Veteran John Sato's message ahead of the mosque attacks anniversary

1:50 pm on 13 March 2020

An elderly Aucklander says people should learn to understand others with openness and respect and avoid causing sufferings to others as the one year anniversary of the Christchurch mass shooting drawing close.

John Sato (C) 95, one of only two Japanese servicemen in the New Zealand army in WWII, took multiple buses from Howick to join the march against racism at Aotea Square.

John Sato (C), then 95, took multiple buses from Howick to join the march against racism at Aotea Square following the March attacks last year. Photo: 2019 Getty Images

The story of World War II veteran John Sato taking four buses to join an anti-racism march in central Auckland after the shootings in March touched many people around the world last year.

He said the killings had kept him awake at night and hoped people can all learn to be more understanding.

Sato lives alone after his wife and only daughter passed away. He does his cooking and washing himself and keeps his house tidy and clean.

He enjoys listening to classical music and browsing old photos of his family and friends displayed on walls, tables and shelves. He also appreciates the different shades of green of the trees while having breakfast.

Sato turned 96 in January, but he said it was just another number and he already felt more fortunate than many others.

John Sato, 96.

John Sato at his home. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

He still remembered how he started from his home in Howick and stopped at a mosque in Pakuranga before going to the city centre last year.

"All on the wall were flowers and I thought that was lovely. That shows something - you don't have to be a muslim or any other religion. It shows a person cares," he said, adding that he'd love to visit again.

"I would like to go there with respect. You're not putting yourself above them... You go with openness. You're there to learn to understand."

Sato said he felt very sad for those who were hurt in the events and the hurt may last for the rest of their lives.

He also had things to say about those who committed atrocities like the March attacks.

"I can't understand anyone that does these things, but when you look around the world and listen to things that are going on. You understand a bit that they are lost. They don't understand. It's very sad for them too.

"They've got to learn some time, but that's something they've got to do. It's not me to teach me because I'm learning too."

Born to a Scottish mother and a Japanese father, Sato said he had been through racism growing up in Australia.

"In western Australia that time, they were very very frightened of Japanese and if you're half one race and half another, you're a half-breed, very low down.

"I was very much aware of it for many many years even when I came back here. It's something - a lack of understanding on other people's part. You mustn't feel unkindly towards them."

People all walked on the same earth and breathed the same air, and there was no need to "put a wall between each other mentally and emotionally", he said.

John Sato in his garden at home

John Sato in his garden at home Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Sato had a simple message ahead of the anniversary of the mass shooting.

"Remember what they've suffered and don't make other people suffer the way some of them have been suffering because they are no different, while they may look different and they may sound different but we're all the same."

Sato said on Sunday 15 March his thoughts would be with those who were affected and their families.

He would not be attending any events but would follow the memorial service on television and radio.

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