Following the Second World War the Allies had two choices with regard to the future of Japan. They could let it rot in the destruction that the Emperor and the military had caused, or provide whatever humanitarian aid and assistance deemed necessary to reestablish the country’s infrastructure and economy. They chose the latter and as America began its occupation, Japan’s manufacturing industry was seen as the way and means to do so.
In the 1700s Britain had sought to ‘make the world England.’ In the aftermath of the war America sought to make Japan ‘American.’ Music, democracy, clothing, and language became the ideas of the day. And the people, free of their feudal overlords seized the opportunity. And as they did the Japanese manufacturing industry took off! And it soon trickled over into Hong Kong and the rest of the world.
In the West people spoke sarcastically of cheap Japanese copies, but by the mid to late 50s it was becoming clear that Japanese manufactured products while cheaper, were by no means inferior. And it was to the West’s dismay that they realised too late, that Japanese products were soon going to take over the market. This was brought home to me in the following story.
In Hong Kong, many of my childhood memories involved the Police Recreation Club which began its existence in Happy Valley. It was located next to the Craigengower Cricket Club and the foot of its bowling greens backed up against the walls of the Hong Kong Football Stadium.
My first introduction to the superiority of Japanese engineering and business acumen took place in December, 1970, when I turned 18 years of age. My Dad had bought me my first motorcycle. It was a 50cc Yamaha with a 5 speed gearbox. This was no moped, travelling downhill with a good tailwind I could get it up to 60 MPH!
The gentleman, who was instrumental in helping Dad make the purchase, was the head of the government, Electrical & Mechanical Department. It was while we were sitting at the bar of the club, and I was enjoying one of my first legal beers, that this gentleman told us a story which brought to light the growing importance of Japanese technology in Hong Kong
The Royal Hong Kong Police Force had always used British made Triumph motorcycles. (One of my first ‘accidents’ on my new bike was running into the back of a police motorcycle/sidecar rig. The officer in the sidecar turned and gave me a withering look before telling the driver to proceed). When the government wanted to purchase replacements for their now aging stock they contacted Triumph and placed an order for 200 500cc bikes and 100 spare engines. This was a considerable order, which any company, even today, would take seriously. To their shock, Triumph refused to supply spare engines, if you want spare engines, they said, buy spare bikes.
The RHKPF turned their attention to Yamaha, who had just that year produced their 650cc, two cylinder, four stroke bike. When they made a similar enquiry to Yamaha the response, according to this gentleman was, “No problem, we’ll supply two spare engines per bike.” As a result, the RHKPF never purchased another British motorbike.
(It wasn’t long after that the British motorcycle industry went into decline. Sadly, BSA, my favourite, was the first to go, Triumph merged with Norton Villiers (who made the legendary 750cc Norton Commando) but it wasn’t long before they started manufacturing their bikes on an order basis.)
It was shortly after this, during a similar session at the Police Recreation Club, that my father introduced me to another gentleman. This man had been one of the official executioners at the war crimes trials following the end of WWII. I don’t recall his name, but the glee with which he spoke of carrying out his official duties was painfully evident.
No doubt, Dad’s conversation with this gentleman brought back many unpleasant memories and Dad told the following story.
It had been the mid-fifties, he said, and Japanese business interests in the colony were just starting to grow. War time hatred had been overtaken by the need for profit, both in Japan and Hong Kong. Dad had been in a restaurant in Wan Chai, no doubt having a ‘business’ lunch, and being lunch time, the place was crowded. Dad wasn’t paying attention to who walked in or out. But, someone was.
Unnoticed in the general hubbub, the cook emerged from the kitchen carrying a large meat cleaver, the type that would be used for chopping pork bones and such. Silently, he approached a table and without warning attacked one of the customers, severing the man’s head with two heavy blows. The table had been made up of Japanese businessmen, and their local partners.
Pandemonium ensued. Customers fled screaming. Many of the people at Dad’s table joined the exodus. However, Dad sat there, shocked by what he had just seen, but somehow convinced that the man did not pose any further threat. Dad told me that he watched as the cook calmly placed the cleaver on the bloody table, sat down next to the corpse, and waited patiently for the police to come and arrest him.
It was later, as the trial took place that Dad heard the man’s story. As a young man in Hong Kong, he had watched the Japanese murder his parents, his wife, children and neighbours. He had barely escaped with his life, but had sworn an oath that if he survived the war, he would kill the first Japanese that he met.
I remember my father saying on many occasions, “I hope you never experience the horrors of war.”
Of all the stories he told me, this one has always stuck in my mind as the most horrible. Even the passage of time could not release this man from the horrors he had experienced, and the oath that he made over the bodies of his loved ones.
And as the title suggests, it was a dark and terrible period in Hong Kong’s history. If this chapter proves anything, I believe that it reveals that the true horrors of war do not simply disappear when the war ends. I know my father lived with his nightmares, and his hatred, to his dying day.
For earlier parts in this series please see: https://stewartgoeswalkies.com/2021/04/24/hong-kongs-dark-history-part-one-dad-the-invasion-of-hong-kong-and-prison-camp/ , https://stewartgoeswalkies.com/2021/04/28/hong-kongs-dark-history-part-two-dad-and-my-uncle-pows-in-japan/ and https://stewartgoeswalkies.com/2021/05/01/hong-kongs-dark-history-part-three-discussions-with-mum/