December 2012

This is the last of three blog posts that are an excerpt from a notebook my father carried as a young man.

Note: This blog post contains graphic descriptions of human injuries.

Part 1 of this story was posted 12/27/2012.

Part 2 of this story was posted 12/28/2012.

By Michio Taniwaki

Two days after the bombing, I was among a group of the soldiers ordered to go to the East Training Ground (map 2 #6) which was located in north central Hiroshima. We could not go straight there. Though the fires were mostly burnt out in the city, under the ashes embers were still smoldering. We made a detour first toward the north near the Hiroshima-eki (train station, map 2 #5) that was destroyed but not burnt down, then to the west. As we walked, we passed three elderly people talking. “What will become of us?” they asked each other.

Hiroshima Train Station a few months after the bombing shows a makeshift terminal in front. The concrete façade appears in good condition but the building is actually unusable and was later demolished. Photo from Gateway to Peace project

As we approached the entrance to the training ground, a private first class and I were assigned to stand sentry at the intersection. Nothing unusual happened. Fires were still burning at some distance away. Once in a while people walked in front of us, but the private first class didn’t move or say anything except when asked for directions or other questions.

There was a satsuma imo (sweet potato) patch behind us. Since we were hungry I checked the size of the potatoes by digging. But they were much too small to eat, about the size of fingers. In the morning we returned to the assembly area and slept in the grass.

In and around the training ground were many tents set up for emergency kitchens and first aid. They were mostly set up by navy. There were some trucks among them that belonged to the navy too. “What is the army doing,” we wondered.

While we were resting, somebody came to tell us that there was a noncom lying at the railroad crossing. He was wearing the mark for the Army vessel unit. “You are the same group aren’t you? Why don’t you go and take care of him?” Four of us went to the railroad crossing. A noncom was lying next to the track. His breath was rapid and shallow. He was unconscious. We fashioned a stretcher from a door we found, placed him on it, and carried him to our station, then to the navy’s first aid station situated in front of a Buddhist temple.

The medic said his skull was fractured and there was no hope for him. The medic dressed the noncom’s wound anyway. Many soldiers were on the floor, and we tried to place him there. A corporal or sergeant stopped us saying, “This place is taken by our unit, no others except civilians are allowed to be in here.”

We thought he couldn’t have such authority, but we left and placed the patient under a tree out of the sun. Presently, we were sitting next to three wounded older privates. One of them asked for a cigarette, so I gave some. Another man wanted to drink water, so I went to a neighboring house to get some water.

Soon our noncom died. We reported this to Corporal Koike who inspected the noncom’s jacket for his identification. The corporal found his name, Kobayashi, but his unit was only written as “Re.” Corporal Koike said, “I don’t know what ‘Re’ is. I have to go to the headquarters to find out.” He left the station, and two of us were now watching over the corpse. The medic saw this and said, “You army-san are so inconvenient. Don’t you know that naval jackets have the name of the unit clearly written on them so you can identify instantly?”

This was not our first time to be at this location (training camp). We came here once before to practice radio communication. We had set up a station and exchanged messages with the home base. The infantry would have to run and crawl on the ground, but we sat under a shade tree.

Nearby, a couple of girls were playing ball. One girl would bounce the ball while singing a song. If the ball bounced off the other girl, she would take over and sing and bounce. The song went like this, “Second mama is stepmother, and Mama is angry because you are too late with a big bucketful of water. Stamping, kicking and beating. ‘Mama, Mama forgive me.’”

At some distance, a barely audible whistle and sound of machinery were heard, a faint smoke column was rising slowly into the clear blue sky. That was far and away. Here and now, the main hall of the temple was full of the wounded and more were coming. Everything, houses and fields were destroyed and the area around us looked like a battleground or hell.

The replacements for corpse watching came so we returned to the barracks. That afternoon we built a hut to sleep in. We used material salvaged from the barracks. The hut had a roof and floor but no walls, good enough for the season.


[The following are notes my father wrote in 2010 for a 65th anniversary remembrance speech he gave on the steps of the Colorado state capitol building.]

We were ordered to go to Niho Elementary School about a mile to the east (map 2 #4) where one of many temporary hospitals that had been set up, and helpers were needed. There were hundreds of patients, women, old people, and children mostly of elementary school age. They didn’t talk loudly or cry.

There were no beds, tatami (rice straw mats about 1 m by 2 m, as hard as door mats) were spread on the wooden floor. There were no doctors or trained nurses, only a few medics and some untrained helpers like us. What we could do was limited to serving water, feeding them some onigiri (rice balls), although many patients didn’t have an appetite and vomited, and assisting them to the restroom. Help was needed day and night. We didn’t have oil or ointment to treat the burns nor bandages nor any pain killers or other medications. We didn’t have the slightest notion that these patients were suffering from radiation sickness.

We moved dead bodies and brought in new patients. Without medication patients didn’t fare well. A boy who was quietly lying had maggots in his eyes, I picked them out and cleaned his eyes with water. A middle-aged man who said he was a watchmaker and his wife both frequently asked me for my help. After 3 days of work without a break to sleep, our replacements appeared. The couple begged me to stay but I could not continue.

The next day we were ordered to stand sentry at the west end of the city (map 2 #7). There were no more fires and no more embers under the ash so we walked straight across the city. Wide areas were completely burnt, only the skeleton of concrete buildings and charred trees were left standing. But as we approached our destination, houses reappeared and there were houses with little damage. I suppose some were vacant, but every 4th or 5th house had a sign for bereavement posted meaning people were living there.

Sentry work was uneventful. We were ordered to go back to the barracks without having done anything meaningful.

The next day we were assigned to transport corpses to one of many makeshift crematoria in the city (map 2 #8). We started from near our camp. Many bodies were children. It took two men to pick up a body, one man lifts the legs while another lifts the arms and together they put the corpse into a stretcher. Grabbing arms was a nightmarish experience, skin peels off the arms and you lose your grip, the body falls down, but the skin remains in your hands. Everybody hated this job. I did more than a fair share, and I was thanked for that, a rare event in the army. Railroad ties were used for fuel, and corpses were placed on the stack. In most cases corpses were not identified. The air was filled with a strong stench and it filled our lungs. When we came back I overheard someone saying, “Then there was a man who had a bunch of watches. He offered me one for getting some medication, but I couldn’t do anything. He died soon. We cremated his body and all the watches too.”

On August 15, we were told to gather at the center of camp to hear an important announcement and warned not to misbehave no matter what was said. It was the Emperor’s voice on the radio, the first time ever we heard it, announcing the end of war, and concluding we should prepare to, “bear the unbearable and suffer the insufferable.” My feeling was “Thank god it’s over.” I tried hard not to look happy, I am still in the imperial army, but I think I am not alone. The commander of our regiment, who was hospitalized, said according to a noncom who was also in the hospital, “I’ll go home in the countryside and be the mayor or something.” (In Japan, a mayor in those days was hired by the city or township, not elected.) The noncom added, “These words are unbecoming of a commander.” I thought “Why don’t you wake up.”

I imagined that surrendering meant soon the army will be dissolved, and we will be discharged from the army. “How nice,” but before that we had to surrender all weapons and equipment to the Allied forces. Sorting and moving kept us busy. We were working without adequate food.

One day a request for volunteers was made, “Headquarter needs kitchen helpers.” I raised my hand and accepted along with few others. We went to the headquarters in Ujina, a seaport for Hiroshima (map 2 #9). The area seemed to have escaped the blast.

The headquarters was made up from a few poorly constructed buildings arranged in a square that surrounded a courtyard. A civilian employee directed us to the kitchen and told us to do the daily routine, cooking gohan (boiled white rice) enough for all personnel whose number varies day-to-day. The rice must be measured and rinsed then placed in a large pot that looked like a huge upside down steel helmet. We then added the correct amount of water. For fuel, we were to use boards piled up in the backyard, which were wet from the rain. We had to dry them by placing them around the fire. Okazu (side dishes for gohan) would be cooked by civilian workers. Our hunger disappeared quickly.

The commander was diabetic and ate fresh chicken every day. (Nobody else had access to such luxury.) Someone had to kill the bird and remove the feathers, that became my job. Cleaning and cooking the bird was a civilian cook’s job. There was no heavy manual work here, and food was plentiful. Often there was surplus resulting from unreported personnel reductions and we threw the extra food away. Somebody, possibly a former employee found this and started to collect it saying it was animal feed, but he complained of the unsanitary condition in which the food was found. It was clear he wasn’t using it for animals.

One day we received kazunoko (dried herring roe, a delicacy usually reserved for New Year’s Day) in a shitodaru (a barrel that holds about 40 liters or 10 gallons). We placed it out front so anyone who came to the kitchen could scoop some out. For a while it moved fast but, then eventually we heard, “No thanks, no more.” They refused to eat it.

We were ordered to burn the military maps. So we used the once valuable navigational charts being stored in the map cabinet as kindling to cook with.

As the days passed, the headquarters’ food requirements declined. Within a few weeks we were dismissed from kitchen duty and returned to our original unit. We borrowed a cart from one of the civilian workers. We put our belongings on it, but when we finish unloading nobody was willing to return the cart, not me either. So we kept it. I don’t think it belonged to him personally.

By now, many of the men had been discharged. The remaining men were housed in tents. We were still moving materials. One day, old-fashioned uniforms appeared and they were distributed among us. There were indications that some senior noncoms were taking goods home. More men were discharged and they went home.

New orders arrived. We were to move to Mihara-shi, a small city about 60 km to the east (map 1 #7). We hired a small ship to move everything we had including radio equipment. We occupied a dormitory for the workers of a rayon factory. We were assigned to watch goods we stored at a storage shed which was a flimsy building. We were armed with mock rifles. Nothing happened for many nights, but one evening, suspicious men appeared. The guards responded with the weapons and yelling. The would-be burglars ran off. Those of us who were not there heard this story with amazement.

One day I was ordered to dig some earthworms from the vegetable garden. The soil was dry and sandy. There were no worms. “You don’t even know how to dig worms,” I was told.

Another day I was told to go to town to pick up an urn previously ordered, which was for Yamamoto who was in the 4th Company and moved to the 5th Company. Poor soul. Someone was trying to pour the ash from the bag into the army style urn, an unpainted cedar box about 15 cm on each side. Staff Sergeant said, “You don’t have to put all the ash in the box, pour out some onto the garden,” the same garden I was ordered to find worms.

It had been more than two month since the end of the war and we were getting tired. Our companies were mostly gone. Officers and some noncoms were working with books and records. By this time the signs of rank were removed so it was hard to know who was who.

One day a private took out a sword and said, “Let us go, or I’ll commit hara-kiri (ritual suicide).” Usually such an outburst would bring some punishment. Instead, we privates were all discharged. Before leaving we received some surplus goods including several hoods for rain coats, some okome (uncooked white rice), and miso (soup paste) in a pail. I gave my miso to a radio shop owner I had become acquainted with. My okome was exchanged for some unsweetened biscuits. We also received severance pay of 1,000 yen, about ten months worth of civilian’s pay but because of hyperinflation worth only about 10 dollars [about $200 in 2010 dollars]. Much later I found that our status was actually civilian employees, but I didn’t know it at the time. Whoever released us was at least honest enough to give us our severance pay.

I tried to buy a ticket for home, but was told that all trains were full and no more tickets could be issued. The radio shop owner intervened and I was able to get as far as Takamatsu-shi (map 1 #2), the entrance to Shikoku. I had to wait a day, but was able to get a ticket to Susaki-shi (map 1 #1), my hometown. As in all other stations, the place was so crowded that there was no place to sleep. An out-of-order telephone booth became my overnight shelter. The next day I was finally on the way to unite with my anxious family.


An interview of my father and other Hiroshima survivors appeared in the Rocky Mountain News in Aug 2005 and 2 and 3 (registration required).

For more information on the bombing of Hiroshima, visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

[Update: I created two maps of locations mentioned in this memoir and added links. For details, see Jan 27 blog post.]

This is the second of three blog posts that are an excerpt from a notebook my father carried as a young man.

Note: This blog post contains graphic descriptions of human injuries.

Part 1 of this story was posted 12/27/2012.

By Michio Taniwaki

Just outside of gate of the army camp and across the street was a city park, Hiji-yama-koen (map 2 #2), named after the hill. Part of the hill was to become air raid shelters. The air raid shelters looked like coal mines or tunnels. They were long, narrow and had an L- or T-shaped end. For the building materials such as post and boards for the tunnels, we went to the site of demolished homes.

[Throughout the summer, several army companies, including mine, were assigned to tear down houses in an attempt to] create fire lines in case of fire caused by Allied incendiary bombing. We ran to these sites, picked up the demolition debris, carried them over our shoulders, and placed them near the entrance of the shelters. This was done before breakfast.

We called the task of digging air raid shelters “Hijiyama work,” and during the month of July we did Hijiyama work once or twice a week. Members of other companies were also doing this work and they were working more often than us. These shelters were to protect radio equipment and were being built near the barracks. Some companies were working almost every day, but our company had many with poor physique so our work was ineffective.

A noncom always led us to one of the shelters. There usually was another noncom from a company responsible for telephone and telegraph communications, we called them Wired communication. They set dynamite, installed supporting posts, and did other work that required some knowledge and skill. Meanwhile, we carried dirt and gravel using a cart on a rail or more commonly using baskets on poles, two men working together.

Hiroshima had been built on the Ōta-gawa (Ōta River) delta [the delta rivers are now called the Hon-gawa or Hon Rivers] which is compacted sand of eroded granite and so easy to dig except deep inside the tunnel where we reach bedrock and dynamite had to be used. We preferred night shift, because after night shift we were allowed to sleep 6 hours during the day, time when others were in the training room.


The first two pages of the notebook my father carried during the war. The first page lists the serial numbers of all the paper money in his possession. He was ordered to record them by the army. Photo by George Taniwaki

Toward the critical time

I found two good friends, Usami of Tokyo and Ushijima from Fukuoka-ken. Ushijima was like Shiota, and we criticized the military and discussed the outcome of the war. We did this during the breaks, we had to keep some distance from others. I don’t remember if I talked about the war with Usami. We did not meet very often, but we made a good company to carry dirt with basket and pail. When the going got tough he hummed away the Grand March and I liked that, it was far better than Japanese marching songs that are mostly primitive.

Corporal Koike was assistant to squad leader, Sergeant Sakamoto. One day, he was giving us a lecture, but against his expectation we could not memorize what was taught. “Can’t you do better than that?” he asked. “No. It must be my fault. Even if you worked hard, if the instruction isn’t right, you can’t do well. So I’ll punish myself.” As soon as he finished his words he began to hit his cheek with his fist. That made us hold our breath.

Private Baba shouted, “Corporal Koike, please stop. If you have to hit, hit me instead.”

We made a resolution to obey his orders. The next day I overheard an older private scolding a new private like us. “What’s the matter with you? Yesterday you guys acted like a cheap play.” I felt an anger. We worked harder after this incident, but it didn’t last more than two weeks or so. Most of the time we were training to transmit and receive signals.

Toward the end of July we began to hear a rumor, that we were to have maneuvers and so-and-so would be sent to such-and-such location. One day I had to go to the company commander’s room for housekeeping duty. There I saw the itinerary and found out that I was with the group whose destination was Kurashiki-shi, about 80 miles east (map 1 #6), this would be a fun.

About this time we did house demolition every day to cut fire lines, but the demolished houses were left sitting on the ground. Would they work when the bombing started?

Whenever we heard the air raid sirens, we put on armor-like garments, steel helmets and rifles if you had one. Each time, the 4th Company had to move all the communication equipment from storage to the air raid shelters at Hijiyama. When all was done, usually the air raid warning was cancelled and everything was moved back. Eventually, we left the equipment in the shelter and brought them back out only when needed. We also performed fire drills, which was the same as the civilian way, using buckets of water and bamboo sticks with mops attached. (One dips the mop into water and beat the burning objects, including incendiary bombs, to put the flames out.) The effect was doubtful, fire extinguishers seemed more useful, but we never learnt to operate them.

On the evening of August 5th, the air raid sirens went on again. As usual bombs didn’t fall as far as we could tell, but we had to perform the standard routine. When all was done we went back to sleep. We expected to get permission to sleep a half day or so because of the extra work during the night. But Communication Class 2 which I was a member of was ordered to perform Hijiyama work between 06:00 and 12:00. “Rotten deal,” I thought.

Sergeant Sakamoto led us to the Number 4 Shelter. We placed our jackets, canteens, and other things in a shack near the air raid shelter entrance. I tried to remove my watch from the pocket of my jacket and dropped it. The watch stopped and it stayed stopped for 3 or 4 months. The supervisor of the day was a hard-working man who made us work hard too. Soon we were exhausted, but work had to continue without a break. I and a few others used shovels to fill an ore cart and Usami was almost ready to push it out.

Suddenly lights went out. Due to poor makeshift wiring it would break down quite often. This would provide us a much-needed break, but we did not want to reveal our joy. Instead, we said, “Too bad” in presence of the sergeant and supervisor. Usami pushed the cart on the track in complete darkness, but nobody else made any move for fear of running into someone or something.

While in the dark, we heard a “BOOM.” It was not very loud, yet the pressure pushed the eardrums inward. “What’s that?”

“Dynamiting in a nearby shelter.”

“The air compressor exploded.”

“No it’s a bomb, I’m sure of it.”

Sergeant Sakamoto said, “I’ll get out and take a look.” Soon he came back and with excited voice said, “All of you come out quick, our barracks are wiped out.”

"What does he mean wiped out?" To find out we moved through the darkness and got out.

The first thing I saw was two injured men being carried down the hill. I went to the shack where I left my jacket just to see the shack was no longer standing there, my jacket was blown out and canteen was at the corner of the blown shack. The barracks were obscured by the cloud of dust, but I could see the nearest structure, a garage with the door blown and roof lying on the ground. The rear end of the building was still standing but leaning toward the front end. Our training hall had its pillars broken. The roof looked as if a giant’s hand pushed it down and left an imprint of a wavy pattern (like skin over ribs), so you could see where the rafters were. Windows were broken or blown in. Shingles were scattered on the ground and also inside. Some walls were blown down and some others were leaning. (As the dust settled,) I could see our living quarters looked no better. I thought there must be a huge crater where the bomb hit, but there was no crater anywhere near the barracks.

I moved my eye sight to out of barracks, as far as I could see, the city suffered the same or even heavier damage. This has to have been a new kind of bomb, a dreadful one. I was terrified at first. Then a happy thought welled up in my mind, after a big event like this military discipline would become loose.

It is hard to describe how strict the discipline was. For example, each soldier was ordered to keep a cash book (in order to record the serial numbers of all currency he held). The book was inspected so they would know that we were not hiding extra cash. And they didn’t stop there. They checked our pockets, clothing, personal belongings, and inside of book covers without telling us. Finally, they checked the gaps in floor and wall boards several times.

Letters to home were censored which was expected. But Corporal Uto picked one recruit, and read out loud part of the letter he wrote to his older sister. He commanded, “Rewrite the letter, it’s too sissy.”

Now with this bomb, the barracks were destroyed, men were injured, discipline could not be maintained. In the midst of disaster I felt private happiness.

At a short distance away, the remaining 4th Company had gathered. 80% of 4th Company had been injured and 50% required some treatment. I found Usami, who had been injured. He said, "As I pushed the cart to the exit, I saw a blinding flash, then I was blown backward about 2 meters. I tried to get up, but I was blown down again.” [The atomic bomb created a blast wave which consisted of a high pressure shock followed by a low pressure one.]

Someone pointed upward and said, “Look.” In the sky there was a huge cloud that looked like a cumulonimbus except it was moving in all directions at high speed. [Actually tons of dirt and ash being swept up by the blast. For location of ground zero, see map 2 #3.] Days later we heard that a strange kuroi ame (black rain) [the now highly radioactive dirt and ash dropping back down to earth] fell in some parts of the city. A tree branch over our heads was burning. “How odd, we ought to put out that fire,” someone said. But nobody moved.

At about noon, civilians walking toward Hijiyama Park began arriving. The tree shade probably attracted them. The sirens wailed again. Civilians and soldiers got into the shelters. I was in a shelter with young noncom candidates that looked about 16 or 17 years old. They screamed when something touched their backs with severe burns. One of them stopped next to me with burned skin and obviously in a great deal of pain. I offered water, which he drank.

The air raid warning was cancelled so we got out. Then I saw more people arrive with burns over their bodies, which was a horrible scene. Some appeared to have skull caps on their heads. A closer look told us that the caps were actually their hair. Probably they had hats on, so the tops of their heads were protected while the hair and skin on the lower parts of their heads had burnt away. Some people were burnt on their front, some burnt on their backs, and most had burns on their arms. Their skin was peeling from their arms and dangling. Their steps were staggered. There were children, old men, and women. Some young women were wearing chemise with hems burnt (their dresses had burnt away) and they were staggering toward the shade.

The thought that “war is terrible” came to my mind and receded. “War will continue,” I was sure. Wounded men were rescued from the barracks and sent to the hospital. Some men from 4th Company were among those sent to the hospital, but the Company miraculously had no fatalities. Most wounds were caused by falling objects, some lost much blood.

The kitchen had been damaged, and a regular meal couldn’t be prepared, but we received emergency rations made up of rock hard biscuits at about 13:00. The army didn’t provide any food or care for civilians. For the first time we felt that we were lucky to be in the army. Hundreds of wounded and sick civilians were arriving in Hijiyama Park and sat down under the trees. Most of them were so weak they didn’t move from where they sat nor raise their voice.

The most important job of our company was head count. Until nightfall roll calls were ordered several times. We spread blankets in the open space and spent a restless night watching the red sky through the tree branches. Night sentries were posted, but it was very lax.

The next morning we went back to the barracks to retrieve some supplies, our personal effects, and building material such as boards. Our living quarters were on the second floor. The main stairway was damaged so we used the emergency stairway on the outside wall. Inside looked worse than we thought with broken pillars, fallen beams, blown in windows, fallen shelves and other debris filled the space. We had to negotiate obstacles to move about. Somehow we got in and finally I was at our room. Large bunk beds were the prominent objects and they were like extra floors, as many as eight beds were on each floor. I saw the upper floor lost its supports and landed on the lower one where my bed was situated. Next to my pillow was a crushed steel helmet. Too close for comfort.

I picked out my personal items and those of my buddy, Higuchi. I found his glasses and put them in my pocket. Then I made two bundles and threw them out of the window to be picked up later. Higuchi was injured and sent to a temporary hospital set up at Niho Elementary School (map 2 #4). A few days later he was discharged, so I handed him the glasses. He was so happy to be able to see again. He said before the bomb he had two pairs of glasses, but at the hospital he had neither of them. To show his appreciation he offered me part of his meal. This was not a small favor. Everybody was hungry for lack of food.

That night sentries stood guard as usual, but a new special order was issued, “Watch for runaway soldiers.”

See part 3 of 3 here.

[Update: I created two maps of locations mentioned in this memoir and added links. For details, see Jan 27 blog post.]

The following three blog posts are an excerpt from a notebook my father carried as a young man. He kept the notebook with him while he was a soldier in the Japanese Army during World War 2. His experiences as reported in this blog are recollections written by him after the war, while living in Japan in 1947. He translated these notes to English from 2011 to 2012.

By Michio Taniwaki

On February 10th 1945 I received a notice ordering me to report to an army camp in Hiroshima on April 24. It was only 2 months after my physical examination. This order was no surprise to me, it was only a matter of when not whether.

Beside helping my dad’s farm [in Kochi-ken on the island of Shikoku, map 1 #1] I had a part-time radio repair business. I had a quite a few radios to repair between now and April 23. Most difficult work was to acquire the replacement parts. New parts were nice, but often used parts had to do.

The custom here was that when solders leave home he has to visit relatives, neighbors, grave site of ancestors, and attend prayer meeting at the locally supported Shintō shrine. I did not believe in Shintō and I didn’t want to trouble myself to wasteful activity.

The day of departure was tumultuous with many people coming to say goodbye and wishing me good luck. In my mind, Japan was to lose the war and we (soldiers) would be quickly discharged, but this was something you never would utter, or you would be accused of being unpatriotic.

At the railroad station I met two other young men, total strangers, who are also leaving for service. I was chosen to speak; to make a thank you speech. I was not in the mood to make a lengthy meaningless speech so made a very short one. My mind was unsettled, but got in the train. As the train left the station, the calls of “banzai, banzai got farther away and soon overcome by the sound of the train.

After midnight, I took a ferry (from Takamastsu to Uno, map 1 #2 to #3), changed trains (at Okayama map 1 #4) and next morning I was in Hiroshima (map 1 #5). We checked in at Uomitsu Ryokan (inn). Among many men about ten were from Kochi-ken, but they were all strangers to me. There was a gunzoku (a civilian army employee) to manage our affairs. That evening two girls appeared and sang and danced to entertain us. “How nice of them,” we thought. The song they sang was an unfamiliar one. Years later, I heard the same tune in California. Were they Nisei? Were they looking for other Nisei? Did they survive the A-bomb and make it back to America?

The front cover of the notebook my father carried in 1945 as a Japanese soldier. After the war he recorded his recollection of the events in this notebook. Photo by George Taniwaki

Basic and officer training

Next morning, April 24, we were led to the barracks of Akatsuki 16710 butai (army regiment) which is a unit of the army that possessed landing ships. I was assigned to 4th Company. The barracks (map 2 #1) looked like ordinary infantry barracks, cheaply constructed drab long two-storied buildings, a hallway ran through the center lengthwise to divide the rooms. 4th company occupied several rooms. We were placed upstairs. All rooms were equipped with rows of huge shelf-like bunk beds. Between the beds were long tables with chairs. We listened to instructions, ate, read, and wrote at the tables. The room was much too small for the number of men and very uncomfortable.

Training didn’t start right away. Men from the personnel department checked our background several times. I didn’t mention where I was born. (I am an American citizen, born in Alameda, California, but raised in Japan. I feared what would happen to me if this was ever discovered.) They also checked our belongings. Then army uniforms, shirts, boots and other items were issued.

Three or four days later we were in medical service room for physical examination. A medic, private first class approached me and said, “Are you Taniwaki?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Do you know me?” he asked. “I am Nishimura of Miyanoshimo.”

“No, I don’t.” He could have been family of one of my radio repair customers. but I had never seen him before.

“Are you allowed to write home?” he asked.


“If you have a message to send home, I can write and send it to your folks,” he offered.

“Thank you very much, I don’t have any message, thank you anyway.”

Three or four days later we had the army induction ceremony. Sekihan (rice with red beans) was served. This was the first and the last such treat. We were learning everyday routine for the army. At 05:30, a bugle sounds and we shouted “Get up” and jumped out of the beds and folded the blankets as instructed. The blankets must be folded neatly and there should be no wrinkle and placed them on the rice-straw-filled mattresses. Then we pulled out the boots from under the bed, ran down the stairway, put our feet in the boots, ran a few steps forward, and tied the shoelaces. Then we ran to form roll call lines. If we didn’t do it fast enough, they made us repeat it 2 or 3 times.

One morning the commander of our regiment appeared. The company commander reported to him that all personnel are accounted for. “You have been here for a week now I suppose you are getting used to army’s daily life,” he said. “You might be still thinking about home, but you should never take a foolish act (and desert).” After this we learned a correct way to salute. When all done we returned to our room for breakfast.

Before the army I had heard that you have to eat fast, or be punished. But our squad leader, a corporal, said, “Chew well, army’s food is tough.” It was tough and poor in quality and quantity. After the meal some of us washed the dishes and rest of the men tidied up the room. If we didn’t do it fast enough, there would be thunderous, “What are you doing?” and “Hurry up.” Face slapping and kicking usually accompanied the thunder.

Beginning the next day, we heard, “Ten minutes before the assembly for the drill. Make sure there are no wrinkles on the blankets and they are lined up perfectly straight.” Unlike infantry, our drilling was done indoors. The communication hall was also used as our training room. The hall contained an instructor’s desk and rows of benches with telegraph keys mounted that were connected to a monitoring device at the instructor’s desk. First we learned a correct way to hold the key and proper posture.

Training would start after breakfast and ended before dinner time. Homework of memorizing 5 letters was ordered. There were two breaks, morning and afternoon. During the break we performed standard exercise, used latrine, smoking was allowed within two meters of the “ashtrays.” The ashtrays were ugly rusted water-filled vegetable cans. Cans were counted and recorded so it was important not to lose or damage them. Every evening ashtrays were cleaned. During the break if you were not doing anything, you were vulnerable to an order for errand. Even smoking was good enough to avoid an errand, so I started to smoke. This became a habit.

I found a few good friends. Shiota, Sakai and Shimizu all from Fukuoka-ken. We criticized government and leaders of army for the foolish decision to start the war against the Allies, especially the U.S. We tried to predict the progress of the war. We agreed Japan would lose the war. I had added that, “But eventually peace will return between Japan and America, then I want to go to America.” It was a rather unusual statement. This was in a country where people were led to believe that Japan is invincible, that Japan is a nation of virtue. I don’t know if this sort of propaganda was concocted by government officials or its collaborators, but newspapers were willing to cooperate. They told us, “America and England are barbaric so they must be destroyed.” People believed it, and speaking or even uttering any words contrary to it was considered a major crime. Through the grapevine we learnt that the battle at Okinawa wasn’t going well for Japan. We also knew that in Europe, Germany finally surrendered. Someone asked if Japan will win the war. Sergeant Sakamoto said, “If you didn’t surrender to the last man it should be considered victory forever.” Obviously he was among the believers.

The sergeant read a newspaper article about Germany, solders were given 30 days worth of rations and ordered to go back to Germany on their feet. Using their currency was strictly prohibited. I imagined myself carrying rations and crossing the Shikoku Mountains to go home.

After each afternoon session we went back to our room for dinner followed by cleaning the room, polishing shoes belonging to older solders, and cleaning rifles, if you had been issued one. There were not enough for all men. All these chores plus homework kept us working at dizzy pace.

Evening roll call was done in the living quarters at 20:00. After a short waiting time an officer of that week appeared. Corporal Uto saluted the officer and shouted, “Total number 42, absent 5, present number 37, absentees are 3 for sentry, 1 each infirmary and company duty. All are accounted for, sir.” After the report, so-called roll call education started. First, we had to memorize names of commanders in the chain from the minister of army down to commander of our squad. We also memorized excerpts of their instructions, and later excerpts of the army’s manuals were added. If you failed to memorize we would be treated with face slapping and other punishments. This training lasted for two months. Training was conducted by older privates and noncoms. Then we placed our shoes on the floor as neatly as we could. In no time “light out” was ordered. We got in the bed, hard and stiff, then we heard the light out bugle, and all lights were turned off. Talking was prohibited.

After we become accustomed to the army routine, we were ordered to stand night guard inside the company barracks. The duty cycle was 1hr, 15 min, meaning more sleep was lost. A city street ran just out of the gate to the barracks. Older privates and a corporal were assigned to that guard duty. They were also allowed to go to goods sales room, although the room was nearly empty. Once in a while grapefruit or tokoroten (gelatin with no nourishment) were available. How did I know this? My good buddy, Shiota managed to get to the store and bought some grapefruits and gave me one.

The only entertainment here were meals and sleep. Most people sleep and dream about tomorrow, we slept to forget about today. Before I entered army, I thought at least enough food was available for the military. Instead, we had some rice and thin soup. One good side effect, digestive system had no troubles.

Those of us who finished high school (perhaps 20% of new recruits?) were put into a separate room for education to prepare for the test to receive special training for leaders. If you passed the test you would receive additional special training to become a noncom or officer. This would mean more responsibilities and possibly longer service, and that didn’t enthuse me at all. Fortunately, selection was based solely on the test, and there was no rule that you must pass the test.

Up to this point, the leader of room was Corporal Uto, who was out of Army Youth Communication School. Personnel out of this school were known to be rude and barbarous. He hit me a few times. Once during the training, he criticized me for minor difference in my tsu” sound. “Your pronunciation has been affected by high school English,” he claimed.

“No, this is an accent of Kochi-ken.”

“No excuse allowed.” He didn’t know that I was American born. I didn’t reveal this fact to anybody, even today (in 1947) none of my buddies know this.

In our new grouping, Sergeant Sakamoto became our leader. He was older than Corporal Uto, far better personality and with a wealth of common sense. He was also a good spearman, and he taught other noncoms how to use spears made from steel files. “This is not mere sport, he said. “If American land in Japan, we must fight like this to supplement our lack of rifles.” Civilians were also being taught to fight with bamboo spears these days. Nobody complained about these foolish acts.

The test for leaders candidates was held and results were made known. I failed, but Shiota and Sakai both passed. Shiota said, “Maybe because I was really calm.” He also added, “You know, the army badly needs more noncoms and officers.” Later I was told there was another way to become a noncom and I should apply. “No thank you.”

The officer candidates left for new assignments. The company was reorganized, and I was placed in the second platoon, so I carried my belongings to the new room. This was a terrible place, a den for barbarians, and we were like a bunch of thrown in rabbits. We were subjected to beatings, kicking, and other abuse. The worst offender was Tsuboi whose rank was private first class, soon to be corporal. He was probably fresh out of Army Youth Communication school. We hated him and tried to avoid him if possible.

There were monthly health check to test our physical condition which revealed that we were losing our weight. Only one or two men out of 50 gained. I lost 0.5 kg the first month and 1 kg the next. In the third month I lost 1.5 kg. I probably lost the most during the fourth month, but there was no test in the fourth month.

See part 2 of 3 here.

See part 3 of 3 here.

[Update: I created two maps of locations mentioned in this memoir and added links. For details, see Jan 27 blog post.]