In My Father's Footsteps 

James L. Nelson

 My First Impressions of Japan

The fully loaded Boeing airliner settled heavily on the runway of Narita Airport just north of Tokyo after 11 hours in the air from Los Angeles.  After an almost leisurely stroll past a rather bored but polite customs official in the nearly empty custom's office, I exchanged my dollars for Yen at bank branch conveniently located in the main lobby of the airport.   I had money, video, still cameras, a tape recorder and everything I thought I would need to fulfill my life-long dream of following my father’s footsteps as a POW in Japan in 1944-45.

My friend, and colleague, Kinue Tokudome, a Japanese citizen who spent the past 29 years in the U.S. accompanied me.  After writing a book on the German Holocaust, she turned her attention to the fate of the American POWs who were captured by the Japanese, and had been researching and writing about POW issues over the past ten years.  I stumbled across her website, US-Japan Dialogue on POWs, while researching what had happened to my father after he was captured by the Japanese on Corregidor on May 6, 1942. We corresponded regularly.  On this trip her fluency in Japanese and English was invaluable since my knowledge of Japanese language and customs was minimal at best.

Yuka Ibuki, our mutual friend, was at the airport to greet us.  I was first introduced to Yuka on the Internet through Kinue.  I met them both in person for the first time at the annual meeting of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) in Louisville, Kentucky only several weeks earlier.  Yuka was waiting at the airport for my arrival and that of Dr. Lester Tenney, the newly elected National Commander of ADBC, who was in Japan in an effort to meet the Prime Minister and make his case for a formal apology to the POWs he represented and to establish a fund to allow former POWs and decedents like me to visit Japan as recompense for the brutal treatment and slave labor the POWs had experienced at the hands of their Japanese captors during the war.

After an hour on a high-speed train from the airport we arrived at Tokyo central station, which was very busy, clean, and well organized.  People moved quickly and efficiently to the various local lines. It was about 6P.M. and the Tokyo rush hour was still on. The hotel I would be staying was in downtown Tokyo only a block or two from the Imperial Palace. It was immaculately clean and the management had thought of everything a traveler could need and placed it in their room.  And yet, the rate was surprisingly modest.

As a steak and eggs kind of guy, I had some trepidation about eating Japanese food. That evening I had my first Japanese dinner and was pleasantly surprised to find it delightful. 

My Father’s First Impressions of Japan

My father’s arrival in Japan was a wholly different matter.  He had spent 11 days in the 40’X60’ hold of the “hell ship” Noto Maru crammed in with 1036 other POWs being shipped like cattle from Manila to Moji, Japan.  He was recovering from Dysentery and the effects of both wet and dry Beri Beri and still suffering from severe malnutrition.  The hold was so packed with men in similar condition the smell, heat, thirst and lack of food was almost unbearable.  My father spent most of the trip in a semi comatose state drifting in and out of consciousness.  The ship was not marked as a POW transport and it was attacked by an American submarine wolf pack, one of which fired a torpedo that hit the ship but failed to explode. Many other POWs who were not as lucky died as the result of similar attacks when allied forces sank their ships on the way to Japan. Estimates range from 20,000 to 4,000 died, with the most commonly cited American estimate at 11,000.

A POW drawing of the conditions on the Noto Maru

Food consisted of a cup of lowest quality rice per day and water was scarce. The POW officers tried their best to distribute the food and water they did get fairly, but it was nearly impossible because of the way the men were packed so tightly in the hold.  The toilet facilities consisted of a large benjo bucket that was lowered and raised by a crane into the hold.  Each time it was emptied the slop spewed onto the men below and they stood the risk of having the bucket land on them as it was lowered back into the hold.

The Noto Maru left Manila on 27 August and arrived in Moji on 6 September 1944.  Upon arrival in Japan the POWs were searched and then hosed down with seawater before being were taken by ferry across the Kammon strait to Shimonoseki where they were bedded down on the floor of what appeared to be an old armory.  It was hard for my father to describe his surroundings since he had been going blind from malnutrition since the end of 1942 and by the time he arrived in Japan could only make out shapes that were close up.   His optic nerves were slowly being destroyed by lack of vitamin A and his distance vision was already gone.  

The next morning the POWs boarded a train that carried them north. During the trip the POWs received bento boxes with rations comparable to those issued to Japanese soldiers.  They included some kind of vegetable, pickled plums and the ever-present rice, but it was of better quality than they had been used to in the Camps in the Philippines.  My father was surprised at the improved amount and quality of the food and the fact that they were actually allowed to sit in crowded passenger cars with seats since train travel in the Philippines had always been in freight cars where the POWs had been packed in so tightly they could barely breath.

The POWs nicknamed the train the “Nippon Express” and had no idea of where it was taking them. The train crawled north for 500 miles to Tokyo in a day and a night, dropping off work details and picking up bento boxes along the line as it went.  50 men were dropped off at the Onomichi coal mine about 25 miles north of Shimnoseki, then 100 more were dropped off at Omori near Tokyo. Finally, over the course of the three day trip the train climbed to 4,000 feet above sea level and deposited its last 500 prisoners in the small town of Hanawa, 40 miles south of the northern end of Honshu Island at about 5 p.m., September 9.

North To Sendai Camp # 6 in Hanawa, Japan

I made the trip to Hanawa on my third day in Japan.  I met Kinue in the lobby of the hotel and we took a Taxi to the Tokyo station.  The taxi was a Toyota Crown with the passenger seats covered in white lace.  A suited and white-gloved driver who, after reminding us to put on our seat belts, took us directly to the station using the shortest and fastest route as he expertly drove the Crown through the heavy Tokyo traffic.. The taxi doors opened automatically to assure that passengers would be safe as they exited the cab on the side with the least traffic.   Each taxi I rode in demonstrated equal expertise, honesty and true concern for the passenger. Although, I must admit at first it was a little disconcerting to be traveling on the “wrong” side of the road after being accustomed to driving on the right not the left.

We rushed to the waiting Japan Rail train knowing that Japan Rail was very particular about its trains running precisely on time and they did not brook late passenger arrivals.  The train was clean, ultra-modern and very comfortable with  uniformed stewards who bowed graciously each time they entered or left our car.  The train quickly gathered speed and was soon rolling smoothly along at more than 120 miles per hour toward Sendai its next stop.  We bought a bento box breakfast from the servers who traveled back and forth in the train cars with cars of food and drinks, which were of equal quality to food served in restaurants.  Once we were out of the Tokyo the land and its use began to change rapidly from suburbs to agricultural with rice plots replacing shops, businesses, and clusters of apartment houses.

In less than three hours we covered the 284 miles to Morioka where we met our host Mr. Osamu Komai who was to drive us to Hanawa.  Mr. Komai was about 70 years old and had been a child during the war. He was a sprightly upbeat man quick to laugh and with unbounded enthusiasm.  I first leaned of Mr. Komai’s story reading his essay about his father on Kinue’s website.  His father had been a Captain in the Imperial Japanese Army assigned to the Thailand/Burma railroad project made famous by the Movie the “Bridge On The River Kwai.” During the war his dad had beaten to death two British POWs for having built a clandestine radio and was executed after the war for his actions.   Shortly thereafter, his mother passed away and he was left on his own to do the best he could in what was left of Japan after the war.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Mr. Komai. 

Although my father was abused and blinded by the actions or neglect of his captors, he was my hero. He had suffered through all kinds of adversity and survived…he was courageous and tough and I was so proud of him.  He never whined about what had happened to him or felt sorry for himself.  In fact, just getting him to talk about his experiences as a POW was as difficult as pulling teeth.  I was also impressed that when I was younger and would express my childish hatred for those “Japs” who did this to him, he would stop me and make it very clear that he held no grudges and it was time to move on. Nothing was to be gained by wallowing in the past and bemoaning ones fate.

On the other hand, Mr. Komai was left to his own devices without a father or mother and with the stigma of having his father hung as a criminal.  That had to be very difficult for him and it made me even more impressed with his happy demeanor and kind consideration as our host.  

The conversation progressed as we traveled toward Hanawa, and Kinue told me that like me Mr. Komai had done quite a bit of research on his father including a trip to Thailand.  It seemed we shared a strong common bond with our fathers, each paying them tribute in our own way. He had looked up a third POW who was a mate of those his father had killed and went to England to meet him and apologize for his father’s actions.  I was again impressed by Mr. Komai’s sense of honor and his courage to apologize face to face to a man his father had wronged.  In Mr. Komai I saw the kind of courage neither the Japanese Government nor the Japanese corporations that had enslaved POWs seemed capable of.  Mr. Komai’s position was simple, seek the truth of what happened, make a heart felt apology for what had happened, and make a effort to assist POWs or their descendents when possible in retracing the POWs experiences.

Interestingly, this was essentially the same position taken by Dr.Tenney, the former POW and current Commander of the largest contingent of American POWs held by Japan, the ADBC.  His trip to Japan was to secure recognition of the truth of the atrocities that were perpetrated on the POWs, to seek a heart felt apology for those crimes, and to advocate the creation of a Japanese foundation to fund POW and descendent trips to Japan to retrace their footsteps as I was doing at my own expense.  A fund similar to those created by the Japanese government for British and Dutch POWs.  In effect, Dr. Tenney was asking the Japanese Government and the Japanese Corporations that misused the POWs to do what Mr. Komai was already doing at a personal and human level because he felt he had a moral obligation to do so.

It wasn’t long before we pulled into the town of Hanawa and went directly to the site where Sendai POW Camp #6 had stood.  We were met by a number of national and regional reporters and two TV crews one of which was from NHK, Japanese public television. Apparently the meeting of the son of a POW and the son of an officer executed for the murder of POWs was news worthy.

The Stream on the East Side of the Camp 1944  ( Note Mt. Osarizawa in the background)

Mr. Osamu Komai, Ms. Kinue Tokudome and the Author standing in the same spot
where the previous picture was taken 64 years earlier


The same bridge was used to enter the Sendai #6 Camp in 1944

 Hanawa camp site today: Video clip

The camp was long gone and had been replaced by a middle school.  Although most students were taking tests the Principal、Mr. Toru Sato, invited us in and was surprised to learn that his school was built on the site of a POW camp. 

The author meets with the principal of the Middle school built on the site of the former Sendai #6 Camp,  as Asahi Shimbun reporter Mr. Yoshihiro Kando examines old photos. 


Remembrances of Hanawa

Standing outside the school I vividly recalled my father telling me that the camp was a 200 by 350 foot compound with three barracks buildings each about 20 feet high, 20 feet wide and 100 feet long surrounded by a 12 foot wooden wall.  Each barracks was of recent construction.  It had a dirt floor and a wood frame with a single layer of uninsulated boards shoddily nailed to the frame leaving gaps and holes for the wind, cold, snow and rain to enter.

Inside the Barracks was a double-decked row of wood sleeping platforms lining each side of the building with only a flimsy straw mat for a mattress. My father described it as “a big chicken coop, with the main difference being that the chickens were better fed and their coop was warmer.”   The centerline of the barracks had some tables where the prisoners would eat, and a small potbellied stove was located at the far end of the barracks. There was a well-built guard barracks at the back of the camp where the guards lived.  There were also some smaller buildings including a wood covered latrine built over removable barrels.  Periodically, Chinese slave laborers would come and haul the latrine barrels away.  My dad guessed their contents were being used for fertilizer on local farms where the majority of the Chinese prisoners worked as coolies.  The camp also had an infirmary, kitchen and a headquarters building for Columbia University educated [This reference to Colombia appeared in an article I read regarding the disposition of Asaka’s war trial case] camp commander 1st Lt. Toshinori Asaka and his Sergeant Hoichi Takahashi, both of whom spoke English reasonably well.

As soon as they entered the camp, they were made to stand at attention, counted (tenko) and made to listen to the perfunctory camp commander speech. Asaka gave a speech, part delusional, about how they would remain in the camp until Japan won the war, part practical, giving them the rules and assorted draconian punishments for infractions, and part ominous in that they would work very very hard for the Mitsubishi Company in its Osarizawa Copper Mine.  It appeared the sole purpose for my father’s existence and that of his compatriots was now to literally serve as slaves for the Mitsubishi Corporation in its Copper Mine.

My dad was assigned to the right front side of the first building to the right of the guardhouse.  All he had for clothes upon arrival at the camp were the tattered remains of a cotton summer tan shirt, a loincloth and a pair of worn out shoes. He was issued longer pants, a jacket made from gunnysacks,  shoes  made out of rice bags, socks and some white cotton gloves.  This clothing was later supplemented with a captured British overcoat.   However, the overcoat could only be worn to and from the mine but could not be worn when working.  That worked out okay for the men working underground or in the smelting areas since the temperature never got much below 50 degrees but for those working “topside,” exposure to the cold without the overcoats was sheer misery.

It snowed six days later after my dad arrived at the camp, and by the end of the month the horrors of winter in northern Japan began to take their toll on the prisoners. As soon as the thermometer dropped below freezing, the camp’s pipes froze and broke leaving the camp without water. With no water to bathe, the prisoners became infected with body lice they called  “motorized dandruff.”  It remained bitterly cold until March, and an estimated 20 feet of snow fell during the course of the winter with snowdrifts outside and in some cases inside the rough-hewn buildings that housed the prisoners.  The 12-foot fence around the camp had snow higher than the fence in some sections.  One of the most powerful memories of Hanawa that my dad and other POW’s had was that no matter what you did that winter, you could never ever get warm.

The fuel supply for the potbellied stoves was usually good for only one hour of heat in the morning and one hour at night. Even then the stove was so small and the uninsulated barracks so large that only those closest to the stove actually got any heat.  The Japanese had issued the prisoners the wooden blocks commonly used in Japan as pillows; those quickly disappeared into the stoves. Several POW’s were caught trying to add to the fuel supply by bringing back a piece of wood or contraband coal and were beaten severely for their effort.

The camp routine didn’t vary much.  There were no weekends or holidays.  Every day the men were up by 5 a.m. They had a breakfast that consisted of a small bowl of rice and a bowl of watery soup that was brought from the cookhouse to the barracks in buckets.  In the winter it always arrived cold.  The guards then lined them up outside and did a Tenko, body count.  At 5:30 the daily hour and a half 1.3 mile  march up the steep mountain to the mine began often on either an icy, snow covered, or muddy dirt trail that at some points exceeded a 50 % grade.  Work started at 7 a.m., and the guards returned to their barracks as the Mitsubishi overseers called Honcho’s by the POWs took over.  After five hours of heavy work, they got a half hour lunch break.  At 5 p.m. they did the hour and a half return march to the camp, had another small bowl of rice and cup of watery soup, and went to sleep on the wooden plank beds of the “chicken coop.”  If for any reason a prisoner was too sick or injured to work they could be put on “light duty,” but the guards would immediately cut their already meager ration in half.

                                                          Hanawa camp at  liberation
                                         Photo courtesy: Mr. James  Murphy. (His POW story here)

Somehow I knew that my father, were he still alive, would be pleased to know a school now stood on the site of his former camp. 

The horrible dirty and cruel places my father had described now rang with the wonderment and laughter of children instead of the sounds of those in abject misery. I was also facing the fact that  “the Japanese” who, as a nation, I had seen as my fathers tormentors were individually some of the kindest most polite and genuinely sensitive people I had ever met, shattering my child hood image of the cruel brutes I had once imagined. But the evil of war can make cruel brutes of any of us. We are all human and subject to the forces of evil that can disrupt our moral compass and degrade our sense of humanity.  

The Paradox of Osarizawa Copper Mine

After meeting with the Middle school Principal, Osamu, Kinue and I along with several cars full of reporters made the steep drive up the mountain on a road parallel to the trail the prisoners used. 

Road to Osarizawa Mine: Video Clip 

When we reached the top of the road and I saw the mine I shuddered at the thoughts of things that had happened there and for the first time slipped away from the crowd in an effort to organize my thoughts and feelings. It was only then that I began to take in the beauty of the mountains.  I had hardly noticed them because my conversations with Mr. Komai were so intense.  My fathers descriptions of the mine and the pictures I had seen were of squalid places and I was now staring off into a beautiful valley I am sure my father never saw because of his loss of sight and then I thought of how he had been made to weld without eye protection which completed the process of blinding him. 

The paradox of great beauty and great horror was not one I experienced on a personal level before. Finally, one of the cameramen came out of the restaurant for a cigarette and shook me out of my reverie.

After lunch we were met by the general manager of the mine, Mr. Minoru Endo.  Although it was still owned by Mitsubishi it was no longer producing copper and was now being used as a tourist destination called “Mineland.”   There was a go cart track, museum, gift shop , and of course the main event was the mine tour. 

Osarizawa Copper Mine was not just any mine it was one of, if not the, oldest mine in Japan.  Mining operations began back in the 1630’s initially for gold and then later for copper.  There were nearly 700 kilo meters of mine shafts in the mountain. 

Left: The museum model of all the various shafts within the Osarizawa mine



Mr. Endo explained that most of the mining was done working up the shafts of copper as opposed to working the shafts laterally. Miners would climb scaffolds loosen the ore which then fell to the bottom of the shaft and was carted away to the crushing and smelting processes outside and down hill from the mine.

Mr. Endo guides Mr. Komai and the author inside the mine. (NHK)

The mine and its history was well documented and the displays were excellent with the exception that the only mention that POWs had worked the mine was a brief note in the museum timeline stating that Korean and Chinese workers and foreign POWs went home in1945. There was no other mention of the POWs slave labor.  I will be sending Mr. Endo the photographs I have gathered and a synopsis of the POWs time at the mine for inclusion in its history and hopefully he will use them to fill this gap in the mines history.  Were I just a tourist I would have thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Mineland, but as the son of one of the POWs my emotions were very mixed knowing of my father’s experiences there that resulted in the conviction for war crimes of both guards and civilians after the mine was liberated.

My father also made it very clear that not all of the guards and overseers were cruel to the POWs.  “Happy,” one of the guards, was a Japanese Christian who took his faith seriously and was exceptionally kind to the prisoners.  When the camp was liberated, some of the men got together and wrote Happy a “to whom it may concern” letter attesting to his kindness in the event that he was picked up by the MPs as a former prison guard.  There was also a Japanese woman who worked in the kitchen at the mine who would risk being beaten by the overseers to smuggle food and tobacco to prisoners when she could.

My father told me he knew that skilled laborers would generally fare better and those without skills would be subjected to digging and hauling ore deep in the most dangerous jobs in the mine.  When asked, he lied and told the honcho’s that he was a welder hoping for a better job topside in the mine.  They put him to work welding the crushing machines but there was a catch, the honcho’s did not provide him with eye protection and welding without goggles destroyed what was left of his eyesight.  As a result, his welds were wrong and he was relegated to crawling around the crushing machines groping for ore that had fallen off the conveyor system and tossing it into the crushers.

                                             The crushing area outside the mine: video clip

It was at Hanawa that my father almost gave up.  By the horrible winter of 1944/45 he had dropped from his prewar weight of 160 pounds to about 85 pounds. He had suffered the privations of the camps for nearly three years. He had lost hope that the war would end at any time soon, and the Mitsubishi honcho’s continued to tell prisoners the same stories the guards had been telling them about the Japanese Army taking Chicago and heading east for the final battles for New York and Washington.   He was almost totally blind, and as be lost his usefulness to the honcho’s in making their quota, he was subjected to progressively harsher treatment.  He was now regularly being kicked or stepped on as he pathetically crawled across the floor of the crushing room groping for pieces of ore and throwing them into the crusher.  He was only 20 years old but was unable to move without great pain. He was always sick and had lost all hope for the future.

His bottle of hope was almost empty and he knew what that meant. He also knew there was a quick and sure way out of this seemingly endless misery. He was never more than 20 feet from the giant ore crusher that would grind a man to bits in seconds.  It assured a quick if not clean death.  That day he pulled himself up to the edge of the crusher and was only inches from ending it all when that Holy Spirit in all of us came to him and pulled him back from what was literally the pit.  He remembered feeling loved and at peace, and he pulled back from the crusher and from that day forward remained a devout Christian.  Interestingly, I found out during the visit that the mine had been used as a refuge for Japanese Christians during periods of repression of Christians in Tokugawa Japan. Perhaps the mine is one of those places meant for spiritual solace and protection.

Author walking alone at Osarizawa Mine where his father was forced to work
(from NHK news)


After the tour of the mine one of the reporters, Mr. Yoshihiro Kando, who had been educated at my former University, the University of Wisconsin, had told me that since the mine had closed in the early 70’s the area had become economically depressed and that tourist areas like Mineland were helping keep the local economy going.  I could relate to that since my area of Kansas was in a similar economic situation and I had been deeply involved in the struggle to promote my area in an effort to provide more jobs and economic development.

He had been assigned to report on the Gulf War, and after four years in the Middle East had been reassigned to the area around Hanawa to recuperate from the horrors he had seen.  Our conversation also reminded me that unprovoked wars and the mistreatment of POWs was not unique to the Japanese and that my own country was fully capable of the same kinds of deeds, if not at such a large scale.

Soon we got back in our cars and headed back down the mountain toward Morioka and Mr. Komai took us to a traditional Japanese Spa deep in the mountains.  It was a quiet trip I was wrapped in my thoughts about my father and the beauty of the surrounding mountains.  They reminded me of the many trips I had taken with my family to the White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire as a child stopping at the various tourist resorts like Mineland to see the sights.  I was sorry my father never got to see those beautiful places both in Japan and in the States.

When we arrived at the Spa we were greeted like royalty.  As was my overall experience in Japan, everything was neat and clean with well tended gardens a spotless lobby and extremely polite staff who would do anything necessary to make ones stay a most pleasant experience.   We were shown to our rooms and Mr. Komai was anxious to get me to the hot tubs of mineral water since he knew I had broken my back several years earlier and it was giving me trouble after such a long day.  He expressed concern that the tubs might be too hot but I assured him I was accustomed to spa heat having one of my own at home. The Spa was a wonderful relief and I spent nearly a half hour letting my back relax in the soothing waters.  We were to have a traditional Japanese dinner after the Spa and as I put on my kimono Mr. Komai began to laugh.  He pointed at the way I had wrapped the kimono and said “woman” I quickly realized what he meant and wrapped the kimono to the right instead of to the left.  He smiled and flexed his arms like a muscle builder and sand said “man” We both laughed heartily and headed off to dinner. 

The dinner was magnificent with many courses served by a Japanese woman in full regalia.  We sampled fish and meats all sorts of vegetables wine and Japanese beer, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  After hours of eating and talking about our fathers and our feelings about war and peace we finally retired to our rooms.  The rooms were traditional Japanese with tatami mats and when I returned to my room the futon had been laid out neatly on the floor.  I slept soundly and enjoyed the simplicity of the environment.  There was a modern bath and after a quick shower we were off again to the train station in Morioka and a fond farewell to Mr. Komai who as a most gracious host picked up the tab for our stay at the Spa.

Yasukuni Shrine and Meeting Japanese Veterans

The second day after my arrival in Japan, Yuka,  Elliot Carter, an English exchange student who was staying with her and her husband, and I went to the shrine and toured the attached military museum.  At that time I did not realize that the shrine had been a focal point for conservatives in the glorification of what the Japanese call the Greater  East Asia  War known to westerners as the Pacific Theatre of World War Two.  While touring the museum I did notice that the rationalizations for the attack on Pearl Harbor were extensive and that there was barely any mention of POWs or atrocities committed by Japan during the war.  There was definitely a lot of political “spin” on the facts from my perspective.

After our tour of the shrine were we walked to a fine restaurant overlooking the moat of the Imperial Palace.  At lunch I had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Toshio Kondo, the General Secretary of Shoko the Association of Friendship Between Japan and the Philippines by the Japanese Veterans of the Philippine Warfare, Mr. Toshiro Kawamura, a Shoko member who fought on Luzon, Mr. Masaichi Matsushita who was wounded at Lingayen and eventually taken prisoner by U.S. forces. All of these men had fought during the retaking of the Philippines in 1944/45. We were also Joined by Mr. Yuuji Miwa who has a wonderful website on the Japanese Merchant Ships Conscripted and Sunken in WWII, which is quite well known among Japanese and western researchers as well.


                                       Mr. Kawamura,  author,  Mr. Yuuji Miwa,  Ms. Yuka Ibuki ,
                                                       Elliot Carter,  Mr. Kondo and Mr. Matsushita,

I was hoping to meet Japanese veterans who had fought against my father in the first Philippine campaign in 1941/42 but none were available.  None-the-less their reiteration of their experiences from the Japanese side were invaluable when it came to understanding the perspective of Japanese soldiers during the war and how Americans treated them upon their capture or surrender.   I appreciated their taking the time to meet with me to enhance my understanding of their experiences since I am trying to put the perspective of Japanese soldiers into the book I am writing about my father during the war. 

That evening I went to Dr. Tenney’s excellent lecture on his time as a POW, which were very similar to my father’s.  Tenney also reiterated his desire for a formal and heart felt apology from the Japanese Government and companies and the establishment of the foundation.

Kyoto Tour and Meeting Mr. Koichi Ikeda

The day after I returned from Hanawa, Kinue and I took another train ride  to Kyoto and toured the Golden Temple, the Temple of the 15 stones and Nijo Castle and did a little shopping .  We then met with Mr. Koichi Ikeda.  Mr. Ikeda was one of those hundreds of thousands of unfortunates who were left behind when the Japanese Army withdrew from Korea and Manchuria and was left to the tender mercies of the invading Russian Army.  He was scooped up by the Russians and placed in one of their POW camps in Central Asia.   During the years of internment by the Russians he was fed a steady diet of communism and little else.  Upon his release and return to Japan he was treated with suspicion because of the fear of communist indoctrination and had difficulty finding work. Like the Allied POWs he too was concerned that the story of the internees be told in Japan and also sought recompense from the Japanese Government for their abandonment to the Russians.  After a rather lengthy conversation we met up with Yuka, the Tenneys and POW researcher Mr. Toru Fukubayashi at another traditional Japanese restaurant in down town Kyoto for another fabulous dinner. 

Mr. Ikeda, Dr. Tenney, Mrs. Tenney, Mr. Fukubayashi,
Ms. Ibuki, Ms. Tokudome, Author, and Mrs. Ikeda

Mr. Fukubayashi and Ms. Taeko Sasamoto, both of whom are members of POW Research Network Japan, provided me with a large number of source documents on the Sendai #6 camp that resulted from their research into POW issues.  Some of the materials were in English and some were in Japanese and covered detailed descriptions of the camp, its personnel, prefecture police reports on the camp , depositions by accused war criminals and POWs as well as a number of pictures of the camps interior and exterior for use in my book.  Among the materials were substantial leads I could pursue at the U.S. National Archives that could well lead me to my father’s deposition and more materials on his captivity.  I thanked Mr. Fukubayashi profusely for all the work he had done on my behalf and truly appreciated the quality and quantity of his research much of which was new material as yet unpublished in the U.S. 

Dr. Tenney had another speech to give in Okayama so I took the train back to Tokyo alone.

NHK (Japanese public TV) Reports Our Visit to Hanawa

The next morning Kinue called me at 7:00 am to let me know that she had just received a call from NHK producer Mr. Akihiro Nagoshi telling us that the news of our visit to Hanawa would be aired at 8:00 am that morning.  I quickly turned on the TV in my room and waited anxiously for the segment to air.  Even though the piece was in Japanese, it was pretty clear what the general gist of the piece was solely from the visuals. 

As soon as the program was over I called Kinue back and in addition to giving me a general synopsis of what was said we talked for some time and I had a chance to vent some of my feelings about the trip and the NHK coverage.  After seeing the NHK story many of the confused emotions I had in Hanawa resurfaced. 

I was particularly touched by the fact that the program had lingered on my father’s picture.

The knowledge that many Japanese would be able to put a face with the term POW and that some who were unaware of the fate of the POWs in Japanese hands would realize that this particular set of horrors created by the war was real and happened to real people made me feel that somehow my fathers suffering was vindicated. 

Picture of John Nelson, author's father, appears during the NHK news.

I was also glad Mr. Komai had an opportunity to express some of his feelings about his father and the war.  Finally, I thought the segment showed clearly that two men who’s fathers were caught up on opposite sides of a terrible war could put the past behind them, appreciate each other's experiences with their fathers and part friends.  Once one recognizes the wound to their heart and takes positive steps to heal it they and the world they live in is a better place.  To make believe the wound does not exist or never happened only causes it to fester perhaps for generations; a sad thing for both Americans and Japanese. 

Author saying goodbye to Mr. Komai  (NHK)

True friendship between nations goes beyond the re-establishment of trade.  It results from the search for truth, acceptance of that truth, and taking real tangible steps to bring the aggrieved together to heal their pain. Mr. Komai and I were able to do this on a very personal level, and it is for this reason that I think Dr. Tenney’s appeal to create a foundation to bring POW and their descendants back to Japan to research their history and meet with the Japanese people on a personal basis is the only way to keep what happened during the war from festering any longer than it already has.

Meeting Another Friend

As a wonderful by-product of my first visit of Japan, I was to meet my friend Kan Sugahara for a trip to visit the IJN Battleship Mikasa, Admiral Togo’s flagship in the stunning defeat of the Russian Baltic Fleet at the Tsushima strait during the Russo Japanese war of 1904.  Kan and I had corresponded for years over the Internet and he was of immeasurable help in the preparation of an article I wrote on the Bataan Death March. 

This was the first time I would have the honor of meeting him in person.  Kinue who was also a mutual friend had told me to be prepared to meet a real Japanese gentleman and she was not mistaken.  Kan in his 70’s was trim and fit, soft spoken and a veritable warehouse of knowledge about the Japanese Imperial Navy.  Elliot Carter accompanied me to meet Kan, but I am afraid he was totally lost as we discussed the minute details of naval ordinance and ship capabilities.  We had lunch at another fine restaurant and bid Kan farewell and returned to the hotel.

On June 2, I was off to Narita for the flight home.  Although my trip was short, lasting only eight days, it is one I will never forget. I met many wonderful people, was very impressed with the Japanese culture and society and most importantly, I had walked in my father's footsteps.

Burlingame, Kansas