severe there was a great relaxation of authority of the Japs over the prisoners. Even the Koreans beat up their guards. There was so much graft that the Jap civilian did not dare report a prisoner to the Army authorities for fear that the prisoner would tell them what he knew of the grafting activities of the complainant. One Jap said to me, “ Why don’t the Americans come? Why should they torture us like this.”

He seemed to hold the American people responsible for prolonging the war.

All over Japan they have Shinto Shrines, two posts with two logs across the top. This is a symbol something like our own cross and is revered throughout Japan. It is the Emperor’s trademark. It is placed outside of the homes of the people and everywhere else. Everyone bowed to it. It was amusing to see the Japanese workmen all hurry through the gate after their day of toil. There was a Shinto Shrine at the gate and some, in their haste to go home, would forget to bow. Guards would be alert and run out and grab them making them bow to the Shrine before they were allowed to proceed. Bowing is a full time accomplishment in Japan. The average Jap bows a hundred times a day. He bows to friends and neighbors, to strangers who approach him, to all military and government officials, and to every soldier on duty such as the guard at the gate. That is why he runs when he sees a soldier approaching. He may forget or overlook one of their number and be beaten for so doing.

One night I had the occasion to go outside my hut. I just went as I slept, naked. Because of the lice, bedbugs, and fleas which I tried to keep out of my garments. I passed a sentry and half asleep gave him a bob of the head. I had only gone a few paces when he shouted “KOO DA,” and brought me to a stop and to attention. He was a squat quarrelsome fellow who possibly, bored with his turn of sentry duty had determined to pass the time by baiting one of the Prisoners. This happened to be me. Luckily it was summer and a fairly warm night. The Jap jabbered and I understood that he was not satisfied with my bow. Sleep was still in my eyes. He then and there, out of the goodness of his shriveled heart, decided to give me a lesson in Japanese etiquette … how to be polite in the middle of the night, naked, and on the way to a necessary errand.

He drew himself up to his full five feet, put his bandy legs and splayed feet as closely together as possible, brushed imaginary dust off his tunic, which even at night I could see was filthy, dropped his hands to his sides and bowed to me form the waist about half way to the midriff. Then he recovered gave a satisfied smirk and said, “You bow!”

Shivering and miserable I kept bowing. He was not satisfied and repeated the performance. This went on for an hour. If torments there are in hell this must be one of them. This perverted tormenter had the power of death over prisoners and a false move or a blow on my part and I would not only die but also in all probability be tortured to death. This did happen to some of the prisoners in the camps.

Finally he tired and escorted me to the Guard House, There I was told to report to the Sergeant of the Guard for goodness knows what. The bowing one remained outside in the shadows. I went to the Guard House and found the Sergeant much annoyed at being disturbed. He wanted to know what I had done. I acted as dumb as I felt, shrugged, “ I do not know,” and taking him to the door pointed out the sentry peering from the shadows. The Sergeant spoke to the sentry and by the sound of his voice gave him a reprimand for disturbing the guard. He returned to me and admonished me for running around without clothes, this being disrespectful to constituted authority, that is, the Sentry. The next time I made sure I wore G-string and stopped to bow to the sentry in the middle of the night and while it was raining. Such is the importance the Japanese put on bowing.