“The Breaking Jewel” by Makoto Oda, a well-known Japanese writer notorious for his anti-war opinions and foreign policies of the United States since the Vietnam war, depicts war struggles for Japan and whether it was for glory or defeat. The original title for the book was “Gyokusai”, a Chinese word adopted by the Japanese meaning “banzai charge” or “the breaking jewel”. This idea was used when Japanese soldiers would use it as a last ditch effort to fight against the enemy, most notably Americans, often ending in a suicide mission. It was seen as a patriot act of mass suicide. The setting for the book takes place in the South Pacific on a small island called Peleliu during World War II. The main focus is on two characters: Sergeant Nakamura, a Japanese soldier tested in Manchuria who follows the traditional ideals and practices of the Japanese Army and Corporal Kon who is a Korean serving in the Japanese army striving to become an honorable and worthy soldier to the emperor.
While the story focuses on the Japanese army preparing for an invasion, Oda is able to bring another major conflict to light. Oda draws on the struggle between the Japanese and Koreans from the 1920s through the Second World War and the stereotypes placed on Koreans by the Japanese people. This association is shown between Sergeant Nakamura and Corporal Kon, who was originally Kim before Koreans were forced to change their names to traditional Japanese names. Having to change their names was to show that the Japanese were superior and that Koreans were not equal. Throughout the book, Kon desperately and consistently tries to show his bravery and loyalty as a soldier to the Emperor of Japan but is always resisted to other Japanese soldiers. For Kim the war was not only a battle between him and the United States Marines but also against fellow Japanese soldiers.
While the Japanese army and the United States continue their struggle on the island, there is no resolution between the two main characters. Both men are forced into a difficult decision to make a “banzai charge” against the Americans. Both know that this will take their lives but feel it to be a necessary move to make. Sergeant Nakamura is badly wounded and retreats to a cave where is he is met by Kon. While in the cave Nakamura never recognizes Kon’s bravery even after Kon rushes out into a wave of American steel. Both acts of the men are to show the honor and respect given to the Emperor by risking their lives for their country.
This book is an easy read for high school students. All grades can understand the vocabulary and follow the story line. It does a great job depicting not only how the Japanese would fight but also the relationship between the Japanese and Koreans. It also shows the perspective of Japanese soldiers that are often overlooked especially in a US History setting. Being able to show both sides of the war is an important aspect in the classroom because it gives students the understanding and hardship faced in the war. Also showing the relationship between Japanese and Koreans is important for students to understand the struggles and hardships faced in the opposing army as well. It allows students to see discrimination and prejudices in other cultures during the time period. Being able to see both viewpoints on the war allows students to establish the knowledge between both sides and the struggles each side faced. I recommend this book for any high school history course as well as any literature course.