Madness of War
“The madness of war destroyed much more than just the soldiers fighting in it. It picked apart everything in its way, so that no one escaped its clutches” (188).
In The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama, Stephen speaks of the insanity and the destruction of the Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese invade many of Chinese territories during the war, including Canton, where he studied at the Lingnan University with King. When Stephen moves to Tarumi in order to recover from tuberculosis, it seems as if he is unaffected by the war in the calm and peaceful state of Tarumi. However, Stephen is constantly reminded of the devastating war through the radio, the letters he receives from his friends and family, and his relationship with Keiko.
Stephen receives the news of the Sino-Japanese war through the radio throughout his stay in Japan. During the first few weeks of Tarumi, Stephen “was beginning to feel trapped behind this bamboo fence, which kept [him] separated from [his] family and the rest of the world” (18). Nevertheless, Stephen was “able to hear bits and pieces of the Japanese version from Matsu's radio…to keep up with the war news” (18). Stephen believes that the radio is one of his few connections to the reality of the war and a constant reminder that the world beyond Tarumi is not as tranquil. Stephen's stay in Tarumi is not completely isolated from the authenticity of the war due to the existence of the radio broadcasts, and continues to give him the notion that the war would not leave him at ease.
The letters Stephen receives from his family and friends keeps reminding Stephen of war and its impact on the Chinese territories. In Tarumi, Stephen lives his Japanese life efficiently, though he often recalls his life in China. After reading Mah-mee's letter, Stephen becomes passionate and reflects on his life in Japan when he says, “'…after almost a year in Tarumi I had adapted to the Japanese way of life…but unlike my father, I was still pulled home by the scents and sounds of my other life'” (158). The letter from Mah-mee caused Stephen to feel that the war continues to restrain him indirectly, and that it does not leave him free from thoughts of war. Next, King reminds Stephen of the war through a letter in which he writes, “It seems kind of funny sending this letter to Japan, since they are the ones we curse every morning and every evening before we close our eyes. That is, if the distant bombing allows us to sleep” (196). The awful reality of the war occurring in front of King's eyes informs Stephen of the world beyond Tarumi, and reminds him of his Chinese life. Though he lives his peaceful Japanese life in Tarumi, the letters from Mah-mee and King give Stephen the connection to his life in China.
Stephen's relationship with Keiko gives him a conception that the war is still happening and that his Chinese ethnicity is frequently seen as despicable. The fact that Keiko feels anxious and often looks over her shoulder when she is with Stephen may be explained by the idea that she does not want her family to find out that she is sneaking off with a Chinese man. For instance, when Keiko meets Stephen at the village, she tries to go away after she picks up the persimmons. Stephen feels perplexed by her action when he “'…couldn't help but wonder whether [Keiko's] father was old fashioned and that he had forbidden her to be alone with a young man. Or if it had to do with the fact that I was a Chinese young man'” (108). Keiko's meetings with Stephen are usually full of nervousness, and they are often not able to express their feelings due to the restraint of war. The war keeps Stephen and Keiko from being together, ultimately by the death of Keiko's brother at the war.
Stephen is reminded of the madness of the war although he forgets the reality of war though the peaceful conditions at Tarumi through being with Matsu and Sachi. The war news of the radio, the letter from his family and friends, and his relationship with Keiko continue reminding Stephen of the devastating war. With the frequent reminder of the Sino-Japanese War through Stephen, Tsukiyama illustrates the appalling truth of war and its effect of the people on both sides.