The Breaking Jewel

Author
Abstract
The Breaking Jewel is set on an island in the South Pacific during the final days of World War II, when the tide has turned against Japan and it is clear that the war has become one of attrition. The novel opens with the preparations of a small force of Japanese soldiers to defend a tiny and ultimately insignificant island from a full-scale assault by American forces. The narrative closely follows the character of squad leader Nakamura, the sole Japanese survivor of the battle. Oda, previously known for his anti-establishment and anti-war sentiments, gradually and subtly develops a powerful indictment against the war. His novel highlights the bravery of the Japanese soldiers but also criticizes the hypocrisy of their leaders. He shows that despite Japanese protests against Western imperialism during the war, the Japanese sergeants themselves exercised prejudice against their Korean and Okinawan enlistees (Korea and Okinawa were then considered colonies of Japan). The soldiers grapple with the meaning of the term gyokusai, literally meaning "the breaking jewel" or the "pulverization of the gem," which refers to a patriotic act of mass suicide as a last defense of the homeland. The novel debates whether gyokusai is truly an act of patriotism or of defeat. Oda offers a rare depiction of the Pacific war from the Japanese side and captures the essence of Japan’s doomed imperial aims.
Year of Publication
2003
Edition
2003 paperback edition
Number of Pages
136
Publisher
Columbia University Press
City
New York
ISSN Number
ISBN-10: 0231126131
URL
Chronology
Subject
Region
Rating
4
Average: 4 (5 votes)

Reviews

Please login to review this resource

Zimmerman's Breaking Jewel Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 08/08/2013
4

"The Breaking Jewel" is a novel written by Makoto Oda, a well-known Japanese writer who has been outspoken on the foreign policies of the United States since the Vietnam War. The original title for the book was to be "Gyokusai," a Chinese word adopted by the Japanese meaning “banzai charge,” the final charge of any Japanese soldiers who were left to fight the enemy, most notably against Americans. The backdrop for this book is set in the South Pacific on a small island called Peleliu during the Second World War. The book focuses on two men: Sergeant Nakamura, a Japanese soldier battle tested in Manchuria who follows the ideals and practices of the Japanese army, and Corporal Kon who is a Korean serving in the Japanese army striving to be an honorable and worthy soldier for his emperor.
Oda draws on the association between the Japanese and Koreans in the 1920s through the Second World War and the stereotypes placed on Koreans by the Japanese people. The prejudices against the Koreans are seen in the relationship between Sergeant Nakamura and Corporal Kon, whose name was originally Kim before Koreans were forced to change their names to a Japanese surname. The measure of changing Korean names to Japanese was not for the promotion of solidarity, but to show that the Japanese were superior and that the “peninsula people” were not equal. Throughout the book, Kon consistently makes efforts to show his bravery and loyalty as a soldier to the Emperor of Japan, but is resisted time and again as an equal to Nakamura and other Japanese soldiers. Corporal Kon is not only facing the strength and might of the United States Marines, but also the prejudices of his fellow Japanese soldiers.
As the struggle between the Japanese army and United States continue on Peleliu, there is no reconciliation between the two main characters. Both men are eventually forced with a decision to make a “banzai charge” against the Americans and meet different fates. Nakamura is badly wounded and retreats to a cave where he is meet by Kon. As Nakamura is dying in the cave from wounds he sustained in his “gyokusai,” he never acknowledged Kon’s bravery even after Kon rushes out of the cave into a wave of American steel. One odd note to the book was the momentary meeting between Nakamura had with a woman in the cave who appears to show up out of nowhere never really understanding where this meeting figures into the theme of the book.
From a teacher’s viewpoint, the book is an easy read of 116 pages with a ninth to tenth grade vocabulary. The Breaking Jewel gives the reader a unique perspective from the eyes of a Japanese soldier and what they faced against the United States military. Most American studies on World War II are seen from the viewpoint of the United States. A majority of the time spent on WWII is giving the students a loop-sided view of the war. The Breaking Jewel presents the opportunities for students to give another side of the story and can possibly add new views into studying the war.

Breaking Jewel Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Wirkd Cultures
Posted On: 08/08/2013
5

I selected The Breaking Jewel as one of my assigned readings so I could evaluate its usefulness in my classes. I teach World Cultures, Holocaust, and US Military History at Hamburg Area High School. I believe The Breaking Jewel can be used effectively in Military History classes at the high school level.
The Breaking Jewel provides the reader with an alternative view of World War II in the Pacific to which the Western reader is accustomed. Written from the Japanese point of view, the Battle of Peleliu is far different than the one depicted in American accounts from World War II. Rather than depicting the liberation of a conquered island, The Breaking Jewel provides the reasoning behind the “banzai charge,” where honor and bravery are exhibited by making the ultimate sacrifice – one’s self – to defend the Empire.
But it doesn’t stop there. The book also illustrates the different viewpoints and treatment of Japanese and Korean soldiers. This not only illustrates the hierarchical makeup of the Japanese Empire, but also relates to discrimination and prejudice found in other cultures, allowing the reader to relate this to society, as well as war. I believe The Breaking Jewel will be useful in both a Military History class and a survey course that includes World War II.

The Breaking Jewel Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: United States History
Posted On: 04/13/2013
4

“The Breaking Jewel” by Makoto Oda, a well-known Japanese writer notorious for his anti-war opinions and foreign policies of the United States since the Vietnam war, depicts war struggles for Japan and whether it was for glory or defeat. The original title for the book was “Gyokusai”, a Chinese word adopted by the Japanese meaning “banzai charge” or “the breaking jewel”. This idea was used when Japanese soldiers would use it as a last ditch effort to fight against the enemy, most notably Americans, often ending in a suicide mission. It was seen as a patriot act of mass suicide. The setting for the book takes place in the South Pacific on a small island called Peleliu during World War II. The main focus is on two characters: Sergeant Nakamura, a Japanese soldier tested in Manchuria who follows the traditional ideals and practices of the Japanese Army and Corporal Kon who is a Korean serving in the Japanese army striving to become an honorable and worthy soldier to the emperor.
While the story focuses on the Japanese army preparing for an invasion, Oda is able to bring another major conflict to light. Oda draws on the struggle between the Japanese and Koreans from the 1920s through the Second World War and the stereotypes placed on Koreans by the Japanese people. This association is shown between Sergeant Nakamura and Corporal Kon, who was originally Kim before Koreans were forced to change their names to traditional Japanese names. Having to change their names was to show that the Japanese were superior and that Koreans were not equal. Throughout the book, Kon desperately and consistently tries to show his bravery and loyalty as a soldier to the Emperor of Japan but is always resisted to other Japanese soldiers. For Kim the war was not only a battle between him and the United States Marines but also against fellow Japanese soldiers.
While the Japanese army and the United States continue their struggle on the island, there is no resolution between the two main characters. Both men are forced into a difficult decision to make a “banzai charge” against the Americans. Both know that this will take their lives but feel it to be a necessary move to make. Sergeant Nakamura is badly wounded and retreats to a cave where is he is met by Kon. While in the cave Nakamura never recognizes Kon’s bravery even after Kon rushes out into a wave of American steel. Both acts of the men are to show the honor and respect given to the Emperor by risking their lives for their country.
This book is an easy read for high school students. All grades can understand the vocabulary and follow the story line. It does a great job depicting not only how the Japanese would fight but also the relationship between the Japanese and Koreans. It also shows the perspective of Japanese soldiers that are often overlooked especially in a US History setting. Being able to show both sides of the war is an important aspect in the classroom because it gives students the understanding and hardship faced in the war. Also showing the relationship between Japanese and Koreans is important for students to understand the struggles and hardships faced in the opposing army as well. It allows students to see discrimination and prejudices in other cultures during the time period. Being able to see both viewpoints on the war allows students to establish the knowledge between both sides and the struggles each side faced. I recommend this book for any high school history course as well as any literature course.

Slow, yet moving and informative

Field of Interest/Specialty: East/SE Asia & Global Studies
Posted On: 07/25/2012
3

The Breaking Jewel by Makoto Oda, translated by Donald Keene, is a WWII novel that recounts an historically fictionalized account of the 1944 Battle of Peleliu, a small coral island within the island nation of Palau. The novel follows the Japanese garrison’s preparations for battle with “the American devils” and the hard-fought, harrowing loss by the Japanese. In Japanese, the word for “breaking jewel” is “gyokusai,” which is also known as banzai, or suicide, attacks. Early on, the commanding officer cautions his leaders to engage in gyokusai for the sake of victory, not as an alternative to surrender. The main character, Sergeant Nakamura, is moved by this “Warrior” and takes this message back to his men, who affectionately refer to him as “Momotaro-san, meaning he was strong but gentle.” Following the Warrior’s speech, Nakamura never asks his men to die in a gyokusai, though he leads his men through a series of orders that repeatedly demand (remind) them to be “bulwarks of the Pacific.” To carry out the island’s defense, Nakamura relies on a subordinate, a non-commissioned officer by the named Kon, who is of Korean ancestry, but who insists he is a “Japanese from the peninsula.” Kon risks his life more than once to retrieve information from the island’s headquarters and, even more than his comrades, wears his loyalty to Japan on his sleeve. While the first part of the book focuses on the Japanese fortification of the island, the novel peaks when the Americans finally launch their amphibious attack on the island. Nakamura receives a letter from headquarters that orders the garrison to “obliterate the enemy.” Though, just as Nakamura learns the definition of “obliterate” for the first time, he experiences the meaning of this word at the hands of the American forces. By the end of the novel, Nakamura has watched his squad die off one by one and, tragically, proves himself to be the most loyal of them all.
For a WWII novel that tells the story of a strategic battle, The Breaking Jewel is a slow-paced, and deeply personal war novel. Despite its third-person perspective, the book reads something like a monologue. The scenes are written in such a way that there is an ever-present feeling of isolation and vulnerability. Late in the novel, I was surprised at the mention of thousands of soldiers, when it seemed that there were no more than the ten or so Japanese military that were named. While most of Nakamura’s superiors remain obscure in name, referring to them as “warrior” or “Captain Centipede,” there are a number of subordinate soldiers who are named in concert with their familial circumstances—such as Kaneshiro who was a fisherman who joined the army when his wife and two daughters were killed in an American air raid.
The Breaking Jewel provides an opportunity to talk about the WWII Pacific Theater and this battle, in particular, to talk about the battle between America and Japan over the Philippines. Additionally, this battle resulted in “the highest casualty rate of any amphibious invasion in terms of men and material in the entire war in the Pacific” (Williams, militaryhistoryonline.com) and is controversial in terms of its questionable strategic location. It also provides opportunities to discuss the history between Japan and Korea, as well as aspects of Japan’s culture such as social hierarchy and loyalty to the Emperor.
The Breaking Jewel could be appropriate for high school or college history courses about WWII or East Asia, though the pace may be too slow to ensure student engagement. This book is, however, well suited for teachers looking to improve their own understanding or as a jumping off point for further research. Teachers might also read passages with students to provide additional Japanese perspective of WWII.

Graphic Historiography: The Breaking Jewel is WWII from the Japanese perspective

Field of Interest/Specialty: History/Geography
Posted On: 11/07/2010
4

My NCTA colleagues' read and highly recommended this book...so I likewise decided to purchase the text with my minigrant funds for my and my students' use. The book is a compelling narrative of a Japanese soldier's physical trials and mental tribulations in trying to combat an inevitably victorious enemy at Peleliu . If you are teaching a US History class and find yourself in need of materials portraying the Japanese perspective. Also see: Japan at War: An Oral History for similar first-person accounts from Japanese participants in the War. I would suggest butting a selection of this text against a comparable narrative by an American soldier also fighting on Okinawa. A good opportunity to analyze the aspects of propaganda and racism in theaters of war. The graphic and emotionally intense nature of select portions of the story may only be appropriate for 9-12 students. Given that the book is a continual narrative, pulling small selections of text out for classroom use may prove difficult. You may want to check out Cook's Japan at War instead.