Monthly Archives: May 2014

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’

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Wordcatcher Tales: Honi Kuu Okole, Ka Puhio Wela

At least two of the U.S. Army Air Force B-17 bombers that operated in the Southwest Pacific Theater during World War II sported Hawaiian nicknames.

Honi Kuu Okole ‘Kiss My Ass’ (from Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2010]) – The Hawaiian words would be spelled differently these days, but honi ‘kiss’ + ku‘u ‘my [beloved]’ + ʻōkole ‘ass’ would seem to render ‘Kiss My Ass’ pretty effectively. However, I suspect the syntax might be more accurate if the verb were preceded by the auxiliary e that marks the imperative (or future).

Ka Puhio Wela – Though well-researched and well-written, Bruce Gamble’s Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945 (Zenith, 2013), p. 275, nevertheless repeats a bit of well-entrenched American military lore that is linguistically incorrect:

“One of the more creatively named bombers in the Fifth Air Force, the B-17 wore Double Trouble on the left side of the nose and Ka-Puhio-Wela, the Hawaiian phrase for double trouble [emphasis added], on the opposite side.”

There is no way to construe Ka Puhio Wela literally as ‘double trouble’. Ka ‘the’ and wela ‘hot, heat’ are pretty unambiguous, but puhio doesn’t show up in exactly that form in any of the major Hawaiian dictionaries. It may be an abbreviated form of pūhihio (= pūhiohio) ‘whirl, blow (like the wind)’ or ‘break wind’. By itself, the root hio can mean ‘a sweep or gust of wind’ or ‘to break wind silently’ (perhaps descended from an earlier Polynesian form *fio ‘whistle’). Another similar form, pūhiʻu (also spelled puhiu) means ‘to break wind audibly, rudely’. So the most literal English translation of Ka Puhio Wela may be ‘Hot Blast (of Wind)’ or ‘Hot Fart’.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Singapore POWs in the Solomon Islands

From Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2010), Kindle Loc. 5582-5601:

THE BOMBERS’ FIRST destination was Ballale, an island so tiny that its crushed-coral airstrip reached from one side of the island to the other. Officially part of the Shortland group, the arrowhead-shaped isle lay fourteen miles southeast of Moila Point on the tip of Bougainville. The airfield was built by the Imperial Navy’s 18th Construction Battalion, headed by Lt. Cmdr. Noriko Ozaki, between November 1942 and January 1943. Because the Japanese had no bulldozers for such big projects, much of the labor was done by hand. In early December 1942, a shipment of 517 POWs arrived from Rabaul to work on the airfield—and therein lay another dark story of Japanese atrocities.

Known unofficially as the “Gunners 600,” the prisoners sent to Ballale were among the thousands of British soldiers captured after the surrender of Singapore the previous February. Some 50,000 POWs were initially held near Changi Prison, but in mid-October about 600 Royal Artillerymen were sent to New Britain. After three weeks of misery at sea aboard a “hellship,” they arrived at Kokopo on November 6. One prisoner had died en route, and many others were sick with dysentery, beriberi, and malaria. About a week later, 517 men were sent on to Ballale, leaving 82 of the sickest at Kokopo.

From the time of their arrival at Ballale, the British gunners were harshly treated. Ozaki himself was said to have beheaded a prisoner the next day, no doubt to establish his absolute authoritarianism. The POWs, housed in a compound of huts near the southwestern end of the airstrip, received no medical attention and were not allowed to dig or construct air-raid shelters. Korean laborers, Chinese prisoners, and native islanders also worked on the airfield, but they were strictly prohibited from making contact with the white prisoners.

The island’s occupants were all living on borrowed time. On January 15, 1943, a single B-17 from Guadalcanal bombed the airstrip, and within a matter of weeks, aerial attacks became heavier and more frequent. Unknown to the American aircrews, dozens or possibly even hundreds of POWs were killed by friendly bombs. The Japanese permitted the burial of the victims, whereas POWs who died due to illness or neglect were placed in rice sacks and dumped at sea. By the time [Admiral Isoroku] Yamamoto’s party approached Ballale, the tiny island had been hit at least fourteen times—and only a few dozen of the original 517 gunners were still alive.

Whether Yamamoto was aware of the British prisoners at Ballale is unknown. Either way, the gaunt, sickly survivors would probably have been kept out of sight while the commander in chief visited the garrison. There is no point in speculating further, however, because Yamamoto never reached the island.

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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’.

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