The train I take to work is a "sub-express" train; it doesn't stop between my hometown station and my work station, making the trip in a brisk 14 minutes. Today as the train pulled away from the station, a Very Old Guy got up from his seat, and walked over to the door, near where I was standing. As I was busy fussing with my iPod, untangling my headphones, and mussing with my new sunglasses, he kept sidling up closer to me. Right about the moment I got my earbuds in, the music playing, and entirely settled for the ride, the Very Old Guy took off his sunglasses and started talking to me. I scrambled to get everything un-done, unfastened, and said "Sorry... What...?"
"AMERICAN SOLDIER?!"Oh, boy.
When a guy this old asks that question, I don't know what's coming next. I just answered honestly, "No, just American," and waited to hear what was coming. It turns out that this guy was an exchange student to MIT earlier in life, studying engineering -- steelmaking, specifically. He was at MIT in 1941 on a fellowship from Sumitomo or Mitsubishi (I forget which) and was to be there a whole year, but was called home early because "things got busy." He said there was a lack of English translators, so he had to go back and work. But he was making steel, and said it became very hot, and there was a lot of dust. So it's not clear what the translation part of his job was. He said 80% of his friends are long dead, mostly from cancer, he thinks it was caused from the dust from steel manufacturing. Steel manufacturing post-1941 in Japan, I can only guess that it was all for the war effort, which Japan had already been staging for a few years by that point. I asked him when he was called back to Japan... what month he was called back to Japan, wondering how far ahead of December 7
it might have been. I've been on the receiving end of the A-bomb question several times, but this is the first time to know what it feels like to be on the opposite side
of that question. But he may not even realize about the significance of Pearl Harbor. As I understand it, the event that directly lead the USA into the war in the Pacific is not given much special mention in the Japanese history books.
Then again, he also said he is 70 right now, meaning he was 3 years old when he went to MIT. I suspect he is well over 80, from the grey-blue ring around the outside of his otherwise light-brown irises. If he's 85 now, he would have been 18 at the time, and that's reasonable to believe. I'm not so sure about the 30-year-old girlfriend he claimed to be on his way to meet, for a date in Namba.