Several soldiers came to us one after another and said “Tokyo, burnt; Osaka, burnt; Yokohama, burnt.” I figured that they were trying to tell us that the big cities in Japan had all burnt down. They also asked repeatedly if we knew that the battleship Yamato was sunk and that therefore Japan had no battleships or fighter jets left to fight. When the day’s work was over, they made us sit on chairs and turned on the radio. “The flower of Shiokide island / scatters without being seen / if I am destined to be the same / cry for me, Makomo moon . . .” The female singer’s voice I used to listen to lightened me up. The American soldiers asked us if we knew Tokyo Rose, but we had no idea who they were referring to.
Norio Watanabe, Nigeru Hei [Fleeing Soldiers] (Bungeisha, 2000)

On the beach near my home in Kume Island, Okinawa, the American army built a concentration camp after the war. There, Japanese captives listened to the radio with the Americans. I never knew about it.

Tokyo Rose was a mysterious female radio broadcaster on Japanese propaganda radio programs in English targeted at the Allied forces during the WWII. The purpose of the program was to disrupt the morale of the enemies, but somehow she became popular among the soldiers, for her character and the sad music she often played. What did she play? Reading her biography, she reminded me of Hanna Schygulla in R. W. Fassbinder’s Lili Marlene. In the film, Schygulla sang Lili Marlene with the Hakenkreuz behind her. It was the only scene I still remembered from the movie, which was my least favorite of his works. In reality, the song Lili Marlene was popular among soldiers of both sides during WWII. Marlene Dietrich recorded the song in German for the American Office of Strategic Services, alongside other German songs. The OSS aired the song for the German audience on purpose aiming to lower their morale, just like Tokyo Rose did. Had this song ever been played on Japanese radio during the war? I wondered.

Underneath the lantern
By the barrack gate
Darling I remember
The way you used to wait
‘Twas there that you whispered tenderly
That you loved me
You’d always be
My Lili of the lamplight
My own Lili Marlene

Orders came for sailing
Somewhere over there
All confined to barracks
‘Twas more than I could bear
I knew you were waiting in the street
I heard your feet
But could not meet
My Lili of the lamplight
My own Lili Marlene
Hans Leip (English translation by Tommie Connor), “Lili Marlene”

This song about a soldier in love reminded me of Nishinjo Bushi, an old Okinawan folk song, or the American pop song Road to Naminoue that became a hit among the Americans in postwar Okinawa. What all the songs have in common is the presence of a gate that separates the lovers. The lovers are forever separated in the eternity of music. That’s a bit cruel, I thought.

(C) 2012-2015 Futoshi Miyagi