Aggressors' remorse: Koichi Okawara

Added On September 5, 2014

Wednesday was Victory Day of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.
China's anti-Japanese war in the 1930s and 1940s was an important part of the World Anti-Fascist War.
More than 35 million Chinese were either killed or injured during the eight-year conflict, which ended in September 1945 after Japan's official surrender.
Ahead of this year's commemorations, we have spoken to Japanese prisoners of war who were later released by the Chinese government, who expressed remorse for what they, and others had done in China seven decades ago.
Today we meet Koichi Okawara, who served with the invading Japanese army for years before being held captive by the former Soviet Union and then repatriated to China.
During the eight-year aggression, Japan sent a total of nearly 2 million soldiers to China.
Koichi Okawara was on of them. 
He came to China with in April 1943 and served as the sergeant of the artillery team of the 53rd Brigade, 59th Division of the Japanese army.
During the war, his troops were mainly stationed in east China's Shandong Province. It took part in the brutal Central and Northern Shandong Battles in autumn 1943 and adopted the notorious "Three Alls Policy," referred to "kill all, burn all and loot all."
Whenever the 92-year-old Japanese man recalled his days in China, he could not help slipping into deep remorse.
It's the agression war against China that turned an ordinary Japanese young man in early 20s to a cold-blooded killer.
SOUNDBITE(JAPANESE): KOICHI OKAWARA, Sergeant, 59th Division of Japanese Army, WWII
"Killing Chinese is a common training method of the Japanese infantry. Our team also received the training with no exception, so did I. The purpose of this training is to make killing be a habit, so that a soldier could kill Chinese anywhere anytime without cause. During a battle on Nov. 24, (1943), I killed a farmer dead without any cause when I stayed in his house. At the beginning, I wanted the new recruits to do so, but they're too frightened. So I picked the bayonet just like what I did in a daily training. I killed him while the new recruits watching on site."
Okawara's troops retreated to Manchuria in May 1945 and was taken captive by the Soviet forces three months later.
In 1950, Okawara was repatriated to China and held in custody in northeastern city of Fushun.
Six years later, he was exempted from prosecution and released along with other 1,016 Japanese war criminals. 
After he returned Japan, Okawara has committed to building up Sino-Japanese friendship. 
At the age of 45, he worked for the Association of Returnees from China, an organization aimed at exposing the atrocities of war, through testifying what they did on the battlefield in China.
Nearly 70 years after Okawara's days in China, Okawara still regrets the crimes he committed during Japan's aggression against China.
SOUNDBITE(JAPANESE): Koichi Okawara, Sergeant, 59th Division of Japanese Army, WWII
"I had committed heinous crimes against Chinese people. Whenever I offered my apology, first and foremost, I clearly gave the facts on what I did on Chinese people. I'm a sinful person. I was so stupid. My perception towards human beings and society were blind. The crimes I committed were very grave and heinous."
However, Okawara pointed out that so far, no one has shouldered the responsibility of starting the war, which led to an ignorance of the eight-year-war in Japan.
SOUNDBITE(JAPANESE): Koichi Okawara, Sergeant, 59th Division of Japanese Army, WWII
"Ignorance of war atrocities is very common in Japan. I hope to raise the awareness and called on my countrymen to oppose and reflect on the war. The Sino-Japanese war is aggressive and we should firstly make it clear that Japan is an invader anyhow. But on this regard, Japan's attitude is very ambiguous, as Japan did not clearly admit its aggression. Only several Japanese soldiers were sentenced to death in the Tokyo trial, while others escaped the punishment. No one clearly took the responsibility of starting the war. It's still unclear about who should bear the responsibility and what the war responsibilities are. So the Association of Returnees from China has been working along with young Japanese on removing the ambiguity."
In 2002, the Association of Returnees from China was disbanded as a national organization.
But its work did not stop. A group of younger activists named "Continuing the Miracle of Fushun Society" carried over the effort.
However, what Okawara and his fellows appealed in Japan has encountered opposition at home, as some Japanese politicians attempted to whitewash the history of aggression and colonialism.
But as Okawara said, Japan should face up history and the first move is to admit its war crimes.
The Sino-Japanese war has left trauma on both Chinese people and bilateral ties. 
Remembering history is not for hatred but for a perpetual peace.
Only by drawing lessons from the history, the tragedy could be avoided.
September 3 was designated as Victory Day decades ago by the Chinese government.
This year it's the first time that it's officially observed, after its legalization by China's top legislature in February.