There must be many people in war-shattered Syria who would give a great deal to be in peaceful, prosperous Japan. What quest drove Yoshifumi Uzawa in the opposite direction, into a murderous war in which he had no stake and little interest?
Sometimes peace and prosperity aren’t enough. As profiled by Weekly Playboy (Oct 27), Uzawa, 26, comes across as a restless seeker, not easily satisfied. It all started, he tells the magazine, when he was bullied as a sixth-grader. “I thought of suicide. I began to think about life and death. What are they?” The road to discovery seemed to lie through “extreme situations. As far as my knowledge went then, ‘extreme situations’ meant war.”
He considered, naturally, joining Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, and after junior high school attended a technical high school with ties to the SDF. “A feeling of patriotism was born in me. I no longer felt like committing suicide, or even fighting. I wanted to make a contribution to my country.”
In Tokyo, he started an agricultural products sales firm, which within three years was turning a profit. Excellent. What next? “If I’m going to die tomorrow, what do I want to do today?” Childhood dreams die hard. The irresistible answer was, “To fight.” Only war, he decided, draws the very best out of a person. It’s the ultimate “extreme situation,” the ultimate test.
Why Syria? asks Weekly Playboy.
The answer, obviously, is that that’s where the war was. There were others wars, but Syria in early 2013 was getting worldwide coverage, and in those days before the terrorist group known as Islamic State materialized, “everything seemed clear-cut. There were the government forces, and the anti-government forces.” The brutal regime of President Bashar al-Assad was easy enough to identify with evil. Those fighting him, therefore, must be good.
He crossed into Syria from Turkey. At a press center he met a Syrian fighter who spoke Japanese. He represented an Islamic rebel organization whose ways were comparatively easygoing – “they never executed anyone; the local people loved them” – but still, rules were rules; Uzawa was required to convert to Islam. This gave him pause, but only briefly. “I studied Koran with teenagers at an Islamic school.” It didn’t make a believer of him, but he, and perhaps his sponsors as well, were willing to stretch a point, and he entered the faith.
At first, “we spent days sitting around drinking tea,” he recalls wryly. But when volunteers were mobilized for an attack on a government prison, Uzawa’s hand shot up. That was in May 2013, a month after his enlistment. “Suddenly there was a flash from an enemy tank... I thought I was going to die. I thought my right leg had been sheared off.” No, it was just numb.
Two months in a local hospital tired him of the rigors of Islamic life. Now he’s back home, and what has the experience taught him?
“Gratitude,” he sums up. “My buddies took care of me, then at home my parents took care of me.”
Still, “I didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish” – a remark containing a hint of unassuaged restlessness, though his future plans remain vague. A second lesson is one he expresses in these terms: “Japan is a Galapagos society. Most adults have no idea what goes on in the real world.”© Japan Today