Rainbow Over Hell

Q & A with Translator Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson

Why is Saburo Arakaki's story significant?

Saburo Aragakiís story is significant for several reasons. First of all, it has historical significance as an account of the Battle of Saipan, one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific War. Arakaki was only 18 when U.S. forces attacked Saipan, and he survived a battle that claimed some 50,000 Japanese civilians and troops. Arakaki also has the distinction of being in the very last group of Japanese stragglers to surrender on Saipanóthe group known as ďCaptain Obaís company.Ē

Second, Arakaki has the distinction of originally being sentenced to death, receiving a sentence reduction to life in prison, and then ultimately receiving full pardon from a U.S. president.

Thirdly, beyond its historical significance, Arakakiís story is significant because it is testimony to the power of transformation. Arakaki experienced a miraculous change from a hate-filled double-murderer to a man filled with compassion and forgiveness. During his association with Captain Obaís company, Arakaki had followed orders to kill two men thought to be cooperating with U.S. forces, and he was sentenced to death for this. However, after a receiving a reduced sentence, Arakaki encountered the Bible and was so dramatically transformed that he was granted full pardon from President Eisenhower. He became a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Okinawa, Japan.

What impact has this book had on readers?

I think it has given readers hope in their own lives. For example, one Japanese man traveled to California with the intent of committing suicide in his hotel room. Through a series of providential events, he was given a copy of the Japanese edition of Rainbow Over Hell, and this saved his life. He made a commitment to life instead and returned to Japan with a new life purpose. Some readers have chosen to be baptized into Christianity because of reading Rainbow Over Hell.

How did the author come to write this book?

Mohri writes in the afterword for the 2005 Japanese edition that Rainbow Over Hell was ďbornÖ through the urging of some great divine power.Ē Mohri had already created a film documentary in which he accompanied Arakaki as he retraced the steps of his experiences in Saipan, Guam, Hawaii, and Japan. Ten years after this documentary had aired in Japanese TV, Mohri was suddenly struck with the thought that he must write this book. He threw out everything he had written for it and started again from the very first sentence. He wrote all day and into the night for a period of some 70 days during which Rainbow Over Hell was completed.

What is the subplot of forgiveness within this book?

For me, the proof of Arakakiís transformation was in his capacity for forgiveness for a man who had betrayed him. During his cooperation with militants on Saipan, Arakaki had followed orders to murder two men thought to be cooperating with U.S. forces. Arakaki was originally sentenced to death for these two murders.

The Japanese M.P. who had ordered the assassinations was a man that Arakaki admired and worshipped. This M.P. convinced Arakaki to take full blame for the murders and to say that he had acted independently, without following any orders. As a result, Arakaki was sentenced to death while the M.P., on the other hand, went home to Japan a free man. When Arakaki learned that the man he had so worshipped had essentially made him the scapegoat, he felt so betrayed that he vowed that if they ever met again, he would kill him.

This was before Arakakiís soul-changing transformation in prison. As it turned out, they did meet again, but instead of revenge Arakaki embraced him in forgiveness. These two men actually remain friends to this day.

What is Saburo Arakaki doing today?

Today, Pastor Saburo Arakaki is a retired Seventh-day Adventist minister on the island of Okinawa. He has shared his story at churches throughout Japan, Asia, and even at some Japanese churches here in the U.S. He turns 80 this year.

What do you and the author hope to achieve by making this book available to English-reading audiences?

The authorís wish is that the message in Saburo Arakakiís story will give hope to readers around the world. He told me that he had the mental image of a rainbow of light encircling the world. The English translation is the first step.

I share the authorís wish that is a message of hope. I also hope that itís a message of peace. I think that war stories like this are important, because they remind us of the impact of violence and waróon a personal level. Itís easy today to acquire a sort of sanitized view of war. But I think itís meaningful for us to be reminded of the horrors of bloodshed and how it destroys more than physical bodiesóit destroys people at the core.

What was it like to translate this book?

Translation requires lingering over sentences and scenes, and this really brought home to me the horrific violence and chaos of war. The scene on Suicide Cliff was particularly difficult. There were mothers going insane because their babies were dying of starvation. Parents were throwing their children off the cliffs before leaping to their deaths themselves. It was utterly unimaginable. I found myself listening to a recording of ďPie JesuĒ over and over again while translating that scene just to have some kind of soothing background to the scene.

Ultimately, translating this book changed me in ways that I didnít expect. Iíve always believed in God. What changed for me during the translation of Rainbow Over Hell was that I came to believe that God believes in us. The idea of a higher being who chooses us for a positive impact in the world is comforting to me.

What is the significance of the title, Rainbow Over Hell?

In the midst of the Battle of Saipan, Saburo Arakaki had stood on the precipice of despair at the edge of Suicide Cliff, where hundreds of Japanese leapt to their deaths rather than surrender to U.S. forces. Suicide Cliff was a sort of living hell. As Arakaki witnessed this terrible scene, a soothing rainbow of light had risen out of the sea to settle over him. It was a kind of metaphysical symbol of heaven and hope for a young man who didnít believe in God. The authorís intention with the title was to remind us that even in our darkest hour, our individual moments of despair, there is a rainbow of hope over us.

Any other projects in the works?

Iíve translated another book by Tsuneyuki Mohri. The working title is Never Lose Your Smile. This project is particularly close to my heart, because itís the story of my own grandmotherís experiences during World War II as a young Japanese-American wife and mother. It was an incredible gift to be able to translate a story that is also my inheritance in a way. Iím hoping that Never Lose Your Smile will eventually be published.

(Q & A with Translator Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson: March 17, 2006)

 

 

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