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John Smith in 1976


John Smith in 1976

Hajime Kuribayashi

It was the day after my graduation ceremony when I was 18 years old. I had a hazy feeling.
Three years had passed very quickly since the enrollment ceremony that I attended after passing the entrance examination of the super elite school dubbed the “Hibiya High School of Aichi.”
When I entered my classroom for the first time, I found a flier on my desk encouraging students to support the Sanrizuka Struggle.
“Nagoya University students from the Kakumaru-communist league are coming to organize us,” I heard someone say.
I could scarcely believe my ears.
At the school with the most liberal atmosphere in the prefecture, one out of every three students in the upper grades wore their own clothes.
My pride and pleasure as a student of the super elite school evaporated before the end of the first half of my first year. Although I had been an honor student at my rural junior high school, I was quickly downgraded to just “one of many mediocre students.”
My grades fell to 360th place out of the 400 students. Although I first felt relieved that I was not at the bottom, I found that 40 students belonged to the art course, meaning that I was in last place of all the students in the regular course. Realizing this fact, I was devastated. I learned that when people were utterly depressed, they would give a wry smile.

At the graduation ceremony, my memory of those three years made me feel sad.
In those days, traces of the atmosphere of the students’ Anpo struggle in 1970 remained strong. When students were encouraged to sing the national anthem Kimigayo in unison with the hoisting of the Rising Sun flag on the stage, no students stood up. Everyone remained seated wearing a sardonic smile. The teachers also smiled bitterly. We had been asked by the central committee in advance not to stand up, making me feel that I would be treated as a traitor if I stood up.
It was then that a sudden sound erupted. I saw a solitary female student standing up. She began to sing Kimigayo alone, with her cheeks slightly glowing. A quiet buzz spread throughout the venue.
The student was Kan-san. I was in the same class as this Korean girl in the first year. She was an energetic, cheerful, big-sister type student, popular among the few female students, making her highly recognizable even among the male students.
I thought she was great. To support her, I wanted to stand up, but since nobody seemed to follow her, I ended up failing to do so.
I had a hazy feeling about my lack of courage. Why did she stand up? I assumed that she was against authority and far removed from the so-called reactionary conservatives, who would stand up for the national flag. Also, even though I felt that I was not a reactionary conservative, either, why did I have a hazy feeling in that situation and want to stand up together with her?

Continuing to ask myself these questions again and again from the previous day, I went to school to pick up my things that I had left in my club room.
At the school gate, I ran into Kan-san, who was running from outside.
She said that she was at school to participate in her club’s last training.
I asked her the questions that I had had from the previous day.
“Kan-san, why did you stand up yesterday? I didn’t expect you to do that.”
“I felt it was somewhat weird.”
“Yes. All the students are forced to behave the same way. Isn’t it weird?”
I felt that was why I had a hazy feeling. It was weird that all the students obeyed the order and pressure stemming from the premise that those who did not refuse to stand up were not “young people.”
I agreed with her, saying “That’s not rock and roll.”
“Well, maybe not,” said Kan-san with a bitter smile.
“Didn’t the central committee say anything to you?”
“I told them, ‘It’s John Smith.’ Then they smiled and said it was just like a student of this school to behave that way.”
We had learned about John Smith in the previous month’s current history class covering a Republican Party episode during the U.S. presidential campaign in 1956. All the delegates were expected to vote for Eisenhower as the candidate, but one delegate voted for a fictious “John Smith” in opposition to the totalitarianism.
“Great! You’re definitely worthy of this school! I admire you. I didn’t have the courage to do that.”
“But you had a hazy feeling, right?”
“Yes, in a big way. I feel hazy when I’m forced to do something, even if it’s for the sake of justice.”
“That’s because you’re a student of this school after all. We are always thinking what freedom is.”
So saying, Kan-san waved to me and returned to her training.
Her remark “you’re a student of this school after all” dispelled my hazy feeling.
In the school yard, where she was running, there was a line of cherry trees. I saw the blue sky through their branches, which bore swollen, pale-pink buds. I thought that when the buds opened, the school would welcome new students.