KAI, Yamanashi Prefecture – The term conscientious objector was not coined when Takaichi Yamada decided to fake his own death to avoid military conscription in the Pacific War.
As the years passed and Yamada continued his life as a novelist writing on anti-war themes, he allowed the masquerade to continue, without even confiding in his departing wife or close friends.
His ruse involved forging his death certificate and other sleight of hand, and was not fully revealed until after his death at the age of 82 in 1990.
And that only happened because her son Shigehiko sought to put the pieces of the puzzle together decades after realizing for the first time that things about his family life weren’t right.
He thought something was wrong when he was in his third year of middle school and asked for a copy of the family’s registration to take a high school entrance exam.
The document provided all those years ago by local authorities had an “X” in the space to identify his father. This meant that his father was already dead as far as administration was concerned.
How is that possible, he wondered, thinking of his father working in front of a desk with a cigarette in his hand.
“Eh?” Shigehiko asked her mother.
She responded to her son’s amazement that the authorities considered his father dead “for various reasons”.
Decades later, Shigehiko, still a resident of Kai and now in his 80s, has finally put the story together.
What followed was pure detective work worthy of the many novels Takaichi wrote after the war.
It turned out that his father was called Takaichi but used a different kanji than his first name. He struck his name off the register in 1943 when he was 35 and the Pacific War was at its height.
Early in his life, Takaichi was deeply involved in a farmer emancipation movement and later, after starting work as a novelist, asked a doctor friend to provide him with a blank death registration form as material for a book he was writing.
He wrote down his name and cited pulmonary tuberculosis in the document as the cause of death. The name of a fictitious doctor was entered on the forged certificate as having made the diagnosis
Takaichi filled it out using his left hand to disguise his writing style and submitted the notice to local authorities.
A week later, a letter arrived from the local government office requesting “that a cremation or burial certificate also be sent.” While his wife seemed skeptical, Takaichi ignored the request, deciding to leave it all to fate.
Takaichi survived the war unscathed and never served on the front line as a soldier.
IDEA ESCAPED IN PRISON
During World War II, men as young as 20 were forced to undergo conscription tests. The age was then lowered to 19 when the war turned against Japan. Anyone receiving appeal orders, known as “akagami” (red paper) in Japan, had to enlist in the military.
The Military Service Law stipulated that those who attempted to evade conscription could face a maximum prison sentence of three years.
People tried to dodge the draft in various ways: one man cut his finger with an ax while another starved himself to empty his stomach before his conscription exam.
According to annual statistics from the Department of the Army, as many as 1,801 men attempted to escape conscription or escape responsibility in 1936.
Born into a poor farming family in central Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, Takaichi spent his youth as an apprentice. After turning 21, he joined a movement calling for lower farm rents in neighboring Yamanashi prefecture.
Takaichi has been in police cells 18 times, but he has never stopped seeking to improve the rights of impoverished farmers and their social status.
He started writing books at the age of 25 that depicted farmers and others whose lives were at the mercy of war.
His writing activities caught the attention of authorities and he ended up spending time behind bars.
An autobiographical title centered on a boy serving as a tile maker under the strict control of the citizens in wartime was determined by the police to promote an anti-war stance.
It was in prison that Takaichi had the daring idea of pretending to be dead.
“Few people considered war a crime during WWII, although the notion is now common,” Takaichi wrote in his fictional autobiography to explain what he was thinking at the time. “I was convinced that war was a serious crime. So I opposed the war. I erased my name from the family register so as not to serve as a soldier. It was the best I could do to express my opposition under the circumstances.
THE DECEPTION HAS BEEN MADE INDICALLY
How the family register was successfully amended with a forged certificate is a story in itself. Records show that Takaichi “passed away” on July 6, 1945, two years after submitting his death diagnosis.
“He (Takaichi) probably died in the bombing of Kofu (the capital of Yamanashi prefecture) in July 1945, which led to his death notice being accepted in the chaos that followed the war,” he said. said Toshinori Mishima, 74, a retired journalist who has written a critical biography on Takaichi.
It is still unclear how Takaichi was able to remain listed on his resident certificate after faking his death, but whatever the reason, this was clearly intended to ensure that his family did not suffer significant hardship due to his deception. earlier.
After the end of the war, Takaichi worked tirelessly on the publication of anti-war novels and essays. According to Mishima, he released “well over 100 tracks”. Takaichi at one point started an agricultural magazine where he was editor-in-chief.
His family and the authorities recommended Takaichi to correct his family register, but he did not budge. He simply said that this “represents a minimum of my anti-war will” and refused to offer a detailed explanation of his decision to stick to unregistered status even after the war ended and began. of democracy in Japan.
When Takaichi’s death in 1990 was covered in a newspaper, a letter arrived at the bereaved family home describing Takaichi as “unpatriotic”. The sender threatened to “set fire” to the mansion in a cover note.
Given that 3.1 million Japanese perished in the war and countless more were mobilized for the war effort, Shigehiko has mixed feelings about what his father did to avoid serving on his behalf. country.
Still, Shigehiko remains proud of his father. Among those who make him feel this is Hiroaki Nakajima, 87, a retired high school teacher who lives in Azumino Town, Nagano Prefecture, where Takaichi was born.
Six years ago, Nakajima republished Takaichi’s work as a book that was originally serialized in a magazine.
The title was lambasted for embodying an anti-war attitude in wartime. Nakajima and others hosted a history-based reflecting on war reading session to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.
“He (the writer) doesn’t evoke his protest against the war in an obvious way,” Nakajima said, explaining the appeal of Takaichi’s creations. “Instead, it portrays the everyday life of ordinary people. They lead tense lives under strict control. Representing such a small life makes readers aware that those days were nothing special. “
Nakajima, speculating on Takaichi’s motive, called him a man who “went so far as to cut ties with the state through his family registry to live with his beliefs.”
Living without a family register after the end of World War II clearly meant a lot to Takaichi by symbolizing his opposition to the war, Nakajima said, adding that he believed that position still represented something important today.