"...Each August, I recall an anecdote about Noriko Awaya, who at the time of the war was known as the Queen of the Blues. It happened in the final days of the war, when Awaya visited a base to perform a concert for the Special Attack (kamikaze) Forces.
Before her performance, the officer assigned to escort her said, “Among the men in the audience will be some who have missions today. Please excuse them, as they will be forced to leave their seats in the middle of your concert.” When she entered the hall, she saw that many of the soldiers were innocent-looking youths, more boys than men. She remembers thinking, “Even kids like these must sacrifice their lives.” As she was singing, soldiers dotted around the hall began to stand up in ones and twos. They saluted her, turned about, and exited. Needless to say, they were heading out on the last missions of their lives.
Seeing this, Awaya wailed. She said, “As a professional singer, I have never cried on stage. But today, please forgive me. Please let me cry.” I was deeply moved when I heard this story.
Noriko Awaya was a stubborn woman who defied the pressure placed on her by the military authorities to sing wartime songs and instead continued to sing the blues, music that was out of synch with the times. Ignoring the wishes of the military, which tried to make her sing in costumes typical of women in wartime, she stuck to wearing extravagant dresses. She was confident that this was what the soldiers wanted...."
Doomed kamikaze inspired 'queen of the blues'
Mention the "queen of the blues," and there was a time when everyone in Japan knew it meant Noriko Awaya. Not anymore.
Remembering that Aug. 12 was the centenary of her birth, I had occasion to recollect this highly principled blues singer who refused to sing military songs during World War II.
Not only did Awaya refuse to record them, but she also kept them out of her repertoire even when she performed for soldiers at the front, convinced that these songs did nothing more than encourage soldiers to go to battle.
Just as in peacetime, she would sing only pop numbers in her evening gown. According to "Burusu no Joo Awaya Noriko" (Noriko Awaya, the queen of blues) by Teruko Yoshitake, Awaya's scarlet lips, eyeshadow and false eyelashes once offended a military policeman so much that he yelled at her, calling her "indecent." But Awaya shot back: "How can you expect someone (as homely as me) to appear on stage without makeup?"
Throughout her career, there was only one time when she cried on stage. It happened during her performance at a tokkotai (special attack forces, known as kamikaze squadron) base in Kyushu. While the show was still going on, the time came for some members of the audience to depart on their suicide mission. One by one, they saluted and left. Overcome with emotion, Awaya turned her back to the audience and wept.
A documentary film titled "TOKKO," directed by an American woman of Japanese descent, is currently showing in Tokyo. Whereas tokkotai pilots are synonymous with fanatical suicide bombers to many Americans, director Risa Morimoto has succeeded in drawing out these men's true feelings through sensitive interviews with former kamikaze pilots. "I wanted to live. I didn't want to die," says one.
Awaya believed there were no such things as automatons that tokko pilots were supposed to be. She also believed that each pilot was just an ordinary human like everyone else, and that no person was ever born to be a soldier.
None of the troops she visited and performed for ever requested her to sing a war song. They invariably asked for blues numbers, her specialty. Awaya recalled later that she sang for them, willing them to return alive--which was all every man really wanted.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 12 (IHT/Asahi: August 15,2007)