Category Archives: Japan

Korean-Japanese POW in India

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), p. 191:

The last Japanese POW challenge to Allied prison authorities took place in the spring of 1945 at the British-run facility at Bikaner, located on the edge of the Indian desert some two hundred forty miles west of Delhi. In this camp, originally constructed to house German prisoners of the First World War, the first prisoner was Senior Sergeant Aoki Akira, whose plane was shot down over Rangoon and crash-landed. He eventually became one of the POW section leaders. Although a Japanese citizen, as were all Koreans at the time, Aoki was a member of the royal house of Korea. Mizui Hajime, a Japanese fellow prisoner deeply imbued with the justice of Japan’s cause, paid Aoki the ultimate tribute of noting that he possessed “a high degree of military spirit as well as strong leadership qualities,” even though he spoke Japanese with a heavy accent.

In a curious historical footnote, Aoki, reverting to his family name Rhee, achieved a measure of renown in 1949 when he became the first commandant of the Republic of Korea’s nascent air force academy. In the following year, shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War, it was Colonel Rhee who took possession of a shipment of ten American P-51 Mustang fighters at Itazuke Airfield on Kyushu. After only three days of training on the new planes, Colonel Rhee, still full of the old fighting spirit, led a formation of three P-51s in a low-altitude raid on a North Korean concentration of T-34 tanks south of Seoul. Hit in the exchange of fire, Rhee crashed his plane into the enemy formation on a suicidal dive and was posthumously promoted to the rank of brigadier general.

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Japanese Civilian POWs

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), p. 199:

Camp McCoy was unusual in that it initially held not only all ranks of the military up to field grade officers but also a sizable contingent of Japanese civilians. Except for the relatively minor incident recounted in the previous chapter, Camp McCoy tended to enjoy trouble-free relations with its POWs. According to a former civilian employee of the Japanese navy’s transportation division on Saipan, the civilian POWs constituted a solid bloc that was understandably opposed to the hotheads, whose suicidal intentions struck fear into the hearts of merchant seamen, businessmen, and journalists, among others. The civilians told the extremists that they would still have plenty of opportunities to kill themselves without involving the civilian element. When the hard-liners ultimately backed away from more confrontational tactics with the American guards and vented their frustration by beating up on the civilians, a larger group of civilians returned the favor a few days later.

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Koreans, Taiwanese, and Okinawans Among Japanese POWs

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), pp. 196-199:

Allied forces also captured roughly ten thousand ethnic Koreans and Taiwanese working for the Japanese. Although some Koreans were integral members of the Japanese armed forces, most had either volunteered for or been drafted into labor battalions ordered into combat only when the tactical situation became desperate. Then they became little more than cannon fodder, along with the Japanese soldiers. The Koreans and Taiwanese in the labor battalions, however, did not share the Japanese preference for death over capture and surrendered to Allied forces in droves whenever it became feasible to do so. It was Allied policy to separate out captured Koreans and Taiwanese, assigning each group to its own enclosure. Cowra, in Australia, was the exception, in that it kept Japanese and the few ethnic Korean officers in the same enclosure. Koreans and Taiwanese were not imprisoned any further east than Hawaii, and many remained in the general area of their capture. Once the war ended, they were among the earliest to be repatriated.

There was never much love lost between the Japanese and Koreans, and imprisonment did nothing to change that fact. Japanese POWs felt genuinely appalled, almost betrayed, to discover that the Koreans thought of themselves as victors once the war ended and looked down on the Japanese. Some Japanese POWs, including Takahashi Shigeru, realized that Japan had discriminated against Koreans and Taiwanese and that the Koreans’ gleeful attitude when Japan lost therefore “could not be helped.” In the few instances when Japanese were erroneously placed into an enclosure with Koreans, they were beaten up in revenge for earlier treatment at the hands of their colonial masters.

Most ethnic Koreans who had served as integral members of the Japanese military chose to maintain their Japanese identity in the prison camps. They may well have feared the wrath of fellow Koreans who had been pressed into the labor battalions and believed they would be more secure in the Japanese section. One of the reports from Cowra noted that Koreans caused no trouble for the Australians, except for a small minority who were “very pro-Japanese.” This element compelled the rest to face east and bow reverentially after every roll call. When fellow Koreans disregarded this courtesy to the emperor, they were manhandled.

Taiwanese hostility toward the Japanese POWs was substantially less than that of the Koreans. American comments about Taiwanese prisoners, who never created problems, were entirely positive. When interrogated about possible American landing sites on Taiwan, they were uniformly eager to provide all the information they had.

On Okinawa the American army split up Japanese POWs in yet another way, separating not only Japanese and Koreans but Okinawans as well. Initially somewhat resistant to the idea of being distinguished from Japanese, Yamada Yuko soon became rather pleased to be called Okinawan rather than the pejorative “Jap” that was in common usages by Americans during the war. Given the Okinawans’ widespread disillusionment with the Japanese military, especially its ruthless treatment of tens of thousands of civilians needlessly exposed to the hazards of war, it is hardly surprising that Okinawans relished this separate treatment, a difference manifested in a number of ways. Noting that Americans were eager to obtain Japanese swords as souvenirs, Okinawan POWs volunteered to help them find some. On several occasions they were even allowed to leave the prison camp without guards to search for souvenirs. Such complete trust was so greatly appreciated that the Okinawans could not think of betraying it. Nevertheless, when news of Japan’s defeat filtered into the Yaka stockade, Yamada felt humiliation, and when the Koreans held their victory celebration, he thought that his own feelings were no different from the feelings of those who came from other Japanese prefectures.

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Chinese Treatment of Japanese POWs

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), p. xiii-xiv:

In China, Japanese forces were engaged in war against both Nationalist and Communist forces from 1937 to 1945. During that period, Japan’s military presence was by far the most powerful one in China. Up to the end of the war, Japanese forces were generally on the offensive, suffered relatively few casualties, and gave up few prisoners of war. Once the United States became involved in the war, combat in China diminished in intensity as both Nationalists and Communists husbanded their resources in anticipation of the civil war that was to follow. For the Japanese troops, the conflict in China was far less intense than combat in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and their postwar treatment at the hands of the Chinese Nationalists was, as Japanese veterans recall, “magnanimous.” Although the Japanese expected revenge, there was no mass retribution from the Chinese, who had suffered grievous military and civilian losses at the hands of the Japanese. Both the Nationalists and the Communists held war crimes trials for those suspected of specific crimes. The Japanese surrendered largely to the Nationalists, partly because the United States arranged it that way, but also because it coincided with their own preference. The Nationalists’ primary interests were (1) that they seize all weapons from the Japanese forces, which had not been defeated in China; (2) that the Japanese departure not result in a security vacuum exploitable by the Communists; and (3) that Japanese troops not be used against them by the Communists. With the tacit concurrence of the American forces just coming on the scene in modest numbers, these interests ensured that the Nationalists treated their 1.2 million Japanese POWs with kid gloves, on occasion even with considerable deference.

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Interrogating Old Classmate POWs

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), p. 100:

Fate would conspire to create some unforgettable encounters between Kibei and persons they had known when living in Japan. Higa Takejiro was a Kibei who had lived for fourteen years in his ancestral home of Okinawa, returning to America only in 1938. He went ashore on Okinawa on D day, April 1, 1945, with a unit of the Ninety-sixth Division. A few days later, Higa was called on to question a suspected imposter and was thunderstruck and overjoyed to discover it was his seventh and eighth grade teacher, Nakamura Sensei. Several months later, two rather shabbily uniformed young men were brought before him to be interrogated. As they responded to the standard questions on name, rank, and hometown, Higa realized they had been his junior high classmates. He asked them about Nakamura Sensei and what had happened to their classmate, Higa Takejiro. Surprised at their interrogator’s familiarity with those names, they replied that Higa had returned to Hawaii. They were not sure they could recognize him if they saw him. Higa could not hold back any longer. He exploded: “You idiots! Don’t you recognize your own old classmate?” The Okinawans stared at Higa in total disbelief and started crying because they had been certain up to that point that they would be shot at the conclusion of the interrogation. Realizing now that their lives would be spared, they cried with happiness and relief. Higa, too, was overcome by his emotions at finding his classmates alive.

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Japan’s POW Policies, 1894–1905

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), pp. 19-20:

During the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, Japan stated that it would abide by the Brussels Declaration on prisoners of war, the first such international effort to regularize and humanize the reciprocal treatment of POWs. In that conflict, the Japanese captured 1,790 prisoners, while only one Japanese soldier was taken prisoner by the Chinese. Japan treated its prisoners humanely.

The Hague Convention of 1899 on the treatment of POWs was operative during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 and was generally observed by both sides. At the end of the war the Japanese held 71,802 prisoners, while the Russians had captured 1,626 Japanese soldiers and sailors, including 26 officers. The Japanese government of that time, unlike the one during World War II, acknowledged the existence of Japanese prisoners in enemy hands, including a regimental commander. Japan even sent a request through the U.S. government, which represented Japan’s interests in Russia during the war, asking that conditions be improved for Japanese POWs in Russian prison camps. It also facilitated the sending of letters and packages to Japanese POWs through international Red Cross channels. In line with this willingness to acknowledge the status of its captured military personnel, a regulation of Japan’s POW Information Office at that time stipulated that the name, rank, and other information of each POW would be published when received. (This regulation was voided on December 27, 1941.) Japan and Russia also agreed to several exchanges of prisoners while fighting was still going on.

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Samurai in San Francisco, 1860

From Samurai Revolution: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen Through the Eyes of the Shogun’s Last Samurai, by Romulus Hillsborough (Tuttle, 2014), Kindle pp. 119-121:

The International Hotel stood on the corner of Jackson and Kearney Streets in the center of the city. When the samurai alighted in front of the lobby, their strange appearance attracted crowds of spectators, who must have watched their every move. “One wore a light blue gown and trowsers the colors of the sky at sunset, spangled, starred and barred with gold and crimson,” reported the Daily Evening Bulletin on March 20. Each man displayed on his jacket his family crest in white “circular, oval, or square patches,” which were “of an import quite unknown to us.” And each wore his long and short swords in the polished scabbards at his left hip, “almost horizontally.” One of them “carried a fan [in his right hand], in his left a walking cane… Almost every man wore sandals, generally [made] of grass.”

The Bulletin reported on March 19 that the Japanese “through the interpreters kept up such sort of conversation as they could. Fortunately, [California] Governor [John] Downey happened to be in town, and was early at the door. The Japanese could hardly believe that such a modest, unassuming, quiet little man could be a governor.” “It was necessary for … Brooke to explain repeatedly that this was the real Governor, before they could believe it,” reported the Daily Alta California on the same day. “They surveyed him from head to foot, and looked at the door again and again to see the retinue of attendants whom they thought ought to be following him.”

Katsu Kaishū, for his part, made a grand impression on the San Franciscans, who discerned in him a likeness to the former explorer, Gold Rush millionaire, California senator, Democratic candidate for president of the United States, and one of their greatest heroes. “The Captain of the corvette is a fine looking man, marvelously resembling in stature, form, and features Colonel [John Charles] Fremont, only that his eye is darker, and his mouth less distinctly shows the pluck of its owner,” the Bulletin commented on March 19.

By all accounts, the samurai entourage savored their sojourn of nearly two months in the burgeoning silver metropolis by the bay. Certain scenes come to mind. Katsu Kaishū posing for a tintype portrait at William Shew’s photographic studio on Montgomery Street—the two swords and family crest prominently displayed on his person, the hair tied back, the noble expression complemented by dark, determined eyes. The Japanese touring the waterfront, observing with keen interest a convoy vessel of San Francisco Bay and merchant ships from Panama. Kaishū noting that while the larger merchant ships are commanded by military men, captains of the smaller merchant vessels are civilians. Kaishū and Brooke visiting the “gorgeous redbrick” home of a certain naval officer, “the owner of the largest merchant ship, which he commands.” The samurai entourage visiting the San Francisco Baths on Washington Street, because, as the Daily Alta California reported on March 21, they are “desirous of trying the American style” of bathing. Riding the sand cars on the Market Street Railway, “a sight, which being new to them, they [view] with much interest.” Browsing in Kohler’s spacious piano warerooms and bazaar on Sansome Street, where they observe musical instruments, toys, and opera glasses, and inspecting the sewing machines at the Wheeler and Wilson’s store; Kaishū taking note of the gaslights that illuminated the streets after dark so that one may walk about town without a lantern.

And Kaishū marveled at the industrialization of the town—the clamor of steam-powered windmills from the factories; the mechanical saws; the newspaper printing presses; the San Francisco branch of the United States Mint, comprising a three-story red brick building on Commercial Street; the iron foundries where great hammers and iron plating were manufactured; the gas works on First Street; the “Vulcan works, where,” the Daily Alta reported on March 21, “luckily, castings were being run, and the trip-hammer, planing, and other machines were successfully set in motion.” And if Kaishū was enthralled by modern technology, imagine his astonishment at the sight of a factory worker openly engaged with a prostitute during break time, and his perplexity at being offered “the wife of a Mr. So-and-So for a certain amount per hour.”

Keeping to more practical matters, Kaishū later wrote:

All of this machinery was run on steam power, eliminating the need for manual labor and vastly facilitating [production]. Japan [meanwhile] had shunned foreign commerce. As long as we had the means to produce commodities sufficient for our own domestic consumption, we had no need for [such] machinery, but rather depended on the labor of our highly skilled artisans and craftsmen.

In the spring of 1860, then, as Katsu Kaishū walked the streets of San Francisco, he was poignantly reminded of the urgent need to “conduct international trade,” mechanize Japanese industry, and “change Japan’s antiquated ways.”

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