Eriko Makimura is a Japanese pianist and performer, based in Kobe, Japan. Eriko is a part of the NXT Community and has contributed to The NXT magazine with a personal story of her birth city Gojo and the life of her grandfather.
By Eriko Makimura
Gojo is a city where I decided to become a pianist.
Gojo is a city where my grandfather, who made an enormous impact on me, spent his entire life.
My grandfather was a doctor, a Buddhist scholar, an author, a pioneer of organic farming, a lifelong advocate of human justice and a huge classical music lover.
Here is his personal story and the story of the place to which I have been deeply connected since I was a little baby.
He was born here in Gojo, Nara, the third son of his ancestral shrine in 1920.
In 1939, the war with China escalated and word on the death in combat of his eldest brother, reached my grandfather’s family. A devout follower of Buddhism, one of the things the brother wrote in his testament, was that he wanted my grandfather to go to medical school, so that he could serve in the medical corps. The brother felt a deep contradiction between his Buddhist faith and the killings of war.
After the death of my grandfathers brother, his wife delivered a boy who never saw his father.
My grandfather graduated from the medical department of Kyoto University and was immediately drafted into the Japanese armed forces as a medic and sent to the Philippine frontline, due to World War II.
The Philippine Front
The first year in the Philippines was a rather quiet one, with most of his time spent on guard-duty.
At the end of December 1944, the American landing at the Gulf of Lingayen began, bringing on a bitter battle between Japanese and American forces.
At the beginning of February 1945, the mechanized unit he was in, advanced towards the frontline along the Agno River. The deafening explosions of the cannon balls, the distinct unpleasant odour of gunpowder, the wretched figures of the injured and dead, the nauseating stench, the fierce starvation and thirst, and the lice and swarms of flies that accompanied them in the trenches, painted a picture of the battlefield as a veritable hell on earth. They were driven back by the overwhelming firepower of the Americans. Lacking nutrition, the Japanese army looked like walking skeletons.
My grandfather worked with the medical corps and tried to aid the dead.
He was finally wounded in the leg, and the wound suppurated immediately. Dragging his festering right leg that had swollen up to the thigh, he encouraged the other injured soldiers to move north, to where the main Japanese forces were holding out.
They wandered through the deep jungles of the mountains in excruciating pain from their wounds, living on mushrooms growing from rotted trees. My grandfather was practically dead from starvation, yet, as he was a Buddhist, he couldn’t even get himself to kill one single crab; the only edible animal he could find.
As it was the middle of the monsoon season, they had no stars to guide them and they lost their sense of direction, walking deeper into the mountains. The Philippine mountaintops at a height of 1300-1500 meters, were extremely cold.
One after another, soldiers died from hunger and the cold, only leaving my grandfather and two other injured alive. On the brink of starvation, they wandered through the mountains till they were discovered by some Igorot tribesmen. They were captured after a short scuffle.
The Igorot Tribe
The person who was given responsibility to execute my grandfather was a man with eyes that pierced right through you. As he checked through my grandfather’s belongings, the Igorot man asked him –
“Can you speak English?!”
My grandfather answered that he could.
“You are a doctor, aren’t you?!”
Again, my grandfather answered yes.
“What a ruthless bunch of animals you Japanese are!” the man said with hate implanted on his face. “We are a peaceful group of Catholics living in this mountain area. You people invade us, burn our villages, and kill the women and children. You Japanese are a ruthless bunch of animals!”
From that moment, the two men entered an intense and deep conversation. The man who was preparing to die and the man who was about to execute, spoke without end.
The Igorot listened to my grandfather’s explanation and suddenly he blurted out – “Doctor, you are peaceful and good minded!”
Then he loosened the ropes that bound my grandfather and brought him some water, some salt, and a sweet potato.
“Doctor,” he continued, “I respect you. However, we have to kill all Japanese and I have to kill you…”
My grandfather replied that he understood, and then he placed himself in the lotus position.
It became dark, and suddenly very cold. The Igorots lit a fire to warm him and they gave him some soup to drink. He was overwhelmed with fatigue and fell into a deep sleep as soon as he finished the soup.
My grandfather was awakened from sleep by his interrogator, who was holding an old-fashioned American shotgun. A young boy, who might have been his own son, carrying a thick rope made from intertwined vines. Thinking that the time had come for his execution. Instead, the boy was told to carry my grandfather on his back. Carried in the direction away from the village where, he thought, they were going to finally execute him. Still exhausted, he fell sleep once again.
When he awoke, it was bright daylight outside and the two Igorots were eating bananas and sweet potatoes. They offered him some, but he did not have the energy to eat anything. Again, the boy put him on his back and they continued moving ahead.
When he was finally awakened, he found to his distress that they were surrounded by American soldiers.
Shocked at first as to his predicament, he decided that there was nothing to do but refuse all offered to him, as soldiers of the Japanese army, officers especially, had an ironclad rule that, under absolutely no circumstances were they to be captured by the enemy.
“Put some life into you!” a man said in broken Japanese. “By the Geneva Agreement on prisoners of war, you will be sent home soon. You can go home. Look alive.” The man was a second-generation Japanese-American from Hawaii.
“Good-bye, doctor,” said the Igorot, who was standing close by. His eyes were radiant.
There was no reason for him, after being captured by this tribe, to be given the chance to continue his life. And yet, the impossible had happened.
As a Prisoner of War
He was not sent to Muntinlupa, a Japanese prison camp, but admitted to an American hospital near Baguio, where he received warm treatment. Three shifts of military police took turns guarding Japanese to prevent American soldiers from taking out their hostility on them. His injuries had recovered to a certain extent and he was moved to a minimal care hospital in the northern coastal city of San Fernando.
There he was able to walk with a limp and was transferred again, this time to a hospital in Muntinlupa that was full of undernourished Japanese soldiers who, after arriving, would die one after the other, perhaps from an emotional release after being saved.
The hospital was in a state of confusion as the few American doctors stationed there, were not able to see the overflow of patients interned. There was also a language problem preventing them from communicating with the patients. Though his leg was not completely healed, my grandfather began helping the doctors, as he could not sit back and let the situation continue in this way. Soon he came to be regarded as staff member at the hospital. Thanks to medical experts, his leg, along with a facial injury sustained during his capture by the Igorots, healed completely.
Disbandment And After
In the fall of 1946, he was returned to Gojo, a city whose green mountains he never expected to set foot on again. His initial feeling was one of sorrow for friends who were not able to return with him.
My grandfather then set up his medical clinic in his hometown Gojo in 1952. After setting up the clinic, he began to notice the adverse affects that agricultural chemicals were having on the patients he was treating. In 1959, he went public with his research findings, on the hazards of applying chemicals to agriculture. Unfortunately, his findings and appeals for action were not accepted by his audience who were blind to the deadly affects of these chemicals. He received multiple death threats by mail and all the windows in his house were broken with stones. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries referred to him as “the great idiot”.
This rejection threw my grandfather into a deep depression.
He came to understand that the basis of medical science lay in agriculture and began studying agricultural science. He founded an organization that served to direct the business side of the organic farm in Gojo. On the farm, he strove to promote organic agriculture throughout Japan while producing chemical-free organic agricultural products for the surrounding area. His efforts have eventually resulted in neighbouring farmers coming to support and practice organic farming techniques on their farms.
The fruits and vegetables grown on my grandfather’s organic farm in Gojo are now distributed by the market organizations to his members, some of whom live far away from anywhere in Japan.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
My grandfather deeply admired L.v.Beethoven, and he was fluent in German and wrote all the German lyrics of “Ode to Joy” in Japanese katakana alphabet for me, when I was five or six years old. I memorised the song and sang aloud together with him, probably to the surprise of his patients in the waiting room.
I can still sing it by heart.
I now believe that this memory can be the subconscious reason to why I later decided to study classical music in Germany.
On May 17, 1993, my grandfather died after 73 years of selfless service to those around him.
My grandfather’s Memorial Museum was founded in Gojo and his old examination room at the clinic, where I spent a lot of time as his naughty granddaughter, was relocated into the museum by family members.
Freude… The Ode to Joy. It still seems almost like yesterday that my grandfather sang in the examination room in his beloved place, Gojo.
The NXT: Being of Place
In the second edition of our magazine The NXT we examine the theme Being of Place. Through articles, assignments, sensings and images, we unfold the many notions of place. With contributions from, among others, philosopher Benjamin Christensen, voice-engagements by operasinger Lucie Cure, interview with founder of Sisters Hope Gry Worre Hallberg, article about the New European Bauhaus case, Stedets Væsen, by artist Madeleine Kate McGowan, reflections from researcher in time Christina Berg Johansen and many more amazing people. Through art, philosophy and visual activism, we wish to explore a new laguage, for a new time.