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Poppies by aj lopes used under creative commons licence
Mountain, river grass and tree grow more barren;
For ten miles winds smell of blood in the fresh battlefield.
Conquering horses do not advance nor do men talk;
Outside Jinzhou Castle I stand in the setting sun.
General Maresuke Nogi
Dead in the gas and smoke and roar of guns,
Dead in a row with the other broken ones
Robert Graves, Last Post
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae, In Flanders Fields
The tragic news touched us like the bitter wind which awakens the trees and the grass sleeping in the remotest corners of the countryside.
Soseki Natsume, Kokoro (on the death of General Nogi)
In Japan a samurai was supposed to be proficient in the arts of war and in the art of literature. Bun Bu Ryo Do ぶんぶりょうどう 文武両道 the way of the pen and the way of the sword - follow them both. The first epigraph at the top of this article is a kanshi Chinese poem by a famous general, Maresuke Nogi.
It is raining outside. I am writing this on 11 November. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the armistice to end the First World War was signed. 11 November is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom. Ceremonies are usually held on the nearest Sunday. When I was a boy at school in England there was a one-minute silence at 11 a.m. on 11 November. Even traffic mostly stopped. Then a bugler played the Last Post, a haunting bugle call.
The red poppy is the symbol of remembrance. Red can be the colour of hope or it can be the colour of blood. I saw Kokoro recently. It's a 1955 black and white movie directed by Kon Ichikawa. The original novel was by Soseki Natsume. I mentioned it before once. It was the first novel published by the publishing company Iwanami Shoten. In one scene the main character is shocked by the suicide of General Nogi.
Maresuke Nogi was a respected general but under his command the Japanese forces suffered heavy casualties in the siege of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war. Nogi's sons also died in that war. Nogi wanted to kill himself to take responsibility for the deaths of his men but Emperor Meiji refused permission.
So General Nogi patiently waited for the death of the Emperor. On 13 September 1912 the day of Emperor Meiji's funeral General Nogi and his wife committed suicide. Some people thought that he was following the Emperor into death as a loyal retainer. There is now a shrine, Nogi Jinja, at the site of his house in Nogizaka in Minato-ku in Tokyo.
In Japan 11 November is Pocky day. It is a thin stick biscuit dipped in chocolate. So 11.11 is Pocky day because the figure ones look like Pocky sticks. This year is a special Pocky day: triple eleven. Someone I know got married on 11 November. Her husband chose that day on purpose even though it meant they had to get married on a weekday instead of on a Saturday or Sunday. At the time it was inconvenient but he has never forgotten their wedding anniversary.