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World Perspective | CULTURE

For Japanese Who Can't Get Over WWII

May 15, 1999|MARK MAGNIER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FUKUOKA, Japan — Ever wondered what it would be like to be a kamikaze or a Japanese World War II fighter ace? To command Japan's greatest battleship before it slipped below the waves? It'll cost you no more than a couple of $7 beers at the Anchor Bar in the heart of Fukuoka to find out.

Head down a small alley and up three narrow flights of stairs and you'll find yourself in a time warp--a long, windowless lounge complete with the weapons, medals and memorabilia of Japan's mammoth failed war effort.

The real action, however, is on the side wall, where a long rack holds everything from Japanese Imperial Navy get-ups to nurses' uniforms, a green Nazi jacket and a Zero pilot's jumpsuit, scarf and goggles.

Customers take turns donning the uniform of their choice and posing before one of two pull-down murals depicting either the famed battleship Yamato under full steam or a Zero fighter aircraft at rest on the runway.

With the preparations complete, they're ready to croon any of several dozen military songs once sung by Japanese soldiers and sailors headed for battle. Lining the bar are photographs of modern wannabe Japanese war heroes that the bar sometimes provides as souvenirs.

Those who weren't around in the 1940s and can't remember the patriotic words that urged the Japanese on need look no further than the television screens overhead. There, the bar's karaoke system flashes the lyrics beneath black-and-white newsreel footage of dogfights, military parades, tank battles and Imperial soldiers marching off to China.

"I still remember the voice of my friend who died in battle," says one typical song. "I remember his voice. Banzai, Emperor!"

Anchor owner Katsumi Anzai says that to the extent the bar has a philosophy, it takes a neutral stance on the war. While the watering hole occasionally attracts the odd extremist who will rant about modern Japan's spineless foreign policy, its regulars are largely apolitical, he says.

"We're not glorifying war, and we don't have any right-wing philosophy," he says.

Anchor instead aims to help Japanese businesspeople face modern battles of the corporate variety, Anzai says. "The salarymen are very frustrated," he says. "By singing these songs, they release some of their stress."

Other patrons, however, may have a deeper connection. Mototsugu Ueda, 74 and a loyal customer for 15 years, says the songs and Anchor's atmosphere help him connect with a bittersweet past that most Japanese would rather forget.

Ueda was a student in the early 1940s and never saw action himself. But he lost his father and several friends, and singing the old songs helps him remember them, he says, laying a wireless microphone down on the bar.

"These songs have such double meaning," Ueda adds. "Younger people who come here just sing them as songs. They can't understand how much pain we went through."

Behind the bar, owner Anzai is dressed in a sailor suit. Between karaoke numbers he clangs a ship's bell, fires off a mock salute and announces the next tune through a military bullhorn. Most of the 10 or so customers on a recent Thursday night appear to be in their 50s, and the bar's atmosphere is lively and welcoming--even toward the odd visiting American--in sharp contrast to some of the surrounding imagery.

At 45, Anzai is too young to have lived through World War II, but he remembers the stories told by his father, an aircraft mechanic in the Imperial Navy. As the late '60s rolled around, Anzai's father became increasingly convinced that postwar Japanese society and its values were deteriorating. His response was to open the Anchor in 1970 in a modest bid to recall the discipline and purpose of a bygone era.

In a back corner of the bar, an old, disabled Japanese machine gun sits near some bugles and a print of soldiers beheading prisoners. Several bills of wrinkled war currency peek out from behind a smudged glass case. And two red-and-white Rising Sun flags adorn the wall. Over the bar hang dozens of Imperial medals. An old vacuum cleaner sits collapsed in a corner.

"I love it," one customer says before heading home for the night. "It's really a special bar."

*

Etsuko Kawase of The Times' Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.

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