Japanese Army stragglers and memories of the war in Japan, by Beatrice Trefalt

By Beatrice Trefalt

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Men in rural areas in particular were in contact with the Army’s ethos for much of their lives. 32 Liable for military service at twenty, they then joined the Reservists’ Association where they remained until the age of forty. 33 Some men were therefore in direct contact with Army views from the age of around sixteen to that of forty. The effect of such training was not to be erased immediately on 15 August 1945, and those aged forty in that year were after all only seventy-five by the time the last straggler returned.

The families of prisoners of war were simply told they were dead. 50 As we will see in the next chapter, such ideas also informed those responsible for the tally of soldiers ‘missing in action’ during the repatriation of demobilized troops immediately after the war: the ready 22 The shared past: mobilisation for war assumption that such missing soldiers must have died was part of the reason why the stragglers’ return was so unexpected. The stragglers’ return also raised the complicated issue of the continuing reign in post-war Japan of the Emperor, for whom, symbolically at least, Japanese soldiers had given their lives during the war and for whom, symbolically, the stragglers had remained in hiding after the war ended.

31 Thus, while the high rate of participation in Armycontrolled associations does not automatically indicate that the military’s attempts to inculcate its values in the population were a success, it is important to note that involvement in government-sponsored associations had become a relatively well-established part of public life by the 1930s. Such associations undeniably forged important links between the Army and society as a whole. The return of stragglers in the post-war period therefore raised issues that resonated with a large section of the population.

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