1923 - (80 years old at time of interview, Sept. 2004)
Japanese Veteran of World War IIby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
|This interview was done by a bilingual high school
student. The interview was conducted in Japanese and the student translated
and transcribed it into English. Here is a two minute portion
of interview in Japanese (506kb, .wav)
What is your full name, birthday and birthplace?
My name is Yoshinobu Tamura. I was born on May 3rd 1923, in Shimonogo Village, Nagano prefecture.
What was life like when you were a kid?
Well, most of us were farmers. The only thing we sold was rice, though. We ate everything else we grew. We grew potatoes, sweet potatoes, radishes and carrots. 99% of the people in this town were farmers, including my family.
How have things changed since you were a child?
Things have changed a lot. First of all, people had a lot more kids back then. People needed all the help they could get in the rice fields. We didn’t have all the tractors and high-tech farming equipment we have now. Every pair of hands counted and women who had lots of boys were honored. Now days people work in factories and office jobs, so every kid is just another mouth to feed, but it wasn’t always like that. Things weren’t as developed either. When I was growing up, there were about twelve houses in this whole neighborhood. Now, there are more than a hundred. This town was in the country back then, but now it's a pretty big city.
How many siblings did you have?
I had 1 brother and three sisters and we were all expected to help out. Five children was normal back then, but it’s almost unheard of now.
Is there anything in particular that you remember from your childhood?
I remember I used to play war with my friends in elementary school. We would use sticks and act like we were real soldiers. I never thought I would actually be in a real war.
How old were you when you entered the military?
I was twenty when I got drafted for the army. Back then, everyone got a letter saying they had to have a military health inspection when they turned twenty, and I passed the inspection, so they put me in the army. At the end of the war, after I was drafted, they started taking anybody. Even women and sick people were used in Okinawa.
|What was your job in the army?
I was just a regular soldier.
Where were you stationed?
I actually never went over-seas in World War Two. I was stationed in Zama, near Tokyo, and never experienced combat. I did see Tokyo burn to the ground because of all the bombs though.3
How long were you there?
I was at Zama for about two years before being sent home.
Mr. Tamua is somewhere in the top facing sideways.
I think I was just kind of there because I got drafted. I knew some people that said they were willing to die to protect Japan, but I didn’t really share similar feelings with them. I even knew some Kamikaze pilots during the war. A lot of those people committed suicide when they found out that Japan had been defeated.
Did you have enough food during the war?
We had to have food to survive. Yeah, we had some food but definitely not any extra. I think people in the military were better off than most other people in Japan, though. Where I was from, people grew their own food so they were okay, but in cities like Tokyo, people were starving to death.
What did you think of Germany and Italy when you were in the army?
I didn’t know much about what was going in other parts of the world. I was just a soldier so I didn’t get much information. The only way I found out information was through the newspaper.
Why do you think Japan went to war?1
I think we grew too much. We had a large population with almost no resources. Virtually the only things we could export were fish and silk. We were okay until the 1920’s, but that’s when the US stopped buying our silk. The price of silk plummeted and we had to go to China to get other resources. I think in a way, we were forced to fight in the war because we were either going to become a modern nation by getting resources, or stay like we were, an old fashioned farming country.
Could you talk to your family while you were away?
Well, we didn’t have any telephones back then. We could write letters to our families whenever we wanted. I’m glad I didn’t have to go over-seas, though, because it took letters months to get to Japan. We could also telegraph our families.
What was the hardest part about being in the war?
I think the training was the hardest part. We had to run and jump over obstacles with all of this protective gear on and a helmet and our guns. Some days we had to run 10 km with all of our gear on. It was exhausting. I was in pretty good shape because I played baseball when I was a kid, but I don’t know how all the sick and out-of shape people got through it.
When you were in the war, did most people think Emperor Hirohito was a god?2
Oh yeah. We were always taught in school that the emperor was a god. We were supposed to sacrifice anything for him. Of course there were some people that doubted and said because he had all the bodily functions of a normal human being, he couldn’t be a god, but most people definitely believed he was a god, including myself.
How did your view of the war change as it progressed?
At first all of us thought we were going to win. No one starts a fight without expecting to win, do they? As the war progressed, however, we gradually weren’t so sure of ourselves. I knew it was over when I watched Tokyo burn to the ground.
How has Japan changed since then?
A lot has changed since then. There is so much technology now. We used to walk everywhere, but now everyone drives cars. Everything was done by hand back then, too. Washing, cleaning and farming were all done by hand, but now we have all these machines to do everything for us.
What do you think of war now, having been in a war?
I think war is a terrible thing that should never happen. I think countries should discuss things and try to solve things peacefully. I don’t think war ever makes anything better, but has the opposite affect.
Japan has recently rebuilt its military after about 50 years without one. What do you think of the new Japanese military?
I don’t think Japan should participate in foreign wars like they are right now in Iraq. I think Japan should have a military only for security. We must protect ourselves from countries like North Korea, so I think a military for security purposes is fine. I just don’t think we should have a military that butts in on other countries’ wars.
Japan has had a recent surge in crime. What do you think is the cause of this?
I think the families are falling apart. It used to be that the families ate together every meal, but now that is becoming rare. Too many parents are neglecting their children which is why I think there is so much more crime now days.
Do you have any grudges against Americans today?4
No, if I did, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you today. I’m sure the people who actually had to fight the Americans might have had some grudges, but I never had to fight. I watched America basically destroy Tokyo, but I also watched them rebuild it again.
Thank you so much for taking some of your time to do this interview. Is there anything else you would like to say?
Thanks for coming. Please study some more about World War II. There are some great books by Japanese authors about the war. Please come again any time you have questions.
1Low price of silk as cause for being forced into war
Japan attacked China because of low silk and high oil prices and because they wanted to build a large empire. In 1929, two-fifths of Japan’s export income came through selling silk to the US, but the depression destroyed that market. One reason for Japan attacking China was to try and get more resources so they wouldn’t have to depend on silk and to try and compensate for their losses. Another reason for war was a lack of oil. Oil was an important resource to the Japanese but unfortunately they had none of it. Japan attacked China, looking for more raw materials and land to build their empire.
2Emperor Hirohito was a Shinto god
When he was a boy, Hirohito respectfully doubted that the Japanese emperor was a god, but was made to understand that this was a sacred myth. Hirohito agreed that when he was emperor, he would hold the tradition, but only because it was an obligation. On December 25, 1926, Crown Prince Hirohito became Emperor Hirohito when Emperor Taisho died. Emperor Hirohito’s reign officially began in November 10, 1928, at Kyoto, Japan. Hirohito followed tradition and chose a name for his reign. His reign was called "Showa", or "Radiating Peace". However, he began a military buildup, which led to war in 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor after several attacks on China and a dream of Pacific domination. In September 1945, Emperor Hirohito ordered the surrender of Japan, ending the war. The only term of surrender was that Hirohito would maintain the throne. This was done since Emperor Hirohito had an estimated fortune in excess of $100 billion in a Swiss bank account, which cannot be accessed by anyone other than the Emperor in power. The rest of his life was spent in Japan, most of that time was at the Imperial Palace. Emperor Hirohito died there on January 7, 1989 just 1 month and 14 days before I was born. He was the last emperor to be considered a Shinto god and also one of the first modern emperors.
3The firebombing of Tokyo
The first US attack on Tokyo was the “Doolittle Raid” on April 18th, 1942. At that time, B-25 Mitchells were launched from the USS Hornet to attack targets in Yokohama and Tokyo and then fly on to airfields in China. As the war moved on, the US was able to launch larger raids on the Tokyo area. The key development was of the B-29 with an operational range of 1500 miles (2,400 km); almost 90% of the bombs dropped on the home islands of Japan were delivered by this type of Bomber. On March 10, 1945 the densely populated wooden structures of Tokyo were firebombed by 334 B-29s which, accompanied by a strong wind from the North, resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths and perhaps 300,000 homeless. In elementary school textbooks in Japan a little girl gets separated from her family during the firebombing and later finds out that she is an orphan.
4America rebuilds Japan
After the war, led by General Macarthur, the US made Japan give back all of its land not owned before the war and do many other things including; writing a new constitution that was fairer to everyone, creating a better trade union and reforming the educational system so it was no longer biased to nationalism. They also donated millions of dollars to rebuild industry and commerce with the latest levels of technology during the Occupation of 1945 -1950. In June 1950 the Korean War broke out and the UN needed goods and services from Japan. The Americans helped Japan until pre-war levels of industrialization were achieved.