THIS KAMIKAZE PILOT GREW TO LOVE US
By NERIDA BLOK
Once he served the Emperor, now he serves at the family sushi bar in Lismore HE was a Japanese Kamikaze pilot, sworn to die killing Australians and their allies for his Emperor.
But now Sadao Okamura has an Australian grandson he lives to serve and he can't understand how the two nations he loves could ever have gone to war.
"I have met so many good people around here (in Lismore). I can't believe why we fought good people," said the part-time Lismore resident.
Mr Okamura's daughter, Mayumi, and her husband, Craig Alexander, run Japanese sushi bar, Zen Sushi, in Lismore.
With Mayumi translating, Mr Okamura, who assists as a cultural educator at Zen Sushi, said his six-year-old grandson Taro was the reason for his many return visits to Australia.
"He is my favourite grandchild," he said. "I don't want him to lose his culture ? my mission is to teach him his country's history."
Part of that history will be Mr Okamura's World War II experience.
Known as oji chan, which means grandfather, Mr Okamura grew up in Oarai, 100km north of Tokyo.
"I was 15 when I joined the airforce. They came to my school and took volunteers," the 76-year-old said.
The military was the quickest way to get food and a promotion in Japan, which was experiencing a very poor period.
And there was pride in serving Emperor Hirohito.
"It's kind of a sacrifice.
"The Emperor is most respected.
"It was a point of honour to to serve him," he said.
Oji chan was sent to Nara Airforce Base, on Honshu Island, where he was thrown into three-months of intensive flight training.
"There was no food, we were starving," he said.
Upon completion, a superior came to give him his military directions.
Oji chan volunteered to become a Kamikaze pilot, inspired by the respected Japanese suicide submariners.
Thankfully for the Okamura family, the war ended shortly afterwards. The Emperor announced Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945.
"I was so happy everyone was because we could go home," he said.
"But we couldn't show it out of respect for the Emperor."
Oji chan returned home to study, becoming a teacher. He married and had three children.
On reflection he said his generation was pleased to see the end of the war.
"It has opened up a much freer world for them," he said. "We all have one min- ute's silence and pray for peace (on the anniversary of the Japanese surrender)."
Ten years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the war's end, oji chan and his wife met Craig in Tokyo for the first time.
At that meeting, Oji chan told his son-in-law what would please him most: Craig and Mayumi to have a child.
"He said it would totally fulfil him and bring closure to the whole war episode," Craig said.