Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace
Chapter 31: The Great Path to World Peace [31.21]

31.21 Nothing Is More Barbarous Than War

In a message to young people, President Ikeda relates his personal experience of living through wartime, the starting point of his activities for peace.

On this occasion, I am reminded of my own youth. Sixty years ago, on August 15, 1945, World War II ended for Japan. I was 17 at the time, the same age as many of you, our high school students. My family lived in what is now Ota Ward, Tokyo. I was the fifth of eight children. One after another, my four older brothers had been drafted into the military and sent to battlefields in China and other regions.

My father, who ran a seaweed-processing business, suffered from rheumatism, which made it difficult for him to work. How painful it was for him to see his four sons, who were in the prime of their youth and a major support to him, taken off to war one after another. It was also incredibly hard for my mother.

My two younger brothers, my younger sister, and I were still at home. To contribute to the family finances in some small way, I delivered newspapers from the time I was in elementary school.

After graduating from the national people’s school, I got a job at the nearby Niigata Steelworks [in 1942], where one of my older brothers had been employed. It wasn’t possible for me to continue my schooling because I had to help support my family.

We had all lived happily together in a spacious, two-story house up to the time I was in fifth grade [in 1938]. But as the clouds of war grew ever darker, we were forced to sell the house, and the property was later turned into a munitions factory. We moved to another house nearby, but were later ordered to evacuate [so that the area could be turned into a firebreak amid the intensifying bombing raids over Tokyo].

We then decided to move to the home of my mother’s younger sister, into a separate wing that would be added to the house. Once it was completed, we used a pull cart to haul our possessions there. It was the night of May 24, 1945, and we were all looking forward to living together in our new home the next day. In an air raid that night, however, it sustained a direct hit from an incendiary bomb and burned to the ground.

We somehow managed to save a single storage chest and bring it with us. When we opened it, however, it contained only my younger sister’s traditional Girls’ Day dolls. Overnight, we had lost literally everything. But despite this, my dauntless mother comforted and reassured us, saying: “I’m sure we’ll live in a fine house again one day where we can display these dolls.”

Even after the war ended, it was quite a while before my brothers returned home. We would look on with envy when we saw other demobilized soldiers coming home alive and well. It wasn’t until May 1947 that we were notified of the death of my eldest brother, with whom I had been very close. I will never forget seeing my mother trying to hold back her tears when she received the tragic news.

In those days, I had tuberculosis. I suffered from drenching night sweats and painful coughing often accompanied by bloody phlegm. I was thin as a rail, and the doctor advised that I be sent to a sanatorium in Kashima, Ibaraki Prefecture, but it wasn’t possible.

The war caused terrible suffering for my family and made my youth one of great hardship. Of course, we were by no means alone in this regard. Families across Japan endured untold misery––and not just in Japan, but across Asia and around the world, countless people through no fault of their own were tragically sacrificed in the war.

Nothing is more barbarous than war. Nothing more cruel. That’s why I hate war and am forever opposed to the devilish nature of authority that causes it. My absolute commitment to pacifism, to fight for peace throughout my life, was engraved in my being when I was a youth.

From a message sent to the entrance ceremony of the Soka Junior and Senior High Schools in Tokyo and Kansai, April 8, 2005.


Supplementary Reading

“A Piece of Mirror”

President Ikeda knows from personal experience that it is mothers and children who suffer the most in war. This essay excerpt conveys his wish that all people can lead happy, secure lives.

I have in my possession a mirror. Actually, it’s nothing more than a piece of broken glass about the size of my palm. It has fine scratches on both sides, but still functions perfectly as a looking glass. It is one of those bits of broken mirror, somewhat on the thick side, the kind that you might find in any trash heap. But to me it is a precious keepsake.

My parents married in 1915, and as part of her trousseau my mother brought along a dressing table fitted with a very nice mirror. No doubt that same mirror reflected the young bride in her wedding finery, casting back an image clear and undistorted.

Twenty years or so later, however, the mirror somehow or other was broken. My eldest brother, Kiichi, and I happened to be home at the time, and we sorted out the fragments and picked out two of the larger ones to keep for ourselves.

Not long after that, the war broke out. My four older brothers went off to the front one by one—some to fight in China, others in Southeast Asia. My mother, her four oldest sons taken away from her, tried not to show her grief; but she suddenly grew visibly older.

Then, the daily air raids on Tokyo began. It pained me to see my mother suffering. Thinking it might somehow protect her, I kept the piece of mirror always with me, carefully tucked inside my shirt, as I dodged my way through the firebombs that fell all around us.

After the war, when we finally received official notification that my eldest brother had been killed in the fighting in Burma (Myanmar), I couldn’t help thinking of the piece of mirror I knew he must have been carrying in the breast pocket of his uniform. I could imagine him, during lulls in the fighting, taking it out and looking at his unshaven face, thinking longingly of his mother back home. I knew how he must have felt, because I had a piece of my mother’s mirror, too. Learning he had died, I took out my piece of mirror and thought of him.

In the troubled times after Japan’s defeat, I decided to leave home and moved into a small one-room apartment. It was spartan and bare, without so much as a mirror, but I had brought my piece of broken mirror with me and kept it in my desk drawer. My mirror served me well: Every morning before I went to work I would take it out and look at my gaunt face, shave, comb my hair, and apply pomade to keep it in place. That one time each day, when I held the mirror in my hand, I would think of my mother, and almost unconsciously would find myself whispering in my heart: “Good morning, Mother.”


In 1952, when I married, my wife brought along with her a brand-new dressing table, and from that time on I looked at my face in that new mirror.

One day, I found my wife examining my piece of broken mirror with a puzzled expression. She must have thought it was a worthless piece of junk that wouldn’t even interest a child. When I saw that the mirror was likely to end up in the trash basket, I told my wife about the history attached to it, of the link it formed with my mother and with the brother who had been killed in the war.

She managed to find a small box made of paulownia wood and stored the piece of mirror away in it. It’s still safe in its box today.

Even an old fountain pen, if it happened to have belonged to some great writer, is a source of fascination for people, seeming to speak of the secrets behind the masterpieces written with it.

My piece of broken mirror will forever tell the story of those hard-to-describe days of my youth, my mother’s prayers, and the sad fate of my eldest brother.

From the essay “A Piece of Mirror,” first published in Japanese in November 1968.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.