Samurai Competition

by Paul Hartal

The steel blade of the sword flashed in the bright sunshine.
Second Lieutenant Toshiaki Mukai clutched the handle in both hands.
He raised the weapon high towards the sky and took a deep breath.

And then, with a powerful strike,
He slashed the head of the young Chinese man kneeling before him.

He smiled.
Did Second Lieutenant Tsuyoshi Noda win or lose?
On route to Nanjing, the two officers
Of the Japanese Imperial Army were
Competing with each other for being the first
To behead 100 people.

The competition was not a war crime, they said,
But in the Samurai spirit of kiri sute gomen,
The ancient feudal era custom
That authorized the Samurai to execute by sword anyone
From the lower classes who compromised the warrior’s honor.

The Japanese media liked the idea of the beheading contest.
Newspapers celebrated it with enthusiastic reports.
They explained that cutting heads strengthened military character,
Increased patriotism and public support, as well as army moral.

The Tokyo Nichi-Nichi Shimbun covered the contest
Of cutting 100 heads with a series of articles.
“Incredible Record”, announced the newspaper
In its December 13,1937 headline:
“Mukai beheaded 106, Noda 105”.

The Tokyo paper also claimed that the two officers decided
To start another competition with the aim being 150 severed heads.

During the Fascist invasion of China and in World War II
Soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army treated people
In the occupied territories as inferior lower classes and slaves.

Beheading by sword became a common war crime in the Asian theatre.
Yet Japanese officers saw it not only as an antidote to faintheartedness
But as a grand act of heroism.

By the end of the Second World War an estimated four million soldiers
And perhaps up to sixteen million civilians lost their lives in China.

Paul Hartal's picture

A man of many Odysseys, Paul Hartal is a Canadian poet, author and artist born in Szeged, Hungary. His critically acclaimed books include Postmodern Light (poetry, 2006), Love Poems (2004), The Kidnapping of the Painter Miró (novel, 1997, 2001), The Brush and the Compass (1988), Painted Melodies (1983) and A History of Architecture (1972) ., In 1975 he published in Montreal A Manifesto on Lyrical Conceptualism. Lyco Art is a new element on the periodic table of aesthetics, which intertwines the logic of passion with the passion of logic. In 1980 the Lyrical Conceptualist Society hosted the First International Poetry Exhibition in Montreal., In 1978 Hartal exhibited his paintings at the Musée du Luxembourg and the Raymond Duncan Gallery in France and his canvas Flowers for Cézanne won the Prix de Paris. He also has displayed his oeuvre in museums and galleries in New York, Montreal, Budapest, as well as many other places., He approaches poetry with the credo that the heart of poetry is the poetry of the heart. A recurring theme of his recent work explores the human tragedies of wars and genocides.

Last updated March 11, 2012