Category Archives: Japan

Wordcatcher Tales: ai no muchi, bentatsu, tekken seisai

From Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2013) Kindle Loc. 5242-5252:

From the beginning of the Meiji period in the late 1800s, the military achieved unswerving discipline through a culture of physical abuse. As Japanese historian Yuki Tanaka would later explain: “Discipline was conducted through bentatsu [鞭撻 'whip-strike'] (the routine striking of soldiers), which was presented as an ‘act of love’ by the officers for the soldiers. Even the Japanese Navy—which was far more Westernized in conduct than the Army—adopted a practice of harsh discipline known as tekken seisai (the iron fist) [鉄拳制裁 'ironfist punishment'] in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War. It was often called the ai-no-muchi, or ‘whip of love’ [愛の鞭 'love's whip'].”

Tanaka, one of the first Japanese scholars to objectively study his country’s war crimes—and then publish them for a Western audience—attributes the military’s behavior to a steady corruption of Bushido. By the time of the Asia-Pacific war, General Yamada’s original notion of death with honor had been warped into an ideology known as gyokusai: literally, “glorious self-annihilation.”

[There are two serious errors in the previous paragraph. First, Gamble means to refer to the "father of Japanese militarism" he has earlier mentioned, Gen. Yamagata Aritomo (1838–1922), not a Gen. Yamada referenced nowhere else in the book. Second, although it is true that the real-world result of gyokusai ideology was often “glorious self-annihilation,” the term itself is highly figurative; its literal components are 玉砕 'jade/jewel-shatter', i.e., 'shattering of jewels' —J.]

Curious why so many of his countrymen had committed heinous acts during World War II, Tanaka evaluated numerous aspects of the system. “Japanese military forces,” he concluded, “tended to undervalue the strategic importance of minimizing casualties. This tendency increased as the emperor ideology gained hold over the minds of the Japanese people and reached its peak during World War II, when the gyokusai ideology emerged. Gyokusai held that a soldier was expected to fight to the end for the emperor. Even when the situation was becoming hopeless … the Japanese military command, instead of trying to minimize casualties, forced gyokusai on its soldiers … further diminishing its manpower.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan, language, military, war

Origin of Australia’s “Ferdinands” in the Pacific

From Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2013) Kindle Loc. 4766-4787:

THERE WERE SEVERAL mastas [white men] on New Britain and many of the other islands in the Bismarcks and Solomons, all linked by radio to a secretive unit called Ferdinand. Developed at the beginning of the war by two officers in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the organization took its name from the 1936 picture book The Story of Ferdinand. The Aussies were more familiar with Walt Disney’s cartoon adaptation, “Ferdinand the Bull.” By the time the cartoon reached movie houses in Australia, Europe was on the threshold of war.

Enter the naval intelligence director, Cmdr. Rupert Basil Michel Long, RAN. A World War I veteran, he realized that the hundreds of landowners along Australia’s coast and those living among the islands in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea could be organized into a network connected by two-way radios. Most already had the equipment. At the time, the state of the art in long-distance communications was low-frequency (LF) radio, known to most Australians as “wireless.” Compared with high-frequency radio waves, which provide excellent clarity over short distances (but quickly loose strength and are easily bent or turned by obstacles), low-frequency signals travel great distances without degrading. The government had a monopoly on two-way radio equipment in those days, having purchased a majority share of Amalgamated Wireless of Australasia (AWA) stock in 1922. So the company was obliged to provide communication services across the continent as well as to the hundreds of populated islands in the mandated territory. Two-way radios were essential for relaying messages and news among the plantations, airstrips, mines, and settlements across the Pacific islands, many of which were separated by hundreds of miles.

Commander Long aimed to organize hundreds of civilians into a unified coastwatchers organization. In 1939 he appointed Eric A. Feldt, then a government administrator in New Guinea, to run the network in the islands from a headquarters in Port Moresby. A former RAN officer, Feldt was given a lieutenant commander’s stripes and spent several months traveling “by ship, motor boat, canoe, bicycle, airplane, and boot” along the coast of New Guinea, through the Bismarcks, down the Solomon chain, and finally to the New Hebrides. His four-thousand-mile journey achieved brilliant results. In the coming years, the coastwatchers would provide useful intelligence and perform extraordinary feats, many at the cost of their lives.

Who chose the organization’s name is unknown. Feldt later explained the logic: “The code name, Ferdinand, was … an order to the coastwatchers, a definition of their job. It was a reminder … that it was not their duty to fight, and thus draw attention to themselves; like Disney’s bull, who just sat under a tree and smelled the flowers, it was their duty to sit, circumspectly and unobtrusively, and gather information. Of course, like Ferdinand, they could fight if they were stung.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Japan, military, Papua New Guinea

U.S. Drone Attacks on Rabaul, 1944

From Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2013) Kindle Loc. 7089-7112:

Throughout 1944 and well into 1945, bombers, dive-bombers, and fighter-bombers continued to hit Rabaul’s airfields to prevent their use; they kept a watchful eye on Simpson Harbor and attacked barges trying to resupply the garrison; they destroyed gardens to prevent the Japanese from growing food; and they strafed vehicles hauling supplies from remote caches. The number of sorties per month gradually declined, from a peak of approximately 2,200 in January 1944 to less than 300 by December. At the lowest ebb, an average of ten planes hit Rabaul every day, and the effort surged again in mid-1945 to more than five hundred sorties per month.

Of all the missions flown against Rabaul—or even throughout all of World War II—few were as unusual as the sixteen one-way sorties by unmanned “assault drones” in October 1944. Almost seventy years before the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as those used in the Global War on Terror, expendable radio-controlled drones were used to attack Rabaul. The TDR-1 looked conventional in almost every respect, with two inexpensive Lycoming six-cylinder engines, tricycle landing gear, and the capability to carry an external bomb or torpedo. A cockpit with flight controls was included for test or ferry flights, then faired over for the unmanned attack. Equipped with an RCA television camera in the nose, along with a gyro stabilizer and radar altimeter, the drones were flown by an operator in a stand-off TBM (General Motors–built) Avenger using radio control. Almost two hundred drones were manufactured, using lightweight tubular frames supplied by the Schwinn Bicycle Company, before the contract was cancelled. Most of the completed TDRs were shipped overseas with a unit called the Special Task Air Group (STAG)-1.

Before launching the drones against enemy targets, a live demonstration was conducted on July 30 for the benefit of the ComAirSols [Commander, Aircraft, Solomon Islands] brass. Four drones carrying two-thousand-pound general purpose bombs were directed by their control planes against Yamazuki Maru, a 6,500-ton merchantman beached on Guadalcanal. Technically the drones scored three direct hits, although one bomb failed to detonate. The fourth drone missed the superstructure by a matter of feet, exploding against the tree line.

On the heels of that success, two missions were conducted against ships off southern Bougainville, along with other well-defined targets such as antiaircraft emplacements. Initial results due to malfunctions and equipment failures were disappointing. Nevertheless four separate strikes were flown against Rabaul by STAG-1 in October. Flying from Nissan in the Green Islands, each strike consisted of four drones for a total of sixteen sorties against Rabaul. A great majority either missed due to radio interference or malfunction, or crashed en route. (One of the wrecked drones was partially recovered by the Japanese, who discovered that the lightweight generator assembly and a sparkplug from one of the engines made an excellent cigarette lighter.) The last strike, on October 27, resulted in one direct hit on a secondary target, and a couple of hits on buildings near their intended target. The following day, the program was officially terminated.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan, military, Papua New Guinea, U.S., war

First American Graves in Hakodate, First Japanese Graves in Honolulu

cemetery-foreigner-100mIn 1854, while Commodore Matthew C. Perry‘s U.S. Navy squadron was surveying the future treaty port of Hakodate on Hokkaido in 1854, two sailors aboard the USS Vandalia died. Seaman James C. Wolfe died on 25 May and Seaman G. W. Remick died on 27 May 1854. Both were interred in a seaside plot in what later became the city’s Foreign Cemetery, now a tourist attraction.

In 1860, as a result of Perry’s efforts in Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate dispatched its first embassy to the United States aboard the Kanrin Maru, a Dutch-built ship skippered by Katsu Kaishū. Also aboard was Fukuzawa Yukichi, perhaps Japan’s most effective early Westernizer.

The Kanrin Maru stopped at Honolulu on its return voyage to Japan, and so did many other ships of the fledgeling Imperial Japanese Navy after the Meiji Restoration of imperial rule in 1868. Many of the earliest Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i in 1868 and 1886 were interred in Makiki Cemetery, which thus came to include the first Japanese cemetery in Hawai‘i. In 1876, (Apprentice?) Seaman Second Class (二等若水夫 nitou waka suifu ’2-class young waterman’) Arakawa Matajuro (荒川又十郎) of HIMS Tsukuba (筑波) died and was buried in what became the first Japanese Navy cemetery outside Japan. Twelve more enlisted men from the ironclad Ryūjō (龍驤) were buried in 1883. By 1899, seventeen IJN sailors were buried there.

The most interesting gravestone is that of Midshipman K. Hara of HIMS Takachiho (大日本軍艦高千穂), who died on 8 April 1894. (‘Midshipman’ translates 海軍少尉候補生 kaigun shōi kōhosei ‘navy ensign cadet’.) Hara’s is the only marker engraved in both English and Japanese. The former gives his year of death as 1894, while the latter says he died in Kigen 2554, exactly 660 years later. The Kigen (紀元 ‘record-origin’) calendar dates from 660 BC, when the Japanese empire’s mythical founder, Emperor Jimmu, is said to have begun his reign. Kigensetsu (紀元節 ‘record-origin-season’), 11 February, became a national Shinto holiday and festival season in 1872, during the early years of Emperor Meiji’s reign, but was abolished after World War II, then re-established in 1966.

The British-built, Naniwa-class cruiser Takachiho is also an interesting story. It is named for the town of Takachiho (in Miyazaki Prefecture), where Emperor Jimmu’s brothers are supposed to have come from; where his progenitor and Japan’s creator deity, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, is said to have spent time in a cave, hiding her light, before being lured back out; and to which Amaterasu later dispatched her grandson Ninigi to plant rice and found Japan’s imperial line. In the much more recent and less mythical past, the cruiser Takachiho had visited Honolulu in 1893, to protect its Japanese citizens and to show concern about the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Makiki Cemetery lies on the outer slopes of Punchbowl Crater, which later became the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, housing the remains of thousands of members of the U.S. military, many of whom died fighting against Japan during the Pacific War (1941–45). It may seem ironical to have an Imperial Japanese Navy cemetery just below Punchbowl, but the Makiki Japanese cemetery marks a much longer period—a sesquicentennial—of productive cooperation between the United States and Japan.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan, language, migration, military, U.S.

Wordcatcher Tales: Banrei-setsu, Bangu-setsu

sangaibanreiWhile exploring Makiki Cemetery in Honolulu, I came across a 三界萬靈碑 sangai banrei hi, that is, a stone monument (碑 hi, or tateishi ‘standing stone’) inscribed with 三界萬霊 sangai banrei (3-worlds 10,000-souls), which retired University of Hawai‘i religion professor George Tanabe nicely explained to a former student of his for an article in Hana Hou! magazine (vol. 8, no. 1, February/March 2005, p. 5):

“One of the worst things that can happen to the dead in Japanese Buddhism is to be uncared for,” George says, looking at the weeds, “so these people are in real trouble.” But towering over the other tombstones stands a large stone George calls a sangai banrei. “It’s put up in commemoration of the 10,000 spirits of the three worlds: past, present and future,” he explains, my Buddhism teacher come to life again. “It’s nobody’s grave but it’s everybody’s grave, so even if individual graves are abandoned, there’s always the big one to take care of everybody.”

The kanji meaning ’10,000, myriad‘ occurs in “10,000″ expressions, like the following two, new to me:

萬霊節 banrei-setsu (10,000-spirit-season) ‘All Souls Day’
萬愚節 bangu-setsu (10,000-folly-season) ‘April Fools Day’

Leave a comment

Filed under Buddhism, Japan, language, migration

Wordcatcher Tales: Taiatari, Hineri-komi, Lufbery circle

体当たり tai-atari ‘body-hit’ (from Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2013], Kindle Loc. 1909-1916):

High above [Tsili-Tsili Airfield], the Oscars lagged behind the seven [Ki-48 "Lily"] bombers. Too late, they charged in to break up the intercepting Airacobras. Captain Shigeki Namba, leading one of the cover elements, later lamented that “one by one the Ki-48s were shot down in flames.”

Two of the doomed bomber crews attempted a taiatari, or suicide dive. Literally translated as “body crashing,” taiatari was the honorable choice for a crew whose plane was crippled over the target. Bailing out and becoming a prisoner, akin to surrendering, was anathema to those who subscribed to the Bushido philosophy of an honorable death in combat. Fliers who deliberately chose to crash into an enemy ship, plane, or structure were therefore hailed as heroes in Japan. On this day, at least one taiatari succeeded: a falling bomber smashed directly into the chapel, killing the chaplain and six or seven men inside.

The chapel was the only structure seriously damaged by the Japanese attack.

捻り込み hineri-komi ‘twisting entering’ (from Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2013], Kindle Loc. 1608-1621):

But the bomber continued to fly on four good engines. The bad news was that it still had to cross five hundred miles of ocean before reaching safety. Disoriented and losing blood, sometimes in agony, at other times semiconscious, Zeamer grimly held the controls as he headed toward New Guinea. It was now about 0900, the sun still relatively low in the sky. The remaining Zeros stunted around the damaged B-17 in what the crew later described as “a Lufbery,” a compelling comment which indicates that the Japanese employed a maneuver known as hineri-komi (literally, “twisting in”). The tactic involved multiple fighters in a looping tail chase.

Upon seeing the maneuver for the first time, most Allied pilots called it a “Lufbery Circle,” referring to a World War I tactic named for French ace Raoul Lufbery. The Japanese adaptation puzzled Allied airmen, for it often seemed that they were merely performing the maneuver to taunt their enemy or show off. Perhaps, in the absence of Oki, his subordinates resorted to the hineri-komi as a fallback. Periodically, one of them would peel away from the circle and commence a gunnery run on the B-17, usually pressing in close. But the crew of Old 666 kept up their defensive fire, and the slicing attacks caused no additional damage.

After forty-five minutes, the Hamps [= Zekes/Zeros] turned away and headed back to Buka. American gunners had hit three more, bringing the total number of damaged fighters to four. And thanks to the preservation of the kodochosho [行動調書 koudouchousho 'action records'?], some interesting statistics are available. Air Group 251’s seven participating Zeros expended about five hundred 20mm shells and more than seven hundred 7.7mm rounds during this intercept. Curiously, however, while Yamamoto emptied his ammunition canisters at the bomber, Koichi Terada, a pilot of the same rank, apparently never fired a shot.

Hinerite (捻り手 ‘twisting techniques’) account for nearly a quarter of the 82 officially recognized kimarite (‘deciding techniques’) in Japanese sumo.

Leave a comment

Filed under France, Japan, language, military, Papua New Guinea, U.S., war

Japanese Slaughter of PNG Civilians, 1943

From Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2013) Kindle Loc. 925-960:

AMONG THE DOZENS of church-based missions in New Guinea, some of the oldest were German organizations established before World War I, when New Guinea was a territory of Imperial Germany. During World War II, Japanese forces in New Guinea did not regard German missionaries as allies, even though Nazi Germany and Japan shared a military allegiance. Instead, missionaries came under the jurisdiction of the minsei-bu as neutral civilians. Soon after the Japanese occupied Wewak, they rounded up the local missionaries and transported them to Saint John’s Catholic mission on Kairiru. At first the civilians were free to move about the island, but the situation soon changed.

Some missionaries and natives were willing to risk their lives for the Allied cause. At least two clergymen, Father Manion and Brother Victor Salois, members of the Society of the Divine Word, were American citizens. According to postwar testimonies, the Japanese discovered that several downed Allied airmen were not only hiding in the region, but had contacted the mission with the help of “local people who harbored anti-Japanese sentiment.” Mot’s visit to Kairiru fits this description precisely, and the timing of his trip is more than coincidental.

On the morning of March 17, a few days after the Japanese patrol failed to find the Americans on Wokeo, forty-two civilian men, women, and children were rounded up at Saint John’s and escorted to the destroyer Akikaze, anchored at Kairiru. Included among the mission staff were the two Americans; there were also Chinese nationals, at least one native girl, and two Chinese infants, thought to be orphans. All were treated as neutral civilians aboard Akikaze, which sailed from Kairiru at noon. Late that afternoon the warship stopped at Manus in the Admiralty Islands, where another twenty civilians boarded—again mostly European missionaries, including six women. The next day, Akikaze arrived in Kavieng Harbor, New Ireland, stopping only long enough to receive a message delivered by boat. Akikaze then steamed south, navigating a maze of small islands until it reached the Bismarck Sea. Once safely in open water, the warship headed toward its Eighth Fleet base at Rabaul.

Akikaze’s captain, Lt. Cmdr. Tsurukichi Sabe, evidently presumed he would deliver the civilians to New Britain. Several hundred missionaries and associates were already interned at Vunapope, the largest Catholic mission in the territory. But the message delivered at Kavieng rattled him. With a pale, somber expression, Sabe gathered his officers and informed them that Eighth Fleet Headquarters had issued orders “to dispose of all neutral civilians on board.”

No one would dare question the order. In the Japanese military, instructions from a superior were regarded as though issued by the Emperor himself.

Sabe directed his crew to carry out the orders. First, the civilians were moved to forward berthing spaces below the main deck. Then, within about an hour, a wooden rig was erected over the ship’s fantail. It consisted of a platform covered with mats and a simple hoisting structure. Canvas screens were spread amidships to keep the civilians from viewing the aft third of the ship.

When the preparations were complete, Akikaze throttled up to her maximum speed of twenty-four knots (approximately twenty-seven miles per hour). One at a time, beginning with the men, the civilians were escorted to the bridge. After an interpreter recorded each individual’s name and nationality, they were led aft. Suddenly, they were seized, blindfolded, and bound at the wrists. With no time to comprehend what was happening, they were led onto the platform, attached to the overhead rig, and then hoisted into the air.

At a signal from a junior officer on a nearby gun platform, each victim was shot by four crewmen: one armed with a light machine gun, the other three with rifles. The rig was designed so that the force of the wind from the destroyer’s high speed, together with the impact of the bullets, would swing the victims beyond the platform, where their bodies were released into the churning wake. In theory, at least, this would minimize the amount of gore that collected on the deck. It was also surmised that the sound of gunfire would not carry forward against the wind, thereby reducing psychological stress on the civilians.

The process dragged on for three hours as sixty individuals—priests, friars, nuns, staff, and family members—were systematically hauled into the air, riddled with gunfire, and dumped off the fantail. The two infants were simply thrown into the sea. Afterward, sailors unrigged the platform and hosed the bloodstains off Akikaze’s steel deck. Finally, the officers conducted a funeral ceremony for the souls of the dozens of Christians they had just murdered—almost certainly with a Shinto ritual. Perhaps that, too, was in response to orders.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Germany, Japan, military, Papua New Guinea, religion, U.S., war

Burning Down Rabaul, October 1942

From Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2010), Kindle Loc. 4092-4125:

[General George] Kenney’s vow to burn down Rabaul began with the positioning of three dozen B-17s from Mareeba to Port Moresby on October 8. The planned mission called for total efforts by both the 19th and 43rd Bomb Groups, which would coordinate their attack to follow a preliminary raid by RAAF Catalinas. Thirty-six Fortresses were scheduled to participate, making it the largest Allied bombing effort yet attempted in the Pacific. A follow-up attack was also planned for the night after.

But the initial event almost didn’t go off. After receiving a forecast of foul weather between Port Moresby and Rabaul that afternoon, Walker cancelled the mission. In his defense, three weeks earlier he had flown a night mission over Rabaul and saw firsthand the hazardous conditions created by the powerful storm system that routinely thwarted flights over the Solomon Sea. Kenney wasn’t convinced, however, as biographer Martha Byrd later explained: “When he learned that Walker had canceled the first of the two planned strikes, Kenney consulted a different weatherman, got a favorable forecast, and overruled his bomber commander.”

Kenney’s instincts were correct. The weather was not a factor, and the preliminary raid by the RAAF exceeded all expectations. Flying all the way from Cairns, four Catalinas from 11 and 20 Squadrons arrived over Rabaul at 2050 on October 8. Ordered to “light up the town and harbor perimeter,” the heavily laden flying boats carried an amazing payload. As they crossed over the township at several thousand feet, the Cat-boats dropped twenty demolition bombs, ten small fragmentation bombs, and sixty incendiaries. Approximately half of the incendiaries fell into the residential area north of Simpson Harbor, starting numerous fires. Six heavy bombs landed in the commercial district and ignited one of the many stockpiles of ammunition or fuel the Japanese had imprudently placed throughout the town, and an enormous fire flared up. The flames were still visible from sixty miles away as the Catalinas made their way back to Australia.

The Flying Fortresses, representing four different squadrons, began taking off just prior to midnight. Six bombers dropped out for various malfunctions, but the remaining thirty aircraft gathered at a marshalling point one hundred miles south of Rabaul. Grouped in elements of two or three planes each, they headed toward the target in a strung-out line at altitudes ranging from 4,500 feet to 11,000 feet. Even in the darkness, the crews could see Rabaul from many miles away. The fires started by the RAAF eight hours earlier burned brightly, casting a reddish glow over the township.

The attack commenced at 0400, and for nearly two hours the heavy bombers made individual passes over Rabaul. Japanese antiaircraft positions reacted by shooting wildly, while the searchlight crews tried to pinpoint B-17s. The night sky was turned into a bizarre montage of arcing tracer rounds and brilliant fingers of white light, punctuated by the staccato flashes of exploding antiaircraft shells. Inside the bombers, pilots whose vision was adjusted to the soft red glow of instrument lights were temporarily blinded. To the men in the trailing B-17s, the view up ahead was spectacular. One pilot likened the scene to “a colossal fireworks display.”

Although the sudden loss of night vision and the intense pyrotechnics created a nerve-wracking experience for the Americans, the bombardiers took advantage of the fires illuminating Rabaul to release an impressive amount of ordnance. Ninety 500-pounders, more than two hundred 300-pounders, and fifty-five incendiary clusters followed the path of the bombers from west to east, blasting a swath of destruction across the township. Bombs damaged the coaling jetty on the western shore of Simpson Harbor, hit the Malaguna Road encampment, exploded stockpiles of fuel or ammunition in the Bayloo district (centered around a large Chinese construction business), and demolished several buildings in Chinatown.

The following day, listeners tuned to Radio Tokyo heard the announcer complain that a bomb had struck a hotel in Rabaul, killing fifty “Geisha girls.” The Allies would have been incredulous to learn that the enemy had indeed transported some three thousand conscripted prostitutes to Rabaul in early 1942. Known as “comfort women,” most were Koreans and Formosans taken from their homes or hired under false pretenses, then forced to provide a sexual outlet for the troops. The army and navy each maintained three “special purpose houses” in Rabaul, and the 3rd Infantry Battalion set up a brothel at Vunapope in a monks’ dormitory (after first evicting the Brotherhood of the Sacred Heart).

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Japan, Papua New Guinea, slavery, U.S., war

Wordcatcher Tales: Senshoubyou, Jibaku, Mongai fushutsu

I came across three interesting Japanese terms recently, one at Yotteko-Ya ramen restaurant in Honolulu, the others in a book I’m reading about the Pacific War in Papua New Guinea.

Entrance to Yotteko-Ya

Entrance to Yotteko-Ya

門外不出 mongai fushutsu ‘gate-outside-not-depart’ – The full Yotteko-Ya catch phrase on the left side of their restaurant door was 門外不出の屋台味ラーメン mongai fushutsu no yataimi ramen (‘gate-outside-not-depart POSS streetstall-flavor ramen’). 門外不出 mongai fushutsu is a 4-kanji idiom implying ‘too precious to allow outdoors’, perhaps suggesting ‘you must enter this door to taste it’. The kanji 門 ‘gate’ (which resembles a pair of saloon doors) has many other literal and figurative uses. Here are a few of the latter: 門人 monjin (gate-person) ‘disciple, pupil’ or 門下・門下生 (gate-below/gate-below-life) ‘disciple, pupil’; and 門外 (gate-outside) ‘outside one’s specialty’ or 門外漢 (gate-outside-Chinese) ‘outsider, layperson’.

戦勝病 senshoubyou ‘victory disease’ (from Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2010], Kindle Loc. 1991-2000):

The conquest of New Guinea received enthusiastic coverage in the Japanese press. One newspaper boasted: “Port Moresby is already on the verge of collapse as a result of repeated bombing by the Nippon Navy air corps. The present [efforts] of Nippon Army and Navy detachments completely sealed the fate of New Guinea.” Such propaganda had been published virtually every day since the beginning of the Pacific war, and by the spring of 1942, military personnel and civilians alike were brimming with overconfidence. The effect, later called senshobyo (literally, “victory disease”), was most apparent in the actions of military planners. Often displaying complete disregard for the capabilities of Allied forces, they tended to spread their forces thinly over large areas, sometimes extending them far beyond their lines of supply. (A prime example of senshobyo would occur in early April, when Vice Admiral Inoue and Major General Horii received orders to commence the second stage of the Southern Offensive. Instead of concentrating their resources on one objective, they planned simultaneous operations against Port Moresby and Tulagi, hundreds of miles from Rabaul in opposite directions. Even as that operation got underway, Admiral Yamamoto and the Combined Fleet staff began war-gaming the next offensive, the invasion of Midway.)

自爆 jibaku ‘self-explode’ (from Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2010], Kindle Loc. 5537-5551):

The Japanese were highly reluctant to admit that hundreds of aviators had been burnt to a crisp because the aircraft engineers scorned the weight penalty of protected fuel tanks. To the contrary, the Japanese typically accounted for their losses by applying reverse psychology: whenever one of their aircraft burst into flames or was otherwise shot down during combat, it wasn’t entirely because the enemy had scored fatal hits; instead, the plane had merely been damaged, and its pilot decided to blow himself up (along with his crew, if applicable) as a symbolic act of suicide.

The Japanese called this jibaku, which literally means to self-explode. The amazing thing is that so many aviators, for all their intelligence and technological expertise, were brainwashed by the bushido mentality. Petty Officer Igarashi was a perfect example. Upon learning that one of his friends in Air Group 705 was shot down on April 14, he evoked the concept of jibaku as if it were the most natural thing in the world: “In the afternoon I went to the airfield again and heard about the great progress of the battle. More than ten vessels were sunk, airfields were on fire, etc. Unfortunately, Yokozawa self-exploded with Lieutenant Matuoka.”

After losing numerous dive-bombers and land-based medium bombers during the one-week operation, the conference attendees admitted that their planes needed “bullet protection,” as they quaintly put it. Heretofore, the aviation community had operated under the premise that the best defense was a good offense. In applying the samurai ethic to twentieth-century war machines, fliers and engineers alike valued speed, agility, and lightness above all other qualities. If a plane and its pilot were appropriately aggressive, there was little need for heavy armor plating or protected fuel tanks. As an extension of that mindset, most fighter pilots removed the radios from their planes, and many refused to wear a parachute because they considered the weight excessive.

Jibaku has the same ji as in 自殺 jisatsu ‘(self-kill =) suicide’ and the same 爆baku as in 爆発 bakuhatsu ‘explosion’ and 原爆 genbaku ‘atomic explosion’.

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Japan, language, war

Japan’s Aircraft Shortages, 1942: Zeros on Oxcarts

From Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2010), Kindle Loc. 3191-3213:

The fallout from Midway affected both services. A planned invasion of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, known as FS Operation, had been scheduled to begin in mid-July but was postponed for two months. Soon after that decision was made, the operation was abandoned altogether. Among the reasons for scrapping it: a newly published report from the Imperial Navy citing several problems in the South Pacific.

The ten-point position paper, submitted by the navy’s Operations Section on July 7, revealed multiple concerns. First, the service frankly admitted that the New Guinea campaign had degraded “into a war of attrition.” Navy leaders also acknowledged that they faced “a huge challenge” in replacing the four hundred plus aircraft lost during the Coral Sea and Midway battles. As of late June, land-based fighter units averaged only 54 percent of their full complement. Reconnaissance units were at 37 percent, medium bombers at 75 percent, and seaplanes at 80 percent. The Tainan Air Group, now divided between Rabaul and Lae, was a prime example. On paper, it had a nominal strength of more than fifty pilots and was allotted forty-five Zeros; but from May through July of 1942, the air group averaged only about twenty combat-worthy fighters. The supply line for replacements was described as “very sluggish,” namely because not enough new aircraft were coming from the factories. The monthly output of all naval aircraft was only slightly ahead of attrition levels, and the navy was particularly disappointed in the slow delivery of fighters—less than ninety aircraft per month in the spring of 1942.

Yamamoto and the Combined Fleet Staff should not have been surprised by the deficiencies. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built the majority of its Type 0 fighters at the Nagoya Aircraft Works, a huge factory in the densely crowded port city of Nagoya. The plant had recently been enlarged to more than 1.6 million square feet and boasted a workforce of some thirty thousand people, but for all that, it did not produce complete airplanes.

Due to a combination of industrial congestion and inconceivable shortsightedness, the aircraft factory had been built miles from the nearest airfield. As a result, the plant was restricted to producing subassemblies rather than whole planes. The engine, wings, fuselage, and tail section all had to be transported thirty miles to an airfield big enough for assembly and testing. There were no rail lines available, and the streets of Nagoya were too narrow for large trucks. Horse-drawn wagons had been tried, but their speeds over the narrow, rough roads caused too much damage to the aircraft components. Thus, the Japanese resorted to using primitive oxcarts to haul the subassemblies of their modern fighter to Kagamigahara airfield. It took twenty-four hours for each team of lumbering oxen to cover the thirty miles through the crowded streets. No improvements were made to the roads, which deteriorated as production rates increased and more oxcarts were employed. Determined to build more Zeros, the Imperial Navy contracted with another aircraft manufacturer, Nakajima, whose plant eventually exceeded Mitsubishi’s in monthly production; but even at their highest output, the two factories averaged only 140 fighters per month.

Leave a comment

Filed under industry, Japan, military, U.S., war