Category Archives: Japan

Taiwan Okinawans as Creole Japanese

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~3336:

Okinawan migrants in Taiwan came from diverse and mixed backgrounds; some were descendants of Chinese immigrants, and others were of Okinawan and Japanese ancestry. Furthermore, increasing numbers of second- and third-generation Okinawans grew up in the Japanese settler community in Taiwan as more and more Okinawan immigrants settled in the colony. They were creole Japanese who did not really possess a strong Okinawan ethnic identity. Some of these second- and third-generation immigrants had never visited their parents’ home islands, while others moved frequently between Taiwan and Okinawa. Nevertheless, they were collectively identified as “Okinawans” and had to endure negative racial stereotyping and prejudice in Taiwan. To survive discrimination, many Okinawan migrants sought to pass for Japanese by changing their names and transferring their registered addresses to other prefectures. The majority of Okinawan migrants considered assimilation mandatory for success in their imperial careers in Taiwan.

Yet there was also a conscious effort to recover Okinawan pride in Taipei. In the 1940s, the journal Nantō was published through the collaborative efforts of Japanese and Okinawan residents in both Okinawa and Taiwan. The Taihoku Broadcasting Station broadcast a roundtable in which prominent scholars and Okinawan migrants discussed Okinawan history and culture. Kabira Chōshin, a proud Okinawan and one of the editors of Nantō, conceived the idea for this radio program after his Okinawan classical music program met with disapprobation from fellow Okinawan migrants. The Okinawan cultural movement in Taipei, which was supported by some Japanese, did not find many adherents among Okinawan migrants, but it did provide the impetus for another movement that developed after World War II.

The link for Kabira goes to Japanese Wikipedia, whose name Google Translate automatically butchers into ‘Kabira morning monkey’. (His name has no entry in English Wikipedia.) The name 川平 ‘river plain/flat’ is read Kawahira in several Japanese placenames, but in Okinawa it is more commonly reduced to Kabira, where it is also the name of a bay on Ishigaki Island. Kabira’s given name 朝申 shares its first syllable Chō with his younger brother’s given name 朝清. It’s the same character found in the old name for unified Korea, 朝鮮, often translated ‘Morning Calm’. The second syllable 申 Shin does not literally mean ‘monkey’, but it marks one of the Earthly Branches in Chinese numerology that often coincides with the position of the monkey in the zodiac. So 申 can be read Saru ‘monkey’ in the female name 申代 Saruyo (far more commonly read Nobuyo or Shinyo) or in the literary term 申楽 Sarugaku to describe a style of ridiculous impersonation in Noh.

The Kabira brothers in Taiwan assembled a large set of Okinawan cultural artifacts that later helped replace some of the key cultural legacies destroyed in the horrendous Battle of Okinawa.

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Okinawan Médecins Avec Frontières

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~2765:

The imperial schooling of Okinawan youths in Taiwan reflects Okinawa’s liminal position in the Japanese colonial empire. Taiwan had benefited from heavy Japanese investment in colonial development, whereas Okinawa was left behind and marginalized within the Japanese Inner Territory. The Medical Training School was the first and most eminent medical school in Okinawa before World War II, but it was poorly equipped and had insufficient human resources. In contrast, the support the colonial government of Taiwan provided for medical education enabled Taiwan Medical College to quickly become the top educational institution for the Taiwanese. Nevertheless, Okinawan youths were able to take advantage of their “Japanese” status in obtaining imperial schooling. Taiwan Medical College opened its doors to Japanese students in 1919 and allowed Taiwanese students to enroll alongside them in 1922. Bringing the Taiwanese into tertiary institutions with Japanese students reinforced the fact that they were in direct competition with the Japanese and at a disadvantage because they were not native speakers of Japanese. Instead, Okinawan youths gained the most from the policy allowing Taiwanese students to attend medical school alongside their Japanese peers. Taiwan Medical College and the Specialized Division for Medicine paved the way for Okinawans to become medical doctors without incurring great debt. Indeed, Okinawa’s medical development cannot be understood without understanding the circulation of people and knowledge beyond the metropole-colonies divide. Modern medicine in Okinawa was, on the one hand, marginalized within the scientific network of the Japanese Empire; on the other, Okinawans’ liminality allowed them to gain the greatest benefit from the imperial school network.

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Parade of Nations in Katakana Order

I don’t remember how Japan ordered the Parade of Nations when it hosted the Olympics in 1964 (when I was in high school there), but this year the nations were ordered according to how their Japanese names sounded in katakana, the Japanese syllabary used to render foreign names. A full list of the nations in Japanese order can be found in the NPR report about the parade.

Katakana order was used even when names contained kanji (Chinese characters). So Equatorial Guinea (赤道ギニア Sekidou Ginia, lit. ‘Redroad [=equator] Guinea’) appeared between Seychelles (セーシェル) and Senegal (セネガル) because they all start with the sound SE, written セ in katakana.

Similarly, Great Britain (英国 Eikoku, lit. ‘brave-country’) and the British Virgin Islands (英国ヴァージン諸島) appeared after Uruguay (ウルグァイ) and before Ecuador (エクアドル) because the katakana syllabary starts with the five vowels in the order A I U E O (アイウエオ), then proceeds to KA KI KU KE KO (カキクケコ). So the E+I of Eikoku precedes the E+KU of Ekuadoru. (In Chinese, where the name 英国 originated, the character 英 sounds much more like the first syllable of England.)

The last of the vowel-initial names are those that start with the sound O: Australia (オーストラリア Oosutoraria), Austria (オーストリア Oosutoria), Oman (オマーン Omaan), and the Netherlands (オランダ Oranda < Holland). I’ve transcribed the long vowels here as double vowels.

The order of the consonant-initial syllables is KA (カ), SA (サ), TA (タ), NA (ナ), HA (ハ), MA (マ), YA (ヤ), RA (ラ), WA (ワ), N (ン). Most, but not all, of these consonants occur with each vowel. The YA series has YA (ヤ), YU (ユ), and YO (ヨ), but YI and YE have been replaced by the vowels I and E. As a consequence, Yemen is written イェメン Iemen, and its team preceded Israel, Italy, Iraq, and Iran in the parade, while Jordan was relegated to near the end of the parade as the only name starting with Y, written ヨルダン Yorudan. The WA series only has WA (ワ) and WO (ヲ), with WI, WU, WE replaced by the vowels I, U, E. The final sound, N (ン) only occurs at the ends of syllables, as in Iemen and Yorudan.

In katakana, voiced consonants are distinguished from their voiced equivalents by a diacritic that looks a bit like a double quote mark: KA カ vs. GA ガ, TA タ vs. DA ダ, SA サ vs. ZA ザ. The consonants with and without diacritics are considered equivalent for ordering purposes. So Canada (Kanada), Gabon (Gabon), Cameroon (Kameruun), Gambia (Ganbia), Cambodia (Kanbojia) are in that order because of what follows their initial KA/GA syllables (-NA-, -BO-, -ME-, -NBI-, -NBO-, respectively). On the same principle, Zambia (Zanbia) precedes San Marino (Sanmarino) (-NBI- > -NMA-), while Singapore (Singaporu) precedes Zimbabwe (Zinbabue) (-NGA- > -NBA-) among the nations whose names start with S/Z.

The same principle applies to the three-way diacritical distinction between HA ハ, PA パ, and BA バ. So Bahrain (Baareen), Haiti (Haiti), and Pakistan (Pakisutan) begin the series of names beginning with HA ハ, which also include Vanuatu (Banuatu) because Japanese has no syllable VA. (However, the V can be represented by adding the voiced consonant diacritic ” to the vowel ウ U, as in ヴァージン Vuaajin for the Virgin Islands.)

Nor does Japanese have a syllable FA, but the syllable HU (フ) sounds close enough to FU to substitute for F in foreign words. So names beginning with F sounds fall into the same group as those beginning with H, P, and B. Thus, the next countries to enter after Fiji (フィジー Fuijii), Philippines (フィリピン Fuiripin), and Finland (フィンァンド Fuinrando) were Bhutan (ブータン Buutan) and Puerto Rico (プエルトリコ Pueruto Riko).

The TA/DA (タ/ダ) series is at least as complicated. When pronounced, the syllables TA TI TU TE TO (タチツテト) actually sound like Ta Chi Tsu Te To and are usually romanized that way in English, while DA DI DU DE DO (ダヂヅデド) sound like Da Ji Zu De Do. So nations whose names start with Ch or Ts sounds are ordered among those whose names start with T/D. So the teams for Chile (Chiri), Tuvalu (Tsubaru), Denmark (Denmaaku), and Germany (Doitsu < Deutsch) entered in katakana order チツテト (TI TU TE TO, which sound like Chi, Tsu, Te, To), keeping in mind that TE=DE and TO=DO for ordering purposes.

Just as the normally syllabic フ FU can be combined with イ I (in フィ) to represent the foreign syllable FI, normally syllabic チ TI/CHI can be combined into チャ (TI+ya=) CHA, チュ (TI+yu=) CHU, チェ (TI+e=) CHE, and チョ (TI+yo =) CHO to represent foreign syllables starting with those sounds, as in チャイナ Chaina (China) or チェコ Cheko (Czech). Foreign words starting with J- can be represented using similar combinations starting with ZI/JI. So ZI+ya = JA in ジャマイカ Jamaica and ZI+yo = JO in ジョージア Georgia, which are sandwiched between ジブチ Djibouti and シリア Syria in katakana order. (Jordan is written ヨルダン Yorudan.)

It’s interesting that the Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, and the People’s Republic of China all appear among the nations whose names start with T/D, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would too, if it sent a team to this Olympics. The official name of South Korea in Chinese characters is 大韓民国 (Great Han Republic), which is pronounced in Japanese as Daikanminkoku. This name places South Korea immediately after Thailand (タイ Tai), which starts the T/D section of the parade of nations. Chinese Taipei (Chainiizu Taipei) and Tajikistan (Tajikisutan) immediately follow, so the former is ordered as if it were Taipei, not Chinese Taipei.

Tanzania, Czech (チェコ Cheko) Republic, Chad (チャド Chado), and the Central African Republic (中央アフリカ共和国 Chuuou Ahurika Kyouwakoku) precede China (中華人民共和国 Chuuka Jinmin Kyouwakoku ‘Chinese [‘Middle Splendor’] People’s Republic’) because the official names of both the CAR and PRC start with 中 ‘middle’, which in katakana is written チュウ Chuu. The official name of North Korea in Chinese characters is 朝鮮民主主義人民共和国, pronounced in Japanese as Chousen Minshuushugi Jinmin Kyouwakoku (‘Korean Democratic People’s Republic’). It would immediately follow Tunisia (Chunijia) because チュ Chu precedes チョ Cho in katakana order.

Finally, because Japanese R renders both R and L in foreign names, and katakana RA RI RU RE RO come near the end of the syllabary, Laos, Latvia, Lithuania, Libya, Liechtenstein, Liberia, Romania (Ruumania), Luxembourg, Rwanda, Lesotho, and Lebanon come after Jordan (Yorudan) at the tail end of the parade, just before the current and future Olympic host nations.

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Upwardly Mobile Maids in Prewar Japan

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~1980:

Of the total number of Japanese domestics in Taiwan, 27 percent came from Okinawa Prefecture. The October 1924 edition of Yaeyama News also reported that the Yaeyama Islands were known as a “supplier of maids” to Japanese settler communities in Taiwan: “It seems that the number of Yaeyama girls migrating to Taiwan has increased rapidly of late. Each ship carries more than ten migrants to Taiwan; many of them live as apprentice maids (jochū bōkō [女中奉公]). As people associate maids (gejo [下女]) with Yaeyama girls, Yaeyama is now known as a supplier of maids.”

Domestic service has a long history in Japan. It remained one of the most popular occupations for Japanese women until the 1940s. Before the word jochū became common in the early twentieth century, a domestic was usually called gejo in Japanese, which literally means “under woman.” Until the nineteenth century, a young Japanese woman did not necessarily become a domestic in order to make money. Rather, she worked for an upper-class family as an apprentice servant so that she could learn proper manners and etiquette. By practicing good manners and having a solid grounding in traditional Japanese etiquette, a young Japanese woman from a less prosperous background could prepare herself for marriage. This folk educational custom continued to be practiced even after the state introduced universal education.

The nature of the female apprenticeship was transformed during the interwar period. Instead of becoming an apprentice servant, a young woman could go to technical school or advanced girls’ school (kōtō jogakkō [高等女学校]) and learn cooking and sewing before marriage. Domestic service was no longer the only way for a woman to earn a respectable living. She could take better-paying jobs in an office or factory. As women came to have more educational and professional options in the interwar period, domestic service lost its appeal both as an apprenticeship and as an occupation.

However, the demand for domestics increased in the early twentieth century. Until the nineteenth century, domestics were employed mostly by upper-class households. With the rapid economic development and growth of the interwar period, a new middle class emerged, and its members became the employers of domestics. Of the 10,589,403 working women in Japan in 1930, 697,116 were domestics. A majority of these domestic workers are supposed to have been maids (jochū). Domestics were also in great demand in colonial Taiwan, where government officials, freelance workers, and merchants composed a large majority of the Japanese migrant population. The Taiwan Daily News reported in 1923 that domestics were in high demand and that the Taihoku [Taipei] Employment Agency was listing their average wages at fifteen to twenty-five yen.

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How Okinawans Emigrated to Taiwan

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~1800:

Okinawans usually did not go to colonial Taiwan through an intermediary. Instead, they relied on their network of family or friends. It was not unusual for Okinawan youths without work experience to arrive in Taiwan not knowing what they were going to do. Moreover, the immigrants frequently changed workplaces. It would indeed be difficult to track each immigrant’s career in Taiwan because it was common to see an unskilled immigrant start out as a shop boy or factory laborer and eventually secure work as a government employee or a policeman after living in Taiwan for several years. Employers might deplore the tendency to change jobs frequently, but this shows the Okinawan immigrants’ agency and willingness to advance socially in the colony.

Enrolling in evening school was a common means of achieving social mobility for young Okinawan male migrants who could not afford a secondary education at home.

Nevertheless, for Okinawan migrants in Taiwan, becoming an apprentice was the most common method of acquiring a professional skill and advancing their careers. Japan’s decchi [丁稚] system, which developed in the shogunal period, was similar to the Western apprenticeship and played an important role in the Japanese commercial world until the nineteenth century. It originally assumed a feudalistic relationship between a master and an apprentice, rather than a contractual relationship. The apprentice owed his master long-term loyalty because his master treated him like a family member. This custom persisted well into the early twentieth century. Although it became less feudalistic in the twentieth century, and an apprentice was less likely to serve a master for a long time, the practice still maintained an element of folkloric education.

Through apprenticeships, Okinawan youth migrants who could not afford higher education at home acquired the knowledge and skills they needed to raise their social positions.

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Okinawan Emigration Destinations

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~840:

Before migration to the US mainland became popular in Okinawa, anti-Japanese sentiment spread across the West Coast, where the Japanese population had increased rapidly at the turn of the twentieth century. After the enactment of the Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1908, Okinawans were unable to enter the United States as migrant laborers. Thus, very few Okinawans followed the thousands of Japanese who had migrated to the US mainland. The few who did so during this period were youths pursuing higher education. Some went to the US mainland via Hawai‘i, Canada, and Mexico; a few traveled directly from Okinawa. As the Gentlemen’s Agreement allowed only families of migrants to enter for the purpose of reuniting with husbands and fathers, some female Okinawans arranged to immigrate and join their grooms in the United States as picture brides.

Elderly Okinawans have a saying that best sums up these migration trends: “The richest people were able to immigrate to South America; people with some money migrated to the Philippines; and the poorest worked on mainland Japan.” Indeed, when it proved too difficult to enter the United States as migrant workers, the Japanese turned to South America—especially Brazil—and the Philippines as alternative destinations. Later, the South Sea Islands [Micronesia] became popular as the South Seas Development Company (Nan’yō Kōhatsu) targeted and recruited Okinawan laborers for its sugar industry. While Brazil, the Philippines, and the South Sea Islands were under different governments and Okinawan immigrants there worked in different industries, there are some commonalities among them. First, the initial immigrants in these countries worked in manufacturing and commercial crop industries such as coffee (Brazil), abaca [aka “manila hemp”]  (the Philippines), and sugarcane (the South Sea Islands). Second, Okinawan immigrants accounted for the majority of Japanese immigrant communities in these countries despite their treatment as “second-class Japanese” and “the other Japanese.”

Japan sent the first indentured migrant farmworkers to Brazil in 1908. Okinawans accounted for more than 40 percent, 325 of the 781 immigrants, of that inaugural group of economic immigrants to Brazil. In fact, many of the first Okinawan immigrants left the plantations to which they were allocated shortly after their arrival. This gave a negative impression to both the Japanese and Brazilian governments. In 1913, the Japanese government refused to accept Okinawans wishing to travel to Brazil as indentured laborers, citing their propensity to leave the plantations and their cultural difference from Japanese workers from the other prefectures, but when migration agencies were unable to recruit enough laborers from the other prefectures, Okinawans were once again permitted to go to Brazil as indentured migrant workers. However, as was the case in the United States, Okinawan migration to Brazil was prohibited in 1919, and only immigrants who were currently in Brazil were allowed to send for their families.

In addition to Brazil, Okinawa sent a significant number of immigrants to other Latin American countries. For instance, Peru quickly became one of the most popular destinations for Okinawan migrant workers after the first group of Okinawan immigrants arrived there in 1899. Between 1899 and 1941, Okinawa sent 11,461 immigrants to Peru, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the total number of Japanese immigrants. Although the immigrants were initially employed on plantation farms, many later moved to urban areas, where they became grocery store or restaurant owners.

Similarly, most Japanese immigrants to Argentina were Okinawans. This is despite the fact that Japanese immigrants had been arriving in Argentina since 1910. There were 1,831 Okinawans in Argentina in 1940, accounting for approximately 45 percent of the Japanese population in the country. Not all Okinawans in Argentina had migrated directly from Okinawa; in actuality, many ended up in Argentina after traveling to Brazil and Peru. In Argentina, many Okinawans initially found work as factory laborers or porters. A sizeable number eventually set up small businesses such as coffee shops and laundries.

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Defining Japan’s Southern Periphery

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~415:

Before proceeding, I should clarify the usages of the key terms in this volume, including “Ryukyu,” “Okinawa,” “Mainland Japan,” “Inner Territory,” and “Outer Territories.” The geographical name “Ryukyu” appears in Chinese historical documents such as the Book of Sui, which was written in the seventh century. In the fifteenth century, “Ryukyu” became the official name of the kingdom unifying the archipelagos of Amami, Okinawa, Miyako, and Yaeyama, known today as the Ryukyu Islands or Southwest Islands. Under the Ryukyu Kingdom’s rule, the name “Okinawa” indicated the main island of Okinawa and surrounding small islands. In 1872, Japan’s Meiji government changed the kingdom’s status to that of a domain (han) by fiat; the government then declared the abolishment of the kingdom and the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. However, as Wendy Matsumura explains, the word “Okinawa” is not a neutral geographical title referring to a Japanese prefecture but a term that implies a cultural community distinct from the Japanese nation-state. This volume loosely defines “Okinawans” as people whose families and relatives originated in Okinawa Prefecture or the Ryukyu Islands. The term “Okinawans” therefore encompasses people of diverse backgrounds, including those born in Okinawa Prefecture and those born and raised in Taiwan whose parents were born in Okinawa Prefecture. In fact, people from the Yaeyama and Miyako Islands often distinguish themselves from “Okinawans” even though they are part of Okinawa Prefecture, identifying themselves as people of Yaeyama and Miyako rather than as Okinawans. Nonetheless, in this volume, the term “Okinawans” includes people with Yaeyama and Miyako backgrounds unless otherwise indicated.

Likewise, in this volume, the term “Mainland Japan” loosely indicates the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. As the following chapters reveal, the word “Japanese” occasionally includes and excludes “Okinawan.” In other words, the social and cultural categories of “Japanese/the others” and “Okinawan/the others” have been persistent, although the categories are malleable and changeable. Mainland Japan is geographically ambiguous, but the notion of such a place suggests that Okinawans are “the others,” as Mainland Japan was considered dominant over the local islanders. In Okinawa Prefecture, Mainland Japan has customarily been called the “Inner Territory” (Naichi). However, to avoid confusion, this volume defines the Inner Territory as the territory under the rule of the Meiji Constitution (Constitution of the Great Japanese Empire). The notion complements the idea of the “Outer Territories” (Gaichi), which refers to the territories excluded from the Meiji Constitution.

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Japanese Shipping Losses, 1943-44

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 249, 250-251:

November 1943, one month after Dot’s arrival at Arlington Hall, marked the war’s most devastating month for Japanese tonnage sunk. U.S. subs sank forty-three ships and damaged twenty-two. American sub captains received intelligence of seventy-six movements of enemy ships. In December, American subs sank or damaged about 350,000 tons, including thirty-two ships sunk and sixteen damaged.

Behind the success of the U.S. Navy were the code breakers. “The success of undersea warfare is to a certain extent due to the success with which Japanese code messages were translated,” noted a naval report. An American naval commander pointed out in a postwar memo that sometimes a convoy might slip through, but only because U.S. submarines were kept so busy by information from decoded messages that they could not handle all the convoys they were alerted to. Over at the Naval Annex, the assembly line of WAVES identified the movements of marus [merchant marine ships] supplying the Japanese Navy. Findings from both operations found their way to the submarine captains, who could hardly keep up with the bounty of intelligence.

The devastation of Japan’s shipping had an enormous impact. Soldiers were deprived of food and medicine. Aircraft did not get spare parts and could not launch missions. Troops did not reach the places they were sent as reinforcements. On March 12, 1944, a broken 2468 message gave the route and schedule of the Twenty-First Wewak Transport convoy, sunk while leaving Wewak to return to Palau. When the Japanese Eighteenth Area Army made a “complete tabulation of shipping from Rabaul and Truk during January,” in an attempt to convince Japanese Army headquarters that it was feasible to send them much-needed supplies, these messages laid out the shipping routes and sealed their doom. Only 50 percent of ships reached the destination; only 30 percent got home.

At the end of the war, a U.S. naval report found that “more than two-thirds of the entire Japanese merchant marine and numerous warships, including some of every category, were sunk. These sinkings resulted, by mid-1944, in isolation of Japan from her overseas sources of raw materials and petroleum, with far reaching effects on the capability of her war industry to produce and her armed forces to operate. Her outlying bases were weakened by lack of reinforcements and supplies and fell victim to our air, surface and amphibious assaults; heavy bombers moved into the captured bases.” This report’s author, C. A. Lockwood, commander of the submarine force of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, noted that his men got a “continuous flow of information on Japanese naval and merchant shipping, convoy routing and composition, damage sustained from submarine attacks, anti-submarine measures employed or to be employed, effectiveness of our torpedoes, and a wealth of other pertinent intelligence.” Whenever code breaking was unavailable, he added, “its absence was keenly felt. The curve of enemy contacts and of consequent sinkings almost exactly paralleled the curve of volume of Communication Intelligence available.”

He added: “There were many periods when every single U.S. sub in the Pacific was busy” responding.

In fact, he added, code-breaking intelligence made it seem to the Japanese that there were more American submarines in the Pacific than there really were. “In early 1945 it was learned from a Japanese prisoner of war that it was [a] common saying in Singapore that you could walk from that port to Japan on American periscopes. This feeling among the Japanese was undoubtedly created, not by the great number of submarines on patrol, but rather by the fact, thanks to communications intelligence, that submarines were always at the same place as Japanese ships.”

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Japanese Transport Code Language

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 244-246:

The language of the 2468 [transport code] messages was telegraphic in style. Short, straightforward, and no-nonsense, the messages consisted of sailing schedules, harbormaster reports, reports on the water levels of ports and transportation of cargo. Sailing schedules were the simplest. These included the transport number, the date, the time the maru [ship name] would be arriving or leaving, and its destination. Others concerned the movement of troops or equipment. A few dealt with transportation of the wounded or ashes of the dead. The marus out there in the Pacific Ocean carried everything: food, oil, supplies, human remains.

When a new message arrived, Dot looked for stereotypes, which were words that occurred frequently in the same place. “Maru” was a common one, but there were others as well, depending on the origin and the goods being transported. For example, one station transmitting from Singapore—the #3 Sen San Yusoo—sent a regular report on the shipping of oil to Hiroshima, Manila, and Tokyo. Stereotyped words might include ship names and numbers; the number of kiloliters of light oil, crude oil, heavy oil, aviation gasoline, or other gasoline aboard; how many trips each ship would take, and when. Another Singapore station transmitted to Hiroshima, Tokyo, and Moji a report of ships leaving for Palembang. Stereotypes might include the ship number or name, the date and hour of departure, the speed, the course, and the date and hour of scheduled arrival at the mouth of the Musi River.

Another transmitted a daily weather report with data including wind velocity and direction, temperature, and condition of the surface of the Andaman Sea, the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea, and other faraway bodies of water. Dot handled a lot of weather reports. Sitting at her table in Arlington, Virginia, Dot was amused at how many bits and pieces of information she knew about what the weather was like eight thousand miles away.

Another station transmitted a report on small boats available for supply services. Mentioned might be steel barges, wooden barges, special boats, small boats, twenty-metric-ton boats, plywood barges, and cargo submarines.

A station at Surabaya originated a report on the departure of ships escorted by a single Navy plane, including the names and types of ships (motor, sail, fishing), number of barges being towed, date of departure and destination, speed, scheduled date of arrival, route, and daily position of ship on consecutive days at given hours. A report from Shanghai about a supply ship might include a message spelling out that the probable route was “from Shanghai along the coast to the Yangtze River up the Yangtze River to WUU (Buko) down the river to Nanking and finally across the East China Sea to Moji.”

Here is how Dot did her work: Let’s say she knew that the code group for “arriving” was 6286 and she knew where this word was likely to appear. She would find that place in the message and look at the GAT [“group as transmitted”] before her. Books at Arlington Hall listed common code words as well as possible enciphered versions. She would look for a match, or she could do the math in her head and strip out the additive herself. Sometimes—when they were desperate—the code breakers would take the code groups and encipher them with every possible additive. A smattering of 2468 code groups included:

4333 hassoo—to send things [発送]
4362 jinin—personnel [人員]
4400 kaisi—beginning, commencing [開始]
4277 kookoo—navigate, to sail [航行]
4237 toochaku yotei—scheduled to arrive [到着予定]
4273 hatsu yotei—scheduled to leave [発予定]

There were vocabulary words associated with sailing schedules. According to training materials compiled at Arlington Hall, atesaki [宛先] was “destination” or “address”; chaku [着] was “arriving”; dai ichi [第一] was “first”; honjitsu [本日] was “today.” Maru [丸] was “commercial ship”; sempakutu [船舶通] was “ship” [-tu for 通行 tsuukou ‘traffic, passage’?]; sempakutai [船舶隊] was “convoy unit”; teihaku [碇泊] was “anchoring”; yori [より] was “from”; yotei [予定] was “schedule.” Gunkan [軍艦] was “warship.” Chu [中] was “now [or ‘in the middle of, i.e., underway’].” Hatsusen [発船] was “ship leaving.” Hi [日] was “day”; hongetsu [本月] was “this month”; senghu [sic; 船上 senjou?] was “onboard ship”; shuzensen [修繕船] was “ship being repaired”; tosai sen [搭載船] was “ship loading.”

Dot’s workday consisted of messages that, once deciphered, said things like “PALAU DENDAI/ 2/ 43/ T.B./ TRANSPORT/ 918/ (/878/)/ 20th/ 18/ JI/ CHAKU/ ATESAKI/ DAVAO/ SEMPAKUTAI/ 4/ CEBU/ E.T./”

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Cracking the Japanese Water Transport Code

From Code Girls, by Liza Mundy (Hachette, 2017), Kindle pp. 241-242:

Ambon. Canton. Davao. Haiphong. Hankow. Kiska. Kobe. Kuching. Kupang. Osaka. Palembang. Rabaul. Saigon. Takao. Wewak. Dot Braden until a few months earlier had never heard of most of these places. Now they ruled her life. They kept her running from the big table where she worked, over to the overlapper’s console, then back again to her spot at the big table. These were the names of places, somewhere in Asia or the South Pacific, likely to be mentioned toward the beginning of messages coded in 2468, the main Japanese water-transport code, or one of the other, smaller transport codes.

Or rather, they were some of the places. Transport code 2468 was massive; 2468 was everywhere; 2468 dominated the Pacific Ocean. Anything anybody needed was sent by water. Water was how the rice was transported, and the soldiers, and the spare airplane parts. To move the goods the Japanese Army needed, the marus were always sailing. Always leaving and arriving. A maru [丸] could be a tanker, a freighter, a cargo ship, a barge, a cable layer, a motor transport. [Japanese Navy ship names never use maru.] They plied between Hiroshima, Yokohama, Wewak, Saipan, Tokyo, Manila, the Truk Lagoon. Exotic places. It was not necessary for Dot to know how to pronounce the cities and ports, but it was helpful to know the four-digit code groups that stood for them. Code system 2468 commanded Dot’s attention, controlled Dot’s movements. It filled her brain.

A job more unlike teaching Virginia schoolchildren would be hard to imagine. No longer was Dot Braden standing at a chalkboard, explaining physics formulas to eye-rolling teenagers, or ordering senior girls to march and salute. Instead, she was sitting head down at a table puzzling over words she had never heard before she came to Arlington Hall. “Sono.” “Indicator.” “Discriminant.” “GAT.” The sono [‘that, aforementioned’] was the number appended to messages that had been divided into parts before being transmitted. Sono #1 was the first part, Sono #2 was the second part, and so on. The discriminant was the number that identified the system—for instance, 2468. The indicator was the tiny clue that told you what book to look in. GAT stood for “group as transmitted”: the code group plus the cipher. The GATs were what you saw when you looked at the message for the first time.

Dot, of course, was not to utter any of these words outside the high wire double fences of the Arlington Hall compound. People were warned never to use, outside the building, the words they used inside it. “This material is extremely secret and must be treated with the utmost care,” one training document said. “Some of the words which you will consider elementary have been used only in this code, eg KAIBOTSU SU ‘to sink a ship’ [海没す ‘sea-reject do’?]. If you should mention this word to any one connected with the Axis or in some way succeed in letting it get into improper hands, this one fact alone would betray to the Japanese that we are reading their most recent transport code.”

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Filed under Asia, Japan, language, migration, military, nationalism, Pacific, science, U.S., war