The truth is that I had never heard about Byakkotai. As a matter of fact, the chances are : neither have you!
Unless you are a hard core Tomohisa Yamashita fan and happened to have watched the 4 hours made for TV Japanese movie. (Which I had never heard of either before traveling to my friend family house in Chiba).
My friend lives in the prefecture of Chiba near Narita city but her father is from Fukushima. He's an Aizu boy ;-) Knowing that I love history, he had planed on taking us to his hometown and show me all the sight the great city of Aizu-Wakamatsu had to offer. Long before going, my friend had been telling me all about it. She would always mentioned the Byakkotai. I had no idea what she was talking about. All I had in my mind was Yoshitsune!
We got up really early one April morning and took of in the family minivan for Aizu. outside : pouring rain. We drove for about 4 hours and reached Aizu. We first made our way to the famous hill where the memorial for the Byakotai lays. There stands a little museum. And that is when I understood what Byakkotai was...
In short : such as Hiroshima and the children peace memorial. Byakkotai is the synonym of the infamy of war. Children and war. Kids that shouldn't have been sent to war and for lack of better knowledge, committed ceremonial suicide thinking they had been defeated. Teenagers who had been train by the best. And who did the best thing they could do when they saw the castle, they were meant to defend, burning. What they did not know was that the castle was not engulf in flame and that they had not been defeated yet.
So there I stood. At the top of the hill. Looking over 19 graves. With the castle standing strong in the valley. (It has since been rebuilt). The cherry blossoms. The pouring rain. It hit me harder than the Atomic bomb site in Hiroshima.
Probably because the site was so modest. Probably because although they are respected, they are in no way heroes.
That's what they were. Yet you can't help but understand the reason behind their act. The ultimate testimony of pride. Everyday I see kids. Teenagers. With no sense of pride. With no integrity. Teens that have no directions or nothing they hold near and dear to their heart and would give their life to protect.
Granted, Byakkotai represent youth foolishness just the same way Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet does. But Byakkotai also represent the ultimate act of loyalty. Would you do the same for the country you love?