The POW and
Excerpted by Yuka Ibuki and translated by Wes Injerd
It was destiny that brought about my encounter with Professor Taijiro Kuranishi. Though now deceased, he was the head of the English Department at the old-education-system's Osaka Prefectural Sakai Middle School, which presently is Mikunigaoka High School. In a time of strict education controls, his lectures in the language of the civilized and advanced English-speaking countries on the culture and varied lifestyles in the United States and European nations were both interesting and easy to understand. We were able to piece together a vague picture of how Westerners lived.
In the spring of 1941, I entered Hyogo Prefectural Kobe Business High School (now Hyogo Prefectural University) and right away noticed one of the extra-curricular study groups, the English Speaking Society (ESS), a pro-active English conversation club. I remember attending the ESS meetings without missing a single day. The American in charge of the English Dept., Prof. Roy Smith, showed up at the ESS club and taught us in earnest. Prof. Smith, speaking warmly, insisted on correct pronunciation and was very thorough in his teaching, requiring the ESS students to speak English with each other at all times, both within and outside the school.
The Pacific War that was set off on December 8 was raging. It was a time where, under government policy, people yelled, “Foreign devils!”; English was avoided as an enemy language; foreign English teachers, all regarded as spies, were boycotted. Nevertheless, we ESS club members would go to nearby coffee shops and chat with each other in English, building up our conversational abilities. Even while walking down the street, we'd speak in English. The townsfolk certainly thought it was strange that we pacifists used the enemy’s language on purpose to agitate against the war.
“America and Britain are enemies! It's absurd to use English,” one gentleman lectured us angrily. One lady, the leader of the Women's Patriotic Society [a women's organization established in 1901, engaged in social affairs and taking care of soldiers], quietly warned us with a stiff reminder, “You'd better stop using English or the military police will come after you.” In the student spirit of openness, we members rebelled against such an atmosphere in the town and spoke in English excessively, all of us taking to the streets and conversing with each other in loud voices.
At the time, there were many seniors who went to war as student soldiers [in 1943 students began to be drafted into military service]. Even those from our own ESS group were joining the Army, reducing daily the number of conversation partners.
Turning through the pages of our old high school album, I can remember how we students thought back then, the spirit of the Pacific War burning within us.
Though I perish in aerial
their innocence are the feelings of these youth, leaving behind their nests,
I also learned for the first time that American and British enemy soldiers were being transported to mainland Japan as prisoners of war. POWs were also being segregated and transferred to camps throughout Osaka, and from August 1943 Kuranishi became the commandant of the POW camp at Tanagawa (Tanagawa, Misaki-machi, Sennan-gun, Osaka-fu). And so, without any confidence in myself, I became a “civilian interpreter” at the Tanagawa camp, succumbing to the strong persuasive powers of my revered teacher, 1st Lieutenant Kuranishi. I was 21 years of age then.
There were then 300 American and 60 Dutch POWs at the Tanagawa camp, all rounded up and put to hard labor by the “Tobishima Group,” a private construction company contracted by the Army to construct an ordnance depot. I, too, was employed by the Tobishima Group and worked at the Tanagawa camp. Here were enemy soldiers who had experienced one of the most notable events in military history, the “Bataan Death March” in the Philippines, as well as soldiers captured after a life-and-death struggle, the bitter fighting on Corregidor Island. My job was to act as liaison between the prison camp management and the POWs.
“You will help bring about mutual understanding and encourage the POWs to be useful for our military industry, and you will indirectly observe the conditions of the POWs, to be in charge, so to speak, of information and the pacification of the POWs,” Camp Commandant Kuranishi, a Black Belt in judo, told me in his brisk tone of voice and actions. He did not appear at all to be the same English teacher standing at the lecture podium that I remember. He continued, however, in a softened tone, “We must not treat the POWs outside the bounds of international law, even if we are at war now, lest we harm the culture the Japanese people have traditionally had.” His gentle eyes gave a sense of relief to my heart.
The Tanagawa camp had an area of 10,000 square meters, consisting of 10 barracks housing around 50 prisoners each. In addition, of similar barrack construction were the hospital ward, a large kitchen, warehouses, and a shoe repair shop. There were also separate buildings for the Japanese military administrative office, a single camp gate and guardhouse, a large bomb shelter, and a large drill field. The camp was surrounded by a high wooden fence topped with barbed wire with tall guard towers at each corner. Each barrack had a special room for commissioned officers, with the non-coms and enlisted men together in the same area. All the barracks were long rooms with an aisle sandwiched between long double-bunk shelves upon which straw was spread and then tatami mats on top of that where the prisoners could bundle up in their blankets. In winter we were warmed by drum-can stoves which burned wood or sawdust.
The patrol guards were ten or so men from the Wakayama Infantry Regiment on weekly rotation shifts. Ordinarily working in the Administration Office were Commandant Kuranishi, two sergeants in General Affairs and Accounting, one medical officer, two civilian interpreters, and ten disabled/wounded ex-soldiers. I traveled to the camp every day from my home in the port of Sakai, a one-way commute of about 50 minutes, carrying my lunch of rationed rice or sweet potatoes. The American soldiers were “giants,” all over 175 cm tall. I particularly felt so, short as I was. The Dutch soldiers were not from the Netherlands but rather the Dutch Colonies in South East Asia, fewer in number, with brownish red skin and comparatively shorter than the Japanese.
The POW barracks where activities were carried on were patrolled by armed guards at regular intervals. I, too, was doing patrols then by myself and would often have one-on-one conversations with the POWs. One day, though, while I was chatting with the American liaison officer, Captain Galbraith, he suddenly said somewhat hesitantly, “Kobayashi, we can't understand your English correctly, but we continue to try hard to understand you from your gestures and facial expressions.”
For a moment I was stunned. Here I had been there for nearly two weeks already and every morning at assembly had been interpreting Com. Kuranishi's instructions to the POWs and they carried out their tasks according to those instructions.
“Kobayashi, we know you're a kind person and your interpreting is sincere, and so we all know we must respond to that and try hard to understand you,” Capt. Galbraith said with an expression on his face as if saying, “I tell you because we're friends.” Capt. Galbraith, who was joined by 1st Lieutenant Broadwater, continued, “I don't really know about the people with their long English tradition, but standard English is not really used much by ordinary Americans, especially the soldiers. Particularly that peculiar military language, GI slang, that they have.” My face was turning redder. I intently asked them, especially the officers, the meaning of the unique American slang which I couldn't understand. So these men taught me how to translate by writing the words out for me and how to pronounce them, crossing out the meaningless slang words, and tailoring them into correct English usage. Though it took a little extra time, I was able to understand it 100 percent. We discussed many things together.
What I still cannot forget are the differences, I feel, between the issues of “life and death” and “POWs.” I understood the thinking that was common to every American soldier, in that they didn't feel it was shameful to become a POW. They thought, like Capt. Galbraith, “It's better to live as a POW than to die in battle because it’s a good return for the life we received. We'll be of some help to society later once again.” The Japanese military Field Code, established in 1941, was symbolized by the phrase, “Do not disgrace yourself by being captured alive,” and the mentality in our country was that to be a POW was dishonorable. If you lose, death was the only other option, the reason being that one who has been captured surrenders to the enemy, an unforgivable act for a soldier.
“It's not disgraceful to become a prisoner of war. It's not heroic either, of course, but just an accident, an unlucky soldier.” And in the American version of the military code it says, “It is the duty of prisoners to escape.” Essentially it means that even though one becomes a POW, the battle goes on.
Fobes, Riley, Brown, Johnson, Thomas – all captains; 2nd Lt. Ferrel, Sgt. Dixon, Staff Sgt. Gregory... We had some good talks together.
One night I had the opportunity to talk to the officer on duty, Capt. Johnson. He said, “The Japanese are a touchy people, I think. The subordinates, while they're doing hard labor during the day, often get chewed out by the civilian bosses who are supervising them, and they complain when they're beaten. I've never seen civilians beat men like that. That's why I think the Japanese are so touchy.” The POWs had no means of fighting the Japanese on equal terms. They could best protest only vocally, and so had become grudgingly resigned to the situation. I well understood "their frustration."
I went to the prisoner barracks on another night and I could see Capt. Johnson in one of the soldier's barracks. There were several other soldiers with angry faces who were carrying on. When I stopped to listen, I heard them talking about how that afternoon while on a work detail the work supervisor beat them for no reason at all, and even the interpreter bad-mouthed them. They finally implored the captain, “We can't do the work we are told to do with this happening. You've got to do something about this!”
The interpreter at the work site was Yoshiichi Takagi (then 35 years old) who had spent a good while in England and was fluent in English. He could pick up GI slang easily and speak it quite well. According to the POWs, the Army-employed Japanese civilians at the work site would slap around the Americans who were taking breaks when they should have been working. Following the supervisor's orders, Takagi, too, would reprimand these POWs with the harshest language. In the prisoner's own words, “He never listened to what we had to say, but humiliated us by acting as if he was the boss.” That was basically the situation. I told them, “I’ll report the situation to the Commandant, and if it's true, then propose steps to handle such irrational situations so that they never happen again,” and the case was finally closed. Many of these problems that happened during the day outside the camp dragged on into the night within the camp as well. As I was in charge of interpreting at the camp, many times I had to sort out these “problems going into overtime” without even knowing the facts behind the issues.
That was Takagi, the interpreter. I saw him as someone who liked to joke around and make people laugh. I remember how the POWs also enjoyed talking with him and laughing and listening to his flowing English. He taught me a lot about dealing with the prisoners. He was a frank and honest man. At times, as the official interpreter accompanying the prisoners at forced labor outside the camp, and in the strict conditions and climate under the Japanese military, he was probably hated by the prisoners because of misunderstandings.
Sergeant Ed Coyle and others from the kitchen detail would sometimes go into town with an interpreter to buy groceries and other things. (From the Commandant's Prison Diary, Pg. 236: “Onions, tangerines, etc., were purchased through donations from the company as well as contributions from the prisoner's wages and salaries. The officers strongly wished to make purchases and cooperated as well.) These men used the simple Japanese they learned while talking with the store clerks and were able to speak Japanese more than the general POW population at least. They also learned Japanese from Sergeant Yoshinari Minemoto, in charge of camp management and operations, and they became quite good at speaking.
The Japanese military guards no doubt always dealt with the POWs solemnly, in strict and straightforward manners. If the American on duty in the barracks was too slow in saying, “All is well, sir,” then immediately the guard would fire back, “Report more quickly and promptly!” Bedding and books even a little scattered around in the barracks would bring a stern warning. I just kept on as interpreter, telling them honestly, but I made sure never to forget to add, “We need regulations so that we can enjoy community life, so let's understand and get along with each other.”
The prisoners all got used to my presence and they would let slip from their lips one thought: “We don't know when we will all be killed. We live with that fear every day.” Even Capt. Campbell, the medical officer, said, “We are like condemned criminals who don't know when they're going to be executed.” I think all the POWs had the same feeling, and I became painfully aware of the fact that the prisoners required the utmost care. Some two months after I started working at the camp, they said, “Please teach us Japanese.” It was around that time that the officers started calling me by the nickname, “Fireball.”
Around the time when American reconnaissance flights and bombing raids on the mainland were increasing, blackout exercises were conducted at the camp. When the air raid siren would go off, the POWs were to take shelter in the air raid dugouts inside the camp, but the men did not readily do so. P.O.W. was written in large letters on one of the roofs. When the men saw the American warplanes, I could easily imagine how they must have felt, comforting and encouraging themselves that the war had gone to their advantage.
If there were any joy to the prisoners living amidst adversity, grieving over whether they would even live to see another day, it was in being allowed to celebrate Christmas. Even during that short moment they did not forget their humor, for it was their strength. When I watched them, I felt how so much different they were from the Japanese then who were decrying them as ”foreign devils.”
Then suddenly on March 25 came the order from Headquarters that all prisoners were to be moved. Within the day the “big POW move” began. The greater portion was transferred to the Takeo camp in Tsuruga, and I went with the remaining 50 Americans to Ikuno, a town in the mountains of central Hyogo Prefecture, where they were made to work at Mitsubishi Mining Company's Ikuno and Akenobe Mines. Among the other first arrivals at the Ikuno POW Camp were American, British and Australian prisoner men and officers from other camps.
I became part of the Mitsubishi Mining and lived in company housing right next to the camp – my wife Hisako, my mother (my father had already died), my older sister and her two boys (her husband stayed in Osaka due to work) – one large household, all evacuees. The POW camp had buildings similar to the barracks at Tanagawa and was surrounded by a wooden fence with barbed wire, on the other side of a small river. The camp was surrounded with tree-covered hills and going across the river was a small bridge. It was quite a secluded place. Guards from the Himeji Division would arrive on rotating shifts.
The prisoners would leave here in ranks to go work as miners in the nearby Ikuno Mine. After arriving at the mine, they would turn on their helmet lights, hang their lanterns on their shovels they held in one hand, get on the elevator lift to go down a deep mine shaft, then go even further along a side shaft in a tram, and then begin their mining operations. For most of the men it was their first time to do any kind of mining work. Unaccustomed to the method of digging and setting explosives, the work did not progress well, so the bad-tempered mine foreman would yell at the men, and even though they were dead tired, no one was able to rest except during break time. The prisoners for the most part would just return to camp, eat, take a bath, and then fall fast asleep. Compared to Tanagawa, life here was by far quite tough.
But here as well we would go out to buy wholesale goods and often take trips into the countryside, six or seven American officers and kitchen crew members joining us. From early spring to the beginning of summer my family would quite often also go out on these buying trips with me and enjoy the nice weather with all the green trees and flowers in bloom. We would load up the cart and then sing songs on the way back to camp.
As I think about that sudden move from Tanagawa to Ikuno deep in the woods, with train connections on both national and private rail, the prisoners told to depart without any notification as to where they were going and no destination mentioned at all. They probably thought with fear and trembling, “You sure it's just a move? Aren't we all going to be killed?” I had heard a term describing this from some of the more familiar officers, including the representative for the POWs, Lt. Col. Franklin M. Fliniau, Staff Corps under General MacArthur in the Philippines, what they referred to as the “mystery tour,” the fear of uncertainty, not knowing their final destination. With the power of life and death over the very lives of these captives being totally in the hands of the Japanese military, it was only natural there would be doubts, their normal daily activities thrown off track by a sudden and unexpected order, which they first of all judged to be connected to their “very existence.”
As an interpreter I was not simply a language intermediary, but I was understanding in some way the psychology of it all and without breaking any military rules, feeling acutely that I should become to these men “one who understands languages and psychology,” to dispel their fears and, in the midst of their privation, to make them breathe, if only a little, the “air of freedom.” Having civilian status, I was in a position having more freedom of expression than those in uniform, and so arbitrarily construed myself as perhaps allowed as a fill-in to do that which the uniformed brigade under regulations could not. Perhaps it was my getting used to the work at the camp, or the country environment, but life at Ikuno was so relaxing and enabled me to have genial interaction with the POWs. As the days went by, my sister’s two sons would occasionally stop by the camp and the men would carry the boys around on their shoulders, a picture of playful innocence.
Besides the Ikuno Mine operations, just one hill over was the Akenobe Mine which had a POW camp also under the jurisdiction of the Ikuno site. I was to interpret there as well but did not go there much. I'd occasionally take one of the supply trams alone and head over the hill to Akenobe. I can recall going to and from that camp but do not remember much at all about the POWs who were there. That is because there was no significant social contact with them. Just the mention of Akenobe does strangely bring back tragic images of right after the end of the war when the prisoners were freed, when some of the camp military personnel and Japanese bosses working at the Akenobe mine site were beaten to a pulp.
Japanese radio and newspapers were arousing the public with their PR on the foreign devils and psyche of 100,000,000 honorable deaths (gyokusai). As one countryman burning with this fighting spirit, the reality of it was that here I was living with the prisoners like this. Around that time I contemplated where this war was heading, asking myself about all the inconsistencies and problems. And how did the prisoners really feel? To these POWs, “death row inmates who did not know their execution date,” their greatest fear was perhaps “the defeat of Japan.” There are some indications that the POWs believed, if Japan were to lose the war, they would all be killed by the Japanese military. They were probably thinking that whether Japan won or lost, they would not live anyway since Japan was an island country and to escape would have been suicide.
Since day one of my interactions with the POWs I have had many varied experiences. Each day brought new surprises. During that time of war, with 100,000,000 Japanese doing their best for the war effort under mainland Japan's motto of “foreign devils,” the interchanges I had with the prisoners were indeed precious “cross-cultural experiences.” In one respect my outlook broadened out more internationally, and in another, I was able to catch a glimpse of human nature through actual observation of both sides, the strong and the weak. I believe my encounter with these men drove a huge wedge into my whole philosophy of life. In more grandiose language, it gave me that one guiding marker, that single fiber going through my convoluted upbringing and circumstances in life.
August 15. Returning from our shopping trip into town, there was not a Japanese soldier to be found. August 17. Commandant Naruwa of Ikuno POW Camp called for the prisoner representative, Lt. Col. Fliniau, and handed over his military sword to him, saying, “In accordance with the surrender of the Japanese military, I hereby transfer authority to you.” The day of departure for the prisoners came in the beginning of October 1945.
A week prior to that, an “Inmate Pep Rally and Farewell Party” was held at Mitsubishi Mining Company's main hall, sponsored by the director and others of the Ikuno operations site. In attendance were the camp commandant and officials from the camp, the Ikuno Police Department, and Ikuno Town Hall staff. Invited from among the prisoners were top-ranking officers representing American, British, and Australian forces, including the top representative, US Army Lt. Col. Fliniau. I also attended, as interpreter.
True to form, the sponsor of the event expressed his appreciation to the men for their years of toil:
“I want to thank you from my heart for your lengthy cooperation in production, tirelessly providing your valuable labor while under painful foreign management. Because of this, we can congratulate ourselves that we have fortunately reached the end of the war with no major accidents. With a fresh feeling in our hearts that a new page in history has started here at war's end, we, too, shall strive hard to aim at a new relationship. Please, take care of yourselves, and I hope that you will cordially watch over and direct the new course for Japan. Good luck to all of you, forever.”
POW representative Lt. Col. Fliniau gave his reciprocal speech:
for your hospitality. Becoming a captive was, in all respects, an inconvenience
indeed . However, through it all there were a number of kind-hearted Japanese,
and thanks to them, we hung onto the hope of living another day. Both losers and
winners exist side-by-side no matter where you are, and God allies Himself with
those of good will. As we repatriate to our homelands, this heart-warming
invitation today will remain with us forever as an example of wonderful human
relations. I am convinced that this will become a precious stone in building the
bonds of a new relationship. I pray with my whole heart for the happiness of all
the people of Japan.”
I have given a rough outline of these two speeches as I remember them, but at the time, in that hall, there was genuinely a solemn mood, even emotional.
Lieutenant Colonel Fliniau and Captain Galbraith, foreseeing a number of problems after the surrender, each gave Kobayashi personal letters of guarantee.
Summoned as a war crime suspect at the end of 1945, Kobayashi was escorted to Tokyo where he ran into Fliniau in the hallway at the Judge Advocate's GHQ office. With the two letters in hand, the Lt. Col. disappeared into an office and returned 30 minutes later and told Kobayashi was to be immediately released. Following Fliniau's advice, the next day he landed a job as an interpreter with the GHQ in Sakai. Kobayashi later became involved with trade, in 1967 he started his own Takamaru Company Inc., and in 1986, became chairman of Takamaru Senri Inc.
Kobayashi visited Lt. Col. Fliniau in the fall of 1988. The Lieutenant Colonel had come down with a sickness. His wife, Irene? Eileen? brought Kobayashi into the living room. As soon as he stepped in, a tall white-haired man came toward him with a big smile. “Well, hello Fireball! Thanks for coming.” No words can express what happened next. We just stood there, hugging each other. We talked and talked while enjoying a home-cooked meal by Fliniau's wife and the eldest daughter, who rushed over from her home afar.
Fliniau didnt' talk much, perhaps due to his age and infirmities. At times he would speak powerfully in a low voice.
“I went to Japan twice after the war, you know, both times as a witness at the war crimes trials. We haven't seen each other again since the time we met there in the corridor at the Judge Advocate's Office. But here you've come all this way to see me – it's a dream come true. I thank you with all my heart,” he said.
I then said to him, “The day I met you at Headquarters was a turning point in my destiny after the war. Because of you I was able to live in good spirits on that tough post-war road. For that I am most grateful to you.”
He continued, “You and I owe each other our lives.”
meeting was written up in detail in the September 21, 19?? edition of The Union,
the local newspaper
of Nevada City,
where Fliniau lived.
Though I have nothing at all to feel guilty about, I wonder what my fate would have been if I had not met Lt. Col. Fliniau in that corridor at the Judge Advocate's Office. There might have been some who were put under suspicion, and unable to get any proper witnesses were branded as convicts for charges of which they had not faintest idea. Fortunately, I was set free right away because that good witness, Lt. Col. Fliniau, just happened to be there. I savored that paper-thin difference between heaven and hell. Much more, it has made me think of the issue of war criminals as something personally close to me.
Yoshinari Minemoto was a sergeant in the Army, in charge of camp management and operations at Osaka POW Tanagawa Branch Camp and Ikuno sub-camp. In 1943, an incident occurred where an American prisoner escaped and was brought back. Minemoto, following orders, punished the POW by placing him in detention. The following day, Minemoto, in order to restrain the beatings the Army sentries were giving the prisoner, walked into the struggling group of people and calmed the situation. After the war, however, a POW erroneously testified that Minemoto was there beating the prisoner and instructing the others to do the same. Just on that single testimony, Minemoto was convicted of torturing a prisoner and sentenced to 10 years in prison as a Class-C war criminal. While serving time, however, he was pardoned in January 1951.
Mr. T. Y. (35 years old at the time), a civilian interpreter like myself who was at the Tanagawa POW camp, was also sentenced as a Class-C criminal and put to death. The reason was for prisoner abuse, of which, honestly speaking, I am still uncertain. What if I had been the site interpreter? Pondering such a trick of fate causes me to tremble.
The incident of a civilian military staff member, Mr. N, beating prisoners during the camp years was targeted as a war crime. I was dragged to his trial as a witness, but I didn’t know a thing about the incident. I cannot help but question the whole reason for these military tribunals which brought in witnesses that had no connection at all to the events under consideration.
Then there was this incident as well. One day a jeep pulled up beside me and two officers from the Legal Affairs Office at Osaka GHQ said they wanted to meet me. They were prosecutors investigating war crimes, and after they confirmed who I was handed me a paper and said, “Sign this immediately.” They forced me to sign without giving the reason why. Even when I asked “What's my signature for?” and “Let me read the paper first,” they didn't say anything at all. They just said “Thank you” and left like the wind.
Looking back at it all now, there emerges a lot what I simply could not comprehend, in its many shapes and forms, regarding the judicial methods of trying the Class-C war criminals that happened closely around me. As I muse over the past, it has been my experience, though not in everything, that the saying, “We'll be the governing Army if we win, the defeated Army if we lose,” is in all countries and ages a factual depiction of history.
On July 27, 1984, former POW, 1st Lt. Robert J. Broadwater (Director of the Georgia State Japan America Society at the time), visited Japan and we met again in Tokyo. He expressed shock and sadness when he heard Minemoto had served time in Sugamo Prison as a war criminal. Two months later I received a letter from him.
“I heard that after the war Mr. Minemoto was sentenced as a war criminal and suffered a long time in Sugamo Prison. They say it was for torturing prisoners, but it's such a shame, and I'm so sorry. I really think that judgment was in error. I can't remember him doing anything deserving of being tried like that,” Broadwater wrote.
Along with this letter was one addressed to the “Minemoto” mentioned and had a note on it saying, “Please give this as soon as possible to Mr. Minemoto, who has been bearing the cross of a war criminal.” Right after I had the newspaper article go out, I got in touch with Minemoto and he called me in a voice of elation. He explained, “I insisted on my innocence and tried to give my side of the story, but I couldn't get it across to them. All they did was push for a conviction, but I swore to God I was innocent. I'd like to express my gratitude to Mr. Broadwater. What's past is past, but more than anything else it is so encouraging to know there is an American still alive who can attest to my innocence. I feel as if I have met a saint.”