To mark the 62nd anniversary of the end of the war, The Japan Times is publishing a series of interviews with firsthand witnesses of the country’s march to war and crushing defeat.
Each of our subjects — speaking with the authority that only those in the evening of life can command — testifies to the destruction humanity can inflict upon itself. But each has also shared their view of how younger generations can avoid the same tragic path.
Before and during the war, Japanese believed the Emperor was a living god. They also believed they were fighting for him and dying on the battlefield was honorable.
For Kotaro Kaneko, 81, entering the elite Imperial Japanese Army Academy during the war was merely a way to a better life and pay, just as students today go to university to get a better job.
Ichiro Koyama’s schedule is filled with lectures, talks and interviews. The 88-year-old, a former soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army stationed in Jinan, Shandong Province in China, believes he has a duty to pass on his war experiences to younger generations.
The city has long been rebuilt and moved on, but Hiroshi Ito still can’t come to grips with Nagasaki’s obliteration by the United States 63 years ago.
On April 7, 1945, Jerry Yellin and his fellow P-51 pilots of fighter squadron 78 took off from Iwojima to escort B-29 bombers en route to Tokyo.
The lone survivor of an infantry unit on Papua New Guinea in World War II, Kokichi Nishimura swore to his comrades he would bring their bodies back to Japan. Sixty years later, he is still trying to fulfill his promise in a story of indomitable will and determination.
On Dec. 7, 1941, a 17-year-old high school student named Donald Richie was fixing the fence at his house in Lima, Ohio, when his mother ran out on the porch to tell him and his father that she just heard over the radio that Japanese forces had attacked Pearl Harbor.
Free-falling from approximately 27,000 feet after his B-29 was critically damaged while flying over the Kanto region, Raymond “Hap” Halloran was all but certain his fate had been sealed.
In his childhood, war and militarism surrounded Tota Kaneko, a well-known haiku poet and retiree from the Bank of Japan. When he was a sixth-grader, Japan invaded Manchuria. By the time he was a student at Mito High School, Japan was waging total war against China.
For Yoshiro Yazawa, the misfortune of being drafted just two days before Japan’s 1945 surrender ended up costing him three years in a Soviet concentration camp.
Hideko Yoshimura was 19 and in high school in Okinawa when she was drafted as a student nurse in March 1945. She had no doubt that serving her country was the right thing to do.
Tenkoko Sonoda recalls that when the war ended on Aug. 15, 1945, she was left with an unanswered question: Why had she survived when so many of her close friends and neighbors had died?
Donning the crisp, Imperial Japanese Army khakis gave Ken Yuasa a sense of power, as a superior being on a mission to liberate China from Western colonialism.
The horror of war cannot be forgotten By KAHO SHIMIZU
Shuichi Maeda worries about what will happen to society when elderly people who know firsthand the fear of war are gone.
From 26,000 feet he punched through a hole in the overcast over Tokyo early on a freezing Feb. 12, 1945, rolled into a roaring 60-degree dive and fired his rockets at a Mitsubishi engine plant.
As the public still debates the Imperial navy’s activities during the war, many veteran sailors say that at the time, at least, they saw their objective as liberating Asia from Western colonial rule.
Shohei Yamamoto still has to choke back tears when he talks about the day he was expelled from his village of Shibetoro on Etorofu Island off northern Hokkaido, two years after Japan was defeated in World War II.
Beyond the torment of World War II and his postwar incarceration on Java and at Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison, one of Susumu Iida’s earliest recollections of the war is meeting an Imperial Japanese Army general in fall 1942. Gen. Iwane Matsui was a “frank man who looked like any other grandfather in the neighborhood,” Iida recalled, although Matsui, then 64, had already commanded the Shanghai Expeditionary Forces in Nanjing.
In April 1945, Yukika Sohma and her four small children boarded a packed train in Mudanjiang in Manchuria bound for the port of Rajin in what is today North Korea. From there, the family took a crowded ship to Niigata Prefecture, then another train to Fukushima Prefecture to join relatives. During their journey, the 33-year-old Sohma and her children, aged 5, 4, 2 and 6 months, had a hard time finding food and places to sleep. But with the help of people along the way, the family safely reached their destination after 10 days.
Lee Hak Rae was stunned on March 20, 1947, when he stood in an Australian military court in Singapore and was sentenced to hang as a war criminal for the brutal treatment he was accused of inflicting on ailing Allied prisoners of war who were forced to build the infamous Death Railway to their last breath. Lee had been specifically accused by nine ex-POWs of collaborating with the Japanese military in forcing sick prisoners to build the Thai-Burma railway until many died.
Kanji Murakami began his reporting career in January 1941, joining the Asahi Shimbun’s bureau in Seoul, or Keijo as it was then known, when the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule. At that time media censorship was strong. A 1909 law imposed many restrictions and curbed freedom of speech. Every newspaper was loyal to the Imperial government, which urged the nation to sacrifice for victory.
It was a rainy day in mid-August 1945. World War II was about to draw to a close, but nobody in the tiny Chinese village knew it. All they knew was that chaos was breaking out, and that the Russian military was approaching from the north. Noriko Suzuki was among some 600 Japanese sent to northeast China, in the region historically known as Manchuria, under a colonial government program for settling the region. That plan was clearly falling apart.
If Masamichi Shida, 80, had known a bit more about the world back in 1942, he might never have become a kamikaze. But Shida was just an impressionable junior high school kid when he took the first step toward becoming a warrior for the Emperor.