Quest for unity


Takashi Nagai with his children. His health dramatically deteriorated after the Second World War.

We live in a world where hatred and discrimination cloud our minds. Whether it is towards a race, religion or gender, hatred has the same harmful psychological effects. The end of the Second World War saw many Australians ostracising the Japanese due to the bombing of Darwin, the attempted attack on Sydney and the brutal treatment of Australian POWs. Unlike the majority, a small group of Marist Fathers, led by Father John Marsden, embarked on a journey to Japan to seek reconciliation from the Japanese people. Father Paul Glynn was one of these people who took this inspirational trip.

Father Glynn grew up in Lismore in NSW during WW2. While he was in high school, soldiers came to the school and gave him and the other student’s rifles. They were told to despise the Japanese since they were their enemies. When the war ended, Father Marsden, a former POW, decided to travel to Japan to reconcile with the Japanese. Many Australians opposed his decision because they felt that they will be traumatised by the atrocities which not only affected the soldiers, but also the citizens. At first very few people joined Father Marsden on his journey. However, more people from both Australia and Japan eventually joined him in his mission towards reconciliation. Father Glynn was inspired to continue Father Marsden’s work a few years later and joined the cause. During his time in Japan, Father Glynn met with many war widows and blessed them with forgiveness. Because of the ongoing hatred towards the Japanese, Fr. Paul encouraged the Australian people to forget about what had happened and start again by reaching out to the Japanese and receive their forgiveness. However, this wasn’t easy since Australia did not have the motivation to do so.

Father Paul Glynn.

When Father Glynn returned to Australia and began he wrote two books: A song for Nagasaki and The Smile of a Ragpicker, which tells the stories of Christian converts Takashi Nagai and Satoko Kitahara, respectively. Both suffered great losses and lived through poverty and disease during and after the war. He tells of a time when Japan was run like a police state restricting the freedom of the Japanese people. Using graphic descriptions he wanted his readers to see past their cynicism and to have sympathy instead, despite what happened in the past. Father Glynn originally sold over 400 copies of these books across Australia. A few weeks after the initial print he was asked if he could sell his books to publishing companies in the US, Japan, France and Korea. He soon realised that people were deeply touched by his books and wanted to spread his message internationally which led to them being translated into 40 languages. This contributed towards the world overcoming their fears of the Japanese.

As we move further into the 21st century, conflicts continue to arise between nations. Father Glynn’s message of reconciliation is as relevant now as it was when he embarked on his Journey to Japan. This message which is to live spiritual lives and reconcile with whoever despises you challenges some current issues such as the desire for money, teen suicide and drug addiction. The issue of discrimination is where reconciliation comes in. The Japanese were discriminated for their actions towards Australia. What were the two things that ended this conflict? Reconciliation and a deeper understanding between the two nations. As Father Glynn mentions in his message of reconciliation and unity: “We have to live a spirituality that makes open and acceptable people and opens us to accept the gospels of Jesus.”

Interview transcript:

Rafael Sanchez-Bayo: You went to Japan following the footsteps of Fr. Marsden. Tell us about what moved you to help this mission.

Father Paul Glynn: I was 13 years old when the Japanese were coming close to Singapore and soon soldiers turned up at all the schools and gave us small rifles and also told us to hate the Japanese, they were evil. They wanted us to be guerrilla fighters. Now, for five years, we had propaganda from the government; the Japanese are evil people and one of the old boys from the school where I was up in Lismore, Father Marsden, arrived in 1945 towards the end of the year when I was about to leave school and he said; “the Japanese people are the same as Australians. However, Japan became a police state. The militarists took over. The Japanese people lost their freedom. Let’s hate militarism but let’s not the Japanese people. They’re just the same as our people here.” Now that was a big shock having heard five years of propaganda against the Japanese from the government, and I was amazed when he said; “I’m going to go to Japan to start a mission of reconciliation.” So that got me thinking “Wow” this is big thinking. This is really deep thinking. Not based on hate but based on accepting each other as human beings. So I went to the seminary where Fr Marsden was stationed, collecting money to begin in Japan and he had been a prisoner of the Japanese, a POW, and a number of Catholic prisoners of war helped him collect the money to go to Japan. So I thought, I’d like to go and work on that mission.

RSB:During your time in Japan, were there any events that still play a significant role in your life?

FPG: Well, when I got to Japan, I was sad to see that Japan was excluded from the United Nations. The Japanese war criminals had been executed, but there was no trial for the people who dropped the atom bombs. There’s a Japanese saying; “If you win the war, your side is just and right,” which is wrong. And so, I read that Australia had about 90 sister cities around the world, but none with Japan, so I approached the mayor of the city where I was working, Yamato-Tagida, and I said “Why don’t we try to get a sister city linked between Australia and Japan.” And he said “great, let’s do that.” And so, my first job was to write to the mayor of Lismore and express the hope that Lismore in NSW could become a sister city with Yamato Tagida in Japan, and I was amazed at how many Australians thought that was a good idea. In other words, let’s stop thinking just of the past and the war. Let’s be constructive and positive. Let’s link up with the Japanese. So, that was the first, I suppose significant outreach to do something about reconciliation.

RSB: After many years working in Japan, you came back to Australia and wrote a series of books on Japanese Christians such as Dr. Nagai and Satoko Kitahara. What impact have your books had on Australian society?

FPG: Because Fr. Marsden began a mission on reconciliation. He had been a prisoner of war, but he reached out and he told Australians to reach out to the Japanese. They were suffering after the war. The American bombing had destroyed half the cities. Even the small boats were sunk. And so, I thought that one good way to get Australians wanting reconciliation with the Japanese was to take several significant Japanese people and write their story because at that stage, most Australians knew nothing about Japan. There were no Japanese living in Australia. See, there was this evil White Australia Policy. That was an evil policy. So most Australians knew nothing about Japan. So I thought that I’ll take a couple of wonderful Japanese characters. See, Dr. Nagai of Nagasaki was a very Japanese personality. He was a poet, he loved Japanese poetry, he loved Japanese literature and he was in Nagasaki as the head of the radiology department in the Nagasaki University when the atom bomb was dropped. Now when he found his wife a day after the bomb fell, there weren’t even bones left, it was just powder. The intense heat just turned her whole body into a pile of powdered bones. He could put all that was left in one bucket. Now, he wrote a number of books. He said; “I began to shake and tremble and howl, cry like a child. That couldn’t be my wife, but it was.” And he said; “As I gathered up the remains to my little bucket, I saw something shiny and it was her rosary. All the beads had been melted, but the steel crucifix on the chain was intact.” Now, he died five years later. About a year after that, he was totally immobilised. He lived in bed, but he began to write books. He was someone who could’ve hated the Westerners because of what they did to his wife, destroyed his home. He started to write books and they became popular. Some of them are still selling. He said to the Japanese; “Who created this big black hole that is Nagasaki? We did. We went to war with joy, we attacked the Chinese, we bombed Chinese cities, so let’s not blame the Americans. We are all guilty.” Now, that thinking had a big impact on the Japanese. He was a bit like Fr. Lionel Marsden. Fr. Marsden had suffered very much on the Burma-Thai railroad, building a railroad for the Japanese militarists who wanted to get into India. American submarines were sinking Japanese boats. About a third of the Australian soldiers died while that railroad was being built. So here’s Lionel Marsden who had suffered and here’s Dr. Nagai who had suffered. And both of them said; “Let’s forget hatred. Let’s reach out.” And so, I decided to write a book in English about Dr. Nagai. He was a very attractive character. He had a lot of humour, a great love of life and medicine. He was a doctor of radiology. And so, I simply wrote a book about his life. Now, I found that there was a big response in Australia. Very soon, I had to issue another printing. The book went into 12 printings. People kept reading it. The head of Qantas Airways bought 500 to put in the First Class cabins of Qantas planes going to Japan. Very soon, I had a request from America, then I had a request from France, then a request from Poland. So that’s in about 12 languages. So, it taught me that most people want reconciliation, they don’t want to live with hate.

RSB: Many people see the relationship between Australia and Japan in terms of trade and economics. You have a different view. Tell us about your work on reconciliation.

FPG: Well obviously, people need trade to live. It’s good that Japanese and Australian trade developed. My approach to this was that first, the sister city was a cultural link. Japanese started to get invitations to go to Lismore and Yamato Tagida would invite Lismore people to come to Japan. They began to exchange high school students, but also, many Australians suffered from the war. Above all, the Australian soldiers became prisoners of the Japanese. See, the militarists had no idea of mercy. They just used the Australian captives as slave labour to build this railroad through the jungle. And so, I found that many Australians who had suffered as prisoners of war had deep wounds in their hearts. The idea of reconciliation was to go and meet these people in Australia and tell them about how the Japanese had suffered too.

RSB: In relation to reconciliation and unity, what would be your message to young Australians and Japanese living in the 21st century?

FPG: Well we don’t have a problem with the war against the Japanese anymore and the young Australians and the Japanese know nothing about the Pacific War because it finished in 1945. I’d say that our job as Christians is to live out Christianity and to reach out to young people to show them that there is a different way of living. To me, there’s a simple message for the young. And that is we have to live lives that are spiritual that are based on the gospels. We have to live a spirituality that makes open and acceptable people and opens us to accept the gospels of Jesus.

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