Collected Writings of Gordon Daniels

Collected Writings of Gordon Daniels

Collected Writings of Gordon Daniels

Collected Writings of Gordon Daniels

Excerpt

As a child living in South Yorkshire during the Second World War, I heard little of Japan. Yet the little I heard left deep and lasting memories. A few days after Christmas 1941, when I was less than five, I accompanied my parents on a visit to my uncle and aunt's home in nearby Mexborough. Japan's recent entry into the war was a prominent subject of adult conversation and my aunt dramatically declared: 'Isn't it terrible, the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor; they say it's a beautiful place.' Clearly, my aunt knew nothing of Pearl Harbor's military installations. Nor did I.

I simply concluded that the Japanese were barbaric people who had deliberately destroyed a place of unique beauty. Having a rather vivid imagination I presumed that Pearl Harbor was an atoll made of pure pearl. Those who had attacked it were unquestionably beings of unique malevolence. It must have been in the same weeks that I heard my parents speaking in hushed tones of the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse-but I was unaware of which Axis Power had successfully attacked them. Soon, my notion of the nefarious Japanese was supported by more immediate experience. During preparations for one wartime Christmas my mother clearly explained the differing characteristics of British and Japanese products. Of our Japanese Christmas tree lights, whose glass forms were copied from Chōchin, she commented: 'These don't work properly-the Japanese always make things like that.' I simply assumed that the failings of these decorations were the result of deliberate Japanese intent-another example of malevolence. In contrast, British-made Christmas lights were described as reliable-reflecting the upright character of their makers.

Nevertheless, in these childhood years I could also be perplexed by representations of things Japanese. On a visit to our house my Mexborough aunt did once refer to Japanese atrocities against babies in Hong Kong or Singapore; but my children's books included surprisingly picturesque depictions of Japanese life and culture. One story was set in a plate-sized, miniature Japanese garden-replete with red torii and lightly arched bridges. I felt distinctly uneasy at this book's picturesque illustrations. Why-I asked myself, did its author choose the nefarious Japanese as subjects for a story?

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