Ryotaro Shiba, the great author of historical novels, was a student of Mongolian at Osaka University of Foreign Languages when, at the end of 1943, he was drafted into the army. Then aged 20, he received a “provisional graduation qualification” (the actual certificate was issued the following year) and found himself in Manchuria, which was at that time the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.

After he entered the Army School at Siping, where he was already exhibiting literary traits and founded a haiku club among the ranks, he was assigned to tank duty. Though he excelled more with tanka poems than tanks, he was sent to Mudanjiang, in what is now Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China, and made platoon commander of a tank unit.

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