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