World / War heroes

From Japanese soldier to Chinese hero

By Cai Hong and Shan Yi in Tokyo (China Daily) Updated: 2015-08-24 07:48

Hirosumi Kobayashi was thrilled to showoff his invitation to the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of China's victory in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45), which will be held in Beijing on Sept 3.

The 96-year-old veteran, who arrived in China as an enemy soldier more than 70 years ago, ended up fighting for the country.

 From Japanese soldier to Chinese hero

Hirosumi Kobayashi, who arrived in China as an enemy soldier but later joined the People's Liberation Army, at his home in Tokyo this month. Cai Hong / China Daily

Born in 1919, Kobayashi was the son of Buddhist abbot in Gunma prefecture, Japan. Monks in Japan are allowed to marry and have children, and sons often follow in their father's footsteps, so after graduating from high school in 1939, Kobayashi planned to become a monk and take over his father's position, and also to train as a lawyer.

However, he was conscripted in 1940 and given intensive training before being sent to East China's Shandong province.

"I was a light-machine-gunner in a 10-strong unit based in an area close to Qingdao," he said, speaking Chinese with a strong Shandong accent.

During a mopping-up operation in the mountains in 1941, Kobayashi's unit was ambushed by soldiers of the Eighth Route Army.

"I told myself that I should take my own life rather than be captured," he recalled at his home on the outskirts of Tokyo.

A soldier called Toshikazu Shirato asked Kobayashi to shoot him. Kobayashi agreed, but aimed at the young man's stomach, rather than his head, in the hope that he would survive. Then he placed his rifle on the river bank with the barrel pointing upward, and pulled the trigger. The gun moved slightly, sending the bullet wide of its target.

"I lay prone on the river bank for a while. After recovering a little, I felt a wound and some blood on my head. I was disappointed I was alive," he said.

He tried to drown himself in the river but was foiled by Chinese soldiers, who captured him and Shirato. The Japanese soldiers screamed abuse at their captors, but they were told to calm down and their wounds were treated.

"On the way to a village they told us, 'We don't harm captives'. I didn't believe them," Kobayashi said.

The men were stretchered to a temple, and offered a meal. Despite his hunger pangs, Kobayashi refused to eat the food, even though the soldiers kept pressing him to try some. When he finally agreed he was surprised.

"I had always thought that Chinese food was inedible, but that first bite changed my mind and I wolfed down the lot," the elderly veteran said.

During his time in captivity, Kobayashi was given some literature prepared by the Communist Party of Japan. Having been bored for months, he began reading the pamphlets, and he found himself agreeing with the contents.

"I grew up in a capitalist country and abhorred communism at the time. But the more I read, the more I believed in the arguments they made, and I began to realize that Japan had done terrible things to China."

Kobayashi decided to defect, and, along with a small number of Japanese converts, he helped to establish an anti-Japanese alliance in Shandong. One of his assignments was to shout to Japanese soldiers and persuade them to stop fighting. He was so close to his former brothers in arms that he felt as though he was playing Russian roulette every day.

Kobayashi worked with many detachments in Shandong. He joined the People's Liberation Army in 1945 and he fought in the civil war, but was transferred to Lyuda (now Dalian) in Liaoning province because the Shandong military region wanted to protect him from the front line. During his time there, he met a Japanese nurse, and married her in 1952. He moved back to Shandong in 1953 and worked for the municipal government in Jinan, the provincial capital.

He was later transferred to Fengzhen in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, where he worked as deputy director of a hospital.

In December 1955, Kobayashi and his family moved back to Japan, bolstered by a donation of HK$100,000 from the Chinese government.

The veteran will return to China in early September to attend the victory celebrations as a guest of the government.

"I'm so happy that I will visit China again. I plan to take my son, who's 61, to visit Fengzhen," he said.

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