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Rainbow Over Hell
Author: Tsuneyuki Mohri
Translator: Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson

Book Review
by Bill Gordon

April 2006

The small tropical island of Saipan turned into hell when American military forces invaded in June 1944. Many Japanese soldiers and civilians took part in furious banzai charges or jumped over cliffs rather than surrender. About 50,000 Japanese died within a month, but 18-year-old Saburo Arakaki somehow managed to evade capture for over a year until after the war's end.

Rainbow Over Hell describes Arakaki's 1987 journey to revisit Saipan, Guam, and Hawaii, where from June 1944 to May 1954 he experienced fighting, deprivation, isolation, and despair. Arakaki converted to Christianity while serving a life sentence in Oahu Prison, and he later went on to become a pastor and evangelist in his boyhood home of Okinawa. Although the book tells a story of religious conversion, its message of love and forgiveness has relevance for everyone.

Tsuneyuki Mohri's many works in Japanese include a book about Ellison Onizuka, the Hawaiian astronaut who died in the space shuttle Challenger disaster. He also has written four books about kamikaze pilots and the script for Gekko no Natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata), a popular 1993 film that sensitively portrays the experiences and feelings of a surviving kamikaze pilot. Rainbow Over Hell, Mohri's first book translated to English, contains the same intense human emotions, thorough research, and engaging style as his books on kamikaze pilots.

When the American task force approached Saipan in 1944, Saburo Arakaki was a student specializing in agriculture at Saipan Vocational School. After the American assault on the island, measuring only 12 miles in length and 1.5 to 6 miles in width, Arakaki quickly joined up with an Army unit. He witnessed many deaths, including the disappearance of a 10-year-old girl when a bomb exploded at the top of a cliff where women had started to jump off, but he escaped and hid in the mountainside jungle with other soldiers and civilians who hoped for the return of the Japanese fleet.

Soon after the war's end, Arakaki finally surrendered in order to infiltrate a detention camp to stop Japanese traitors who believed Japan had lost and wanted to support the Americans. Based on orders from Military Police Corporal Takeo Jojima, Arakaki carried out two murders with the purpose of stopping these traitors. After Arakaki's capture, he finally confessed after torture that he committed the murders by himself. Earlier, Jojima had told Arakaki that he would also confess to what he did, but Jojima betrayed Arakaki and received his freedom after denying any involvement in the murders.

Arakaki received a death sentence and was transferred to the Japanese War Crimes Prison in Guam for his execution. After a rehearing of his case, the Justice Department reduced his sentence to life imprisonment to be served in Hawaii at Oahu Prison. Through studying a Japanese Bible Correspondence Course and talking with the translator of the course, Arakaki became a Christian. The Oahu Prison warden kindly granted him unescorted leave to be baptized at the Japanese Seventh-day Adventist Church in Honolulu. In April 1954, eight years since Arakaki's death sentence, President Eisenhower granted him a full pardon at the urging of the warden and deputy warden at Oahu Prison.

The life of Saburo Arakaki exemplifies love and forgiveness. Arakaki demonstrated by his actions real love for others. He carried a wounded sergeant on his back for three days, took care of him as they hid in a cave, and finally tried to swim to a safer place while pulling him through the water. This extraordinary commitment to care for a helpless person he never knew before serves as a model for our own relations with others.

After Arakaki's conversion to Christianity, he completely forgave Jojima, the person he had trusted so much in the mountains of Saipan but who betrayed him with the result being a death sentence. It is heartwarming that the two men remained friends even after everything they went through, and Jojima even assisted Arakaki in his work in Okinawa. If people could somehow forgive each other in the same way as Arakaki did when he met Jojima again, then surely this world would have far less conflicts.

Saburo Arakaki experienced one incredible event after another during his life. This excellent English translation of his story gives all of us splendid examples of love and forgiveness.

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