Monday, August 31, 2009

Who Is Shig Imamura? - Part II

The naval battles of Midway Atoll and Guadalcanal, often seen as a turning point, reversed the balance of power in the war in the pacific. In l942: U.S. had one and half a million soldiers versus over 2 million for Japan. In l943, the Allied Forces had over 3 million versus 2.4 million for Japan. The Japanese loss of pilots and sailors from the above naval battles needed immediate reinforcements, particularly to replenish vulnerable pilots. Students from colleges and universities were recruited and mobilized.

In October, 1943, the deferred conscription allowed for college students suddenly ended. The semesters were shortened for immediate graduation and enrollment into the army and the navy. Choices were given, but those who passed physical and eye exams were to join the airmen corps. The navy was regarded as more refined than the army and was considered free of bullying. However, in reality, the navy had more rampant bullying in the name of reformative baptism.

About 99,000 young men, not only from Japan but also from colonial Korea and Taiwan, were drafted (first time for Koreans and Taiwanese), of which 81,000 went to the army and 18,000 to the navy. Finally, 5,000 were sent to the naval air corps - about half to Tsuchiura Naval Air Station, northeast of Tokyo and the other half to Mie Naval Air Station on Ise Bay. The assignments were probably made based on their places of birth.

Two pilots-to-be Shig Imamura (1922-1981) of Matsuyama, and Norimitsu Takushima (1922-1945) of Fukuoka, reported to Mie. After finishing training, they were both sent to Izumi Naval Air Corps in Kagoshima according to their respective records. Shig was dispatched to Wonsan, (North) Korea and Takushima to Matsuura. I carefully read their April journals. Takushima took a vacation trip to Kagoshima on Sunday, April 23, 1944. Shig wrote that he went to Amakusa one Sunday in the same month to sightsee. It seems they were not in the same group. Why so much detail for these two? The information came from (1) Shig's autobiography - Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze, and (2) from the book Kuchinashi-no-Hana** - The Diary of a Young Japanese Man Caught in World War II, and edited letters by Takushima's brother-in-law translated by Kichiyo Ishigaki and Paul Whitney (2002).

Takushima (Keio University graduate) did not return from his reconnaissance flight in early 1945, while Shig survived the war. They were both born in 1922, and might have met each other, but no mention was made in their respective memoirs. Takushima wrote an inspirational poem which touched readers' hearts and inspired the popular song "Kuchinashi-no-Hana." Sung by a professional singer, it took post-war Japan by storm along with the book.

These young men were not Kamikaze pilots right from the beginning. Suicidal methods were not originally permitted under Admiral Yamamoto. The midget submarines used in the Pearl Harbor attack were definitely not for suicide attacks. They were supposed to return and were promised rescue. However, after following several fatal defeats and retreats, Japan lost command both in air and sea. As it became clear that the resources to wage war were diminishing, a predicament prevailed in all aspects of war. The Japanese Imperial Navy kicked off their offenses in the Philippines with l) the piloted rocket powered gliders (O-ka), 2) manned torpedoes (Kaiten submarines), 3) explosive motorboats (Shinyo), ...etc. The development of these weapons, however, were slow and the delays ended up saving many lives.

Kamikaze Squadron (Tokkotai) was said to have begun on October 25, 1944 with Captain Tsurao Seki, the first pilot, based at Mabarakat Air Base. The practice ended with Captain Tatsuo Nakatsuru, the last pilot who left Oita Air Base in the late afternoon of August l5, l945. These two captains were classmates coincidentally at the Edajima Naval Academy. (It was said that the two names were chosen to glorify the Academy.)

Captain Seki's true feelings was confided to his friend prior to the mission.

"I could drop a 500kg bomb on the flight deck of a carrier without going in for body-crashing and still make my way back. Japan's future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots. I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire... I am going because I was ordered to. It is better to die, rather than to live as a coward!"

His mission was to deter landing of the U.S. forces at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Shig Imamura wrote about Captain Seki in his autobiography.

Captain Nakatsuru became the last Kamikaze pilot on a controversial mission, personally requested by Admiral Ugaki, once Chief-of-Staff under Admiral Yamamoto. Nakatsuru was not promoted posthumously because the flight was unauthorized. His departure, along with others, from Oita Air Base was late in the afternoon of August 15. The surrender and cease fire announcement had already been made at noon, but Admiral Ugaki insisted he had not received an official order. There were two dozen pilots who volunteered to die for the Admiral.

After many years of silence, Captain Nakatsuru's father, spoke up during a local memorial day. "Why did the Admiral have to take young lives including my son?" Two-thirds of those student-turned pilots died as Kamikazes.

Upon learning their fate, the young pilots, as well as other soldiers who were asked to sacrifice themselves, made heart-rending groans and expressed grief for unacceptable death in the name of war. Writings of those who lost their lives were published after the war. The "spiritual road" of student soldiers became quite a sensation, and became the target of studies by researchers both at home and abroad. The above mentioned "Kuchinashi" was quoted in many war books, including Kike Watatsumi no Koe, translated as Listen to the Voices from The Sea - Writings of the Fallen Japanese Students by Midori Yamanouchi and Joseph L. Quinn is available from the University of Scranton Press (2000).

On February 11, l944, Japanese Empire Day, Shig Imamura, his colleagues and subordinates, all stepped forward and asked their superiors if they could accept a Kamikaze mission. Shig disregarded possible exemptions given to eldest sons. As Captain, he was put in charge of one of two Kamikaze squadrons. On July 29, he was set to fly a mission to attack an invasion fleet off Tokyo Coast. His mission was canceled when radar reports of the invasion fleet proved inaccurate. He was stationed in Chitose, Hokkaido when the the news of surrender reached him.

Here's Lieutenant Takushima's poem that brought river of tears among the Japanese.

There is only one who sheds tears at my words
There is only one who thinks so ill of me
And through all of this, there is only one
who will always love me, never forget me.
After I'm dead, there is only one
who will bring gardenia flowers.
Amongst them all, there is only just one.

Kamikaze pilots were not fanatics as was generally thought. They had no desire for glory or fame. Pure as the arctic snow in heart, they were human. They moped, cried, and ranted. However, they accepted and faced death courageously for loved ones and country, believing their actions would bring a conclusion to the war in a better way. Let their deaths not be wasted. The mission, our mission is clear: to have peace prevail with no more wars and no more nuclear bombs.


** Kuchinashi-no-Hana are gardenias. The Japanese word literally means "flowers without mouths."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Who is Shig Imamura? - Part I

I have received a lot of personal questions ever since my Japanese translation of the book Dear Miss Breed was published last year.

My daughter in Santa Barbara forwarded me this one:

I was born in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. I do not have memory of being in camp as I left when I was a year and half old. My husband was at Gila Bend, AZ. He had some memory of camp as he was older (about five) when he left camp. Are you related to the Imamuras of Berkeley? I think that there was a Buddhist minister, Rev. Imamura, who was there in the 60's and his daughter who was a very accomplished pianist. Just wondering.

Phew! Reverend Imamura!

I received another question, this time from Mrs. U, who helped me a great deal (without Mrs. U, I wouldn't have even ventured) with my translation of Dear Miss Breed written by Joanne Oppenheim. She asked me if I was related to Professor Shigeo (Shig) Imamura, whom she met when she studied at the English Center of Michigan State University. She said Professor Imamura was born in California but went to Japan a few years before WWII broke. He spent his boyhood in Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture and she knew I was from the same area.

Well, the name Imamura is not rare and can be found on many Japanese Web sites. There are about a dozen Imamuras using the same Japanese Kanji character as my first name even if pronounced differently. These people were in a variety of professions: musician, Chinese medicine specialist, soccer umpire, animation artist, turbine engineer, ...etc. While traveling in the U.S. on business, I used to open the phone directory at hotels to find people named Imamura and I found a few in large cities, like Denver and Los Angeles.

Back to Shig Imamura. Mrs. U sent me a memoir written by Prof. Imamura. The title Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze and the cover photo of Imamura clad in a flight uniform really surprised me. I read it immediately. The book was published in 2001, after his death in 1998, thanks to the efforts by his disciples both in the U.S. and Japan for editing Shig's manuscripts. The Japanese translation was made available from the publisher Soshisha in 2003. The translator, Ken Oshiba, is the first businessman turned principal of Mie Prefectural senior high school.

To my happy surprise, I found two familiar names in the book. One is Prof. Yamauchi who taught me English at Matsuyama College of Commerce (abbreviated as Matsuyama Kosho), now known as Matsuyama University. Prof. Yamauchi played an important role as Shig's mentor when Shig came from the U.S. He was an English and music instructor then at Matsuyama Chugaku (middle school) in the old education system. He heard about Shig and arranged Shig to continue his English education by introducing him to an American missionary. As his music teacher, Yamauchi Sensei let Shig play the cornet in his band which led to Shig blowing the bugle in the military drill event at school. When the war was over, Yamauchi Sensei took woolgathering Shig to the Occupation Force depot and got him a job as an interpreter.

I left Matsuyama for Osaka to concentrate on English studies and didn't finish at Matsuyama Kosho. I do, however, remember faculty names, especially of the English department, including Yamauchi Sensei. Prof. Futagami was my mentor there. Years later, when I mentioned quitting my Tokyo job, he tipped me off that I might be able to succeed him at Kosho. Another Kosho teacher, Prof. Komoda asked me if I was a returnee from the U.S. I didn't understand why he asked me but probably he knew or heard of Prof. Imamura and wanted to see if I was related to him. Shig also wrote about Takahashi Sensei who composed Haiku in English and I think he also taught me. I also remember Prof. Hoshino who taught the Japanese Constitution. He became President of Kosho later.

Another mention is the late Principal Suzuki of Kinmon (Golden Gate) Japanese School where Shig Imamura learned Japanese. Shig was born in San Jose, but moved to San Francisco when his father got a job there.

Kinmon Gakuen (Golden Gate Academy)
est. 1911 with 133 students
2031 Bush Street, San Franciso
A historical landmark for the Japanese American community

My first trip to the U.S. was in l957 on a prop-jet airplane. It stopped first at Wake island for breakfast, second in Honolulu for dinner; two stops and two nights before arriving in San Francisco. I know Princinpal Suzuki's niece in Tokyo and she introduced me to her uncle. Suzuki Kocho Sensei served as our guide for a party of three first-time visitors to the U.S. Our party consisted of my two bosses and me and we went to Fishermen's Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge and Park, and University of California, Berkeley Campus. I never imagined that my son would graduate from Berkeley. I wasn't yet married. I was very thankful for Principal Suzuki's kindness. I could have contacted him while I was stationed in New York in the '60s. I regretted that I missed the chance. Over 50 years later, I found all these nearly forgotten names in this book.

I faced quite a reverse culture shock when I returned to Japan. It is easy to wet your feet in foreign waters but the converse is not always true. Shig returned to Japan as a 4th grader and the book says that no one could find any differences with the other boys after his hair was cropped at the barber shop. He spoke Japanese well, thanks to Kinmon Gakuen and Suzuki Sensei. My son temporarily returned to Japan about the same age and slid into the same grade without difficulties, also thanks to the Saturday Japanese language school in New York.

As Shig grew in Japan, he noted himself that he "grew 110% more Japanese-like" than the regular Japanese boys. I read about a case of another returnee student from the U.S. This person was at the college level, older than Shig, when he returned. He reacted to the draft matter-of-factly (no influence from the U.S. education), didn't show any mortification and died in the war in the Philippines. Unfortunately, it was true that everyone was deeply dyed in war time colors without exception. I will describe the Kamikaze mental state in detail in the next blog entry.

More than three-fourths of the book is about how Shig became a Kamikaze pilot and the remainder is about his brief career as an educator both in the U.S. and Japan. With a GARIOA scholarship, he went and got his degree at Michigan State University (MSU). He then taught in Japan and back at MSU as an ESL teacher. Shig wrote in the preface that ever since he stood on the classroom podium at MSU as a teacher, he had been pursued for press interviews as a miraculous survivor, especially because he wrote in the MSU student paper "Kamikaze now a U-teacher". He had been eagerly sought wherever he went and he responded to all the interest. Persuaded by friends, he finally decided to write it down.

Shig spent about 30 years in the U.S. including his childhood of 10 years in California, and about 40 years in Japan. I shared similar life experiences and I can definitely identify with Shig.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer Memories

- From Seto Inland Sea to Nishinagato Beach Resort -

1. Seto Inland Sea

I was raised by the Seto Inland Sea. In summer, I swam almost every day at Asakawa Beach in west suburban Imabari, the city where I was born. No goggles. No ear plugs. White sands and a placid sea. I was pretty good at fishing multicolorfin rainbowfish (halichoeres poecilopterus), a small sand fish of about 6 inches or l5 centimeters. It is said that the fish sleep in a sand bed. Upon wakening, the fish brush aside the sand and hunt for a breakfast of nereis (worms). If you are fishing for them, there is a faint tug and that's the moment you have to pull on the fishing line or it eats the bait line with its saw-shaped teeth and escapes. This is the fish that can switch from female to male as they grow. Their color changes from red to blue. I learned later that they are polygamous. It is a very tasty fish when baked on a charcoal fire. Another memory is scooping crabs as they are coming ashore to lay eggs and mating under moonlight. Dad, my two younger brothers and I caught 5 bucketfuls of crabs. This was on the sandy beach east of Imabari, an experience similar to the one I encountered during a Grunion run in California described later on.

I never imagined that Shikoku Island would be connected with Chugoku (the part of mainland Japan facing us across the Seto Inland Sea) by a series of bridges, eliminating all the ferries that thrived once in my day. It is called the Shimanami Sea Route that spans 80 kilometers. The shuttle bus runs every hour on the hour between Imabari and Fukuyama, a traffic innovation of the century.

2. Sagamore (Oyster) Bay / Jones Beach, Long Island, NY

We took our children to swim at either Oyster Bay or Jones Beach when we lived in Long Island. We were young, go-getters. Because of my work, I was unable to go fishing with my son, but he was happy to go out fishing with our retired neighbors. They drove to Montaulk Point more than once and brought back lots of porgies. Even my dad didn't bring home that many porgies at one time. Today I saw sadly the following warning on the Long Island Web site:

"Long Island's Beaches Are Unsafe for Swimming. If you live on Long Island, don't bother going to the beach for a swim over the next couple of days. Almost all the beaches are closed, which is what health departments are forced to do after a big rain storm, because our streets are so dirty and our sewers are so riddled with holes that storm-water is too dangerous to swim in."

3. La Jolla Shores / Mission Bay, San Diego, CA

My wife says that the most memorable beach to her was La Jolla Shores. She and our daughter would sit and wait in the evening until the golden red and purple sky succumbed and the setting sun sparked the last blinking lights of green and dipped into the horizon. It is a most peaceful vision.

Unforgettable to me while living in San Diego was the grunion run I encountered, similar to the crab catch in the Seto Inland Sea. I've heard that many people would listen to the radio forecast to find out when the grunion would run and where. They have to be well prepared to run and be on the spot to catch them. There are two species of grunion. First, the California grunion, and the other, the Gulf grunion. Both are sardine-sized fish and are found only off the coast of California and Baja California, Mexico.

Grunions are known for their very unusual mating ritual. At very high tides the females come up onto the sandy beach and dig their tails into the sand to lay their eggs. A group of males then wrap themselves around the female to deposit their sperm. For the next ten days the grunion eggs remain hidden in the sand, and at the next set of high tides, the eggs hatch and the young grunions are washed out to sea.

One night during the '80s, we were entertaining guests from Japan in a North County restaurant facing the ocean. About the time we finished dinner and were ready to leave, we saw a grunion invasion right before our eyes. We were the first that noticed it happening and we all went out barefoot to scoop up the small fish. A flock of sea gulls dove down overhead to feast. It happened so quickly that the fish were gone by the time a group of catchers arrived.

Two things I remember well on the sportsfishing boat off San Diego and Coronado Island. We caught salmon! The proof that the cold current comes down to Southern Cal. Someone brought a brand new Motorola Micro-Tac phone and surprised all the fishermen on board chatting with friends on land. It is nothing new these days, but that's the way it was back then.

4. Hermosa Beach / Portuguese Bend (Rancho Palos Verdes), CA

I met U.S. Air Force Captain Armour stationed in FEMCOM Air Base in Tachikawa, Tokyo and came to know his wife and children. They are a wonderful American family. I had frequent trips to the West Coast while living in New York to meet with the Armours in Los Angeles.

One day, they took me to Hermosa Beach and I rushed into the water. "Ouch!" After a few strokes, something invisible hit me in the water and I suffered acute pain. My lower body got swollen and left a red stripe upon my skin. Then I went totally numb. I was ambushed and stung by a monster jelly fish. Captain Armour mentioned that it may have been be a Portuguese Man-of-War, the name derived from a Portuguese war ship of the 15th century. Urine is commonly used as a first-aid remedy and I jumped into the men's room immediately. Ever since, I have opted for swimming in a pool, abandoning ocean swimming.

There's a place called Portuguese Bend in Palos Verdes, near the famous all-glass Wayfarers Chapel designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. I somehow associate these two Portuguese words. A Google search revealed that Portuguese Bend means "green stick", by which I interpret (I may be wrong) green stick fishing method, popular among the Japanese fishermen.

5. Morro Rock, San Luis Obispo, CA

Heading north from Santa Barabara, Goleta and the awesome Gaviota Pass, you pass Nipomo and Pismo, known for clam beaches, and then enter San Luis Obispo, acronymed as SLO, where people enjoy a slow life, or sometimes referred to as the good life. The destination of my first trip was not SLO but San Simenon, although I later found out they are both located in the same county. San Simenon is where one of the richest men in the world built his castle. His name was William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper king. My wife and I were then accompanied by my daughter's family.

As we exited 101 and took old Route l, I was immediately charmed with the chain of volcanic "plug dome" peaks, the unique step-stone volcanic formation. They make up such unforgettable picturesque view that I got hooked on them and I knew I'd be returning again and again. Local people call these peaks "7" or "9" peaks, depending on how many of the peaks are included in the count. Whatever the count is, it is a looming sentinel guard isle, known as Morro Rock. In 1542, a Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, called it "El Morro", as it resembled the turbaned head of the Moor. "El Morro" replaced the Chumash word "lisamu" meaning a shrine on the coast. I can only visualize how Morro Rock looked originally, because photographs of the isle were only available after the 1890s. The isle became the main source of quarry for sea transportation. What we see today should be 581 ft or 177 meters in height, but is now a wrecked isle after centuries of quarrying to provide materials to construct breakwaters. The practice was finally called off when the U.S. Congress listed it as a State Landmark. However, the isle still stands firm in magnificent shape and color, attracting visitors, such as myself, a foreigner from Japan. Today, the area is a sanctuary and the serene bay view - with sand dunes, rows of anchoring yachts and boats - is unbeatable when compared to other marinas.

6. Nishinagato Resort Beach

Upon our return to Japan from the U.S., we sold our house in Tokyo and relocated to Kitakyushu. Kiyoko, my wife's sister, took us to the Kanmon Strait lookout where we enjoyed watching large boats cruising the narrow strait of one kilometer under the Kanmon Bridge. Moji Port nearby reminds us at night, of San Diego Harbor, as we see Shimonoseki well-lit across the strait. In San Diego, you'd see naval vessels instead, sometimes even an aircraft carrier such as the Kitty Hawk.

Kiyoko also gave us rides to nice beaches here and there in Kyushu, but whenever we had the chance, we returned to Nishinagato Resort Beach. It takes 2-1/2 hours to get to crossing the Kanmon Strait and driving up on the Japan Sea side of the very southern end of mainland Japan. This is our 10th year anniversary living in Kyushu and we have made more than a dozen visits, including our Golden Wedding Anniversary last year. We have taken our son from New York as well as our granddaughter from Santa Barbara and they both just loved that beach. There is a small island called Tsuno-(horn) Shima in front which protects the Nishinagato Beach from the outer Genkai Ocean, from the sometimes fierce winds and waves from Siberia. A bridge was built seven years ago and crossing it feels like driving over the Chesapeake Bay. The color of the ocean is emerald green and gorgeous. I can only compare it to Nago Beach of Okinawa or the Phuket Island beaches facing Andaman Sea. You see nothing but the wide-angled open sea from the Resort Hotel and the hot springs of the hotel.

These are the Summer Memories I treasure.