Sunday, 18 December 2011

27: Return to Japan – 2006. Part 4.

Sunday 4th June

This morning we took a taxi to the Eizen-Ji Temple to meet the Buddhist monk once again. He guided us around the temple where we saw the granite family shrines of local people. A specially commissioned monument for the P.O.W.’s who had died in Hakodate camp was also there with the man who had designed it and raised the funds for its erection there.

There followed a fifteen minute service with the priest chanting and striking a large brass urn that gave off the sound of a deep bell that resonated around the building, a large solid wooden drum was also struck at intervals, as the service progressed we in turn said silent prayers and burnt incense.

A film crew and reporters were present to record the event, and once the service was over, we looked around several parts of the temple before sipping green tea and eating traditional Japanese cakes whilst seated cross-legged on the floor, in a large communal room in the adjoining house. It was now lunchtime so we made our way to a small French restaurant where we had an enjoyable meal of soup, brioche and kebabs.

In the afternoon we went to the YMCA were I gave a talk in the hall to a group of 60 local Japanese majority of which were elderly, they listened in silence and with their impassive features I did wonder if I was making any impression on them. When I had finished speaking, several asked questions about life in the camp, I was surprised when an Australian got up and spoke, then later I met three who I learned were all English teachers, this rather amused Angela, the thought of Japanese students speaking English with an Assue accent.

As I left the platform a Japanese man took over and started to speak, pinning up a very large sheet of paper covered in Japanese writing, I recognised him as Mr Asari the man who I assisted planting the tree and rose bush, he was telling them that it was time that Hakodate remembered the P.O.W.’s who died there also the Japanese dead by erecting a city memorial.

Before leaving I was offered several thousand Yen for my visit, I refused to accept it, telling them to use it to start their fund for the memorial.

This engagement over, we returned to the hotel to collect our cases, then boarded the airport bus which took us a short ride to the edge of the city to a very modern airport.

The flight to Tokyo in the A.N.A. aircraft had the usual pilots view on the overhead cabin television screen which enables passengers to watch the take off and landing, switching to look vertically down as it leaves the ground and then switches back as it approaches the runway for landing. Our flight time from Hakodate to Tokyo Haneda airport was one hour ten minutes. We then boarded a limousine bus to Tokyo Central Station where we hired a taxi to our hotel and unpacked.

It was getting late when we took a stroll to a fast food bar for a meal of rice and tempura, miso soup with noodles and a cold beer.

Monday 5th June

Angela and Bari went off to Tokyo Central Station in order to book our seats on the ‘Bullet’ train for our following days journey to Hiroshima, they also called in at the British Airways office to book our seats for the homeward flight.

I had a relaxing morning and after lunch we decided to try the Tokyo underground system, a notorious rabbit warren. After studying the route charts, went to the Asakusa district, a main traditional Japanese shopping area, we encountered no problems in getting there, but we had avoided the rush hour! For the first time during our stay in Japan, more tourists were noticeable, most of the shops were for tourists, all selling similar Japanese goods, like elsewhere, there were some old streets, others modern. We did our shopping and then made our way back and went out for an evening meal.

Tuesday 6th June

Today we travelled without our Japanese companions, boarding the ‘Bullet’ train for Okyama, then a quick change of trains for the remaining journey to Hiroshima, a total journey time of just over five hours.

We disembarked and were met by Mr Kobayashi, the representative of the Japanese P.O.W. Network. We then travelled by taxi to the Memorial Park, there we were met by a young lady interpreter, also, I was introduced to a gentleman, Mr Mori, who as a child of eight years of age had remarkably survived, from only a distance of two miles, the blast of the atomic bomb that had been dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima. We entered a large hall where refreshments were being served and ordered coffee while Mr Mori continued with his story of survival. Apparently he was blown off his feet by the blast and into a shallow river, the weeds, reeds and mud covered him and protected him from the radiation, two other boys, his friends, who stood beside him, died.

I asked his views on the dropping of the bomb, “It was a terrible thing”, he said, “But it had saved many lives by stopping the war”.

Meanwhile, Mr Kobayashi had taken Angela and Bari around the museum, a place which I had already visited on a previous trip, I met up with them outside. Angela said she found the exhibits interesting but would have liked more time.

We returned to the rail station and caught a local train to the coastal channel port town of Onomichi, arriving at our hotel, the Green Hill, just after 18:00 hours. At 18:30 we attended a formal dinner in the hotel with a group of invited guests, which finished at 21:00 hours.

Wednesday 7th June

A small ferry from a dock immediately outside of our hotel took us across the short expanse of water to the town of Makaishima opposite, where a monument to the P.O.W.’s who had worked and died there had been erected four years earlier. I was then taken to a perk where the English Oak Tree that had been planted near the memorial had been moved to, it had been realised that it would have grow too large to leave by the towns road in a central location.

We then returned to the factory where the P.O.W.’s worked, this was now producing Japanese open toed socks. In the owners office while being entertained with the traditional cup of green tea, we were presented with three pairs of socks each.

Before boarding the ‘Bullet’ train for our return to Tokyo, we were taken up the mountain overlooking the town and the coastal inlets of the sea that interspersed this area forming a group of small islands.

Yoshiko, Taeko and Fuyuko were waiting for us as the train pulled into Tokyo Central Station. It was our last meeting and time to thank them for all that they had done to make this a most enjoyable and unforgettable visit. There was a lot of talk as we enjoyed our last meal together before finally saying goodbye.

Thursday 8th June

We made an early start to ensure there were no hiccups in getting to the airport on time. We left the hotel by taxi to Tokyo Central Air Terminal, from there to Narita Airport by Limousine Bus. A stroll around the airport shops for last minute presents, light refreshments, then boarding the aircraft which departed on time at 13:10 for our 10½ hour flight home across the top of Siberia.

Friday 9th June 

Arrived at London, Heathrow Airport at 16:47, just three minutes early from our scheduled time of arrival, ending our trip to Japan.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

27: Return to Japan – 2006. Part 3.

Saturday 3rd June

Meeting in the hotel foyer we had breakfast then went to the waiting press cars that were to take us to the old Hakodate camp site. On arrival I was introduced to the man who had bought the site on which the old prison camp had stood, he was now in the process of using the old huts to build a restaurant which would include rooms for paying guests. It was not yet completed, the decorating was still to be done. It had splendid views of the sea and bay which had been obscured from P.O.W.’s view by a high wooden fence that surrounded the camp site, today it was a splendid summers day.

The next surprise was that a local historian named Mr Asari, who I now met, was to plant a rose and black pine tree with me in the grounds overlooking the sea. My daughter Angela was asked to throw some earth then water them in, Bari was kept busy taking photo’s alongside the press men present. A wooden board was put in place with the date and my name on, which was to be replaced at a later date with a granite stone engraved to commemorate my visit.

This task completed, I was then shown round inside the building, it was constructed of old aged timber, a quarantine sign was screwed to an internal wall, a relic from one of the camp huts. We then went to the site of the old crematorium, a little way up the hill, it had been demolished long ago and replaced with a very modern building with a glass door frontage that could have been anywhere.

Further down the hill was a small cafĂ© overlooking the bay, we sat in the garden and had lunch,  surprisingly, Russian food, Borsch and a Cornish pasty type pastry with a herb filling.

After lunch our next call was to a Buddhist Temple built in 1643, this was where the ashes of the P.O.W.’s who died in Hakodate were kept until the end of the war. Why I was given Bill’s ashes to safeguard, I don’t know, was it because I helped carry him up the hill to the old brick crematorium or because I washed and fed him? I will never know the answer.

The docks were the next stop, it was still the old dry dock that had been there for 106 years, I was told. I remembered this place very well with the winter winds and snow coming in off the sea. A large modern ferry boat was now in dock being renovated, looking very smart with its finishing coats of paint. I could still feel that cold wind there even on this glorious sunny summers day, so felt the need to don the zip-up jacket I had taken along, it had not changed and I had no wish to linger there.

The two reporters from the Hakodate newspaper were taking us to the cable car station, on our way we drove through the old quarters of Hakodate close to the old camp and saw the old British Embassy, the Chinese Centre and the Russian Church, throwbacks of the fish industries of the 1800’s. The press left us when we reached the station to return to their newspaper offices to write their reports. We then rode the cable car to the top of Hakodate mountain and had stunning views of the town, harbour and the twin coastline of the peninsular.

Another busy day out over, we returned to our hotel, then told that we would be dining out at a French restaurant where we were welcomed by an elderly lady, her Buddhist Monk son was to join us later. The restaurant had been closed to other diners and a grand piano installed with pianist playing western music. Several courses of food were served, excellent roast been being the main course, champagne and the finest wines made it a superb meal.

Well sated and expecting to say our thank you and goodbye to our hosts we were surprised to be told that the evening was not over yet, two cars waited outside to take us to the top of Mount Hakodate once again so that we could see the city lights on this clear night. It was a stunning view and an apt finale to an outstanding evening as the cars returned us to our hotel.

Friday, 2 December 2011

27: Return to Japan – 2006. Part 2.

Thursday 1st June

Early morning a car from the Embassy arrived and took us to Tokyo Central Station where we were to meet Taeko and Yoshiko to board a Shinkansen ‘Bullet’ train travelling north east for 2½ hours at almost 200 miles per hour, to Hanemaki, changing there to a branch line train for a 1½ hour journey to the port town of Kamaishi. This was a very pleasant rural journey travelling through wooded valleys, rice fields and farming where flat areas were cultivated.

At Kamaishi station I was greeted by local Council officials, reports and a film crew, then taken by minibus to the local museum where photographs of Ohasi iron ore mine, the prison camp and war damaged Kamaishi town were shown to me. Great interest was caused when I pointed to myself dressed in a miners hat paraded with others before leaving for work in the mine. We then boarded the minibus accompanied by the press who interviewed me throughout the day.

First stop was the old Ohasi prison camp which was now completely flat with no sign of its previous habitation, I asked what hap happened to the camp and was told that the local people who had lost their homes during the air raids and bombardment from warships had dismantled it and taken the wood to build makeshift homes. The large stock of food we had left that had been dropped by air was given to the children, they were suffering from a shortage of food.

The gravel road and mine railway outside the camp to Kamaishi and the mine had disappeared, there now was a tarmac road in place.

The next stop was the ore mine which is now a thriving mineral water bottling plant. I knew from experience that there was plenty of water in the mine, but never envisaged this.

The mine had along history, being established in the mid 1800’s. In the main building there was exhibits of the different types of rock, minerals and ore that had been mined there, also relief models of the hillside and mine, further along were several boards which contained various photographs. I did enjoy learning the history of this mine where I had been put to work but cannot say it brought back memories because they have never left me.

Another short ride took us to the mine entrance which was blocked off by two large solid steel doors, I immediately felt disappointed as I had hoped to look inside, but need not have worried as shortly after a miner arrived with the key sent up by the mine management. I was so pleased I was able to go inside and touch the rock walls, it made my day.

We had stopped on our way to the mine to pick up a man who was a child when I worked there, speaking to him through the interpreter, I asked if he knew of the mine collapse in 1945, “yes”, he replied “there was also a collapse in 1942 and 1943”. I would not have felt so safe had I know that when I worked there. It was then time to return to Kamaishi to meet the Mayor.

We entered the Council Offices where we were greeted by the Mayor. He said he was very pleased that I had returned to Kamaishi and thanked me for doing so. We all indulged in a traditional cup of green tea, on leaving he thanked me again and to show his appreciation gave me some locally farmed caviar on departure.

A visit to the harbour was next, it had not changed at all, this was a sight I shall never forget, my mind went back to September 15th 1945, I could see the place where I walked down the ramp of the landing craft with my companions to be taken to the hospital ship in the bay with its escort destroyers. As I looked out at the bay I could see the ships there, waiting. An amazing feeling, one that I cannot forget.

Our final stop was the steel works. It was explained to me that steel was brought here from other works in Japan now and the products made here are steel wire for car tyres and iron dust for disc brake pads.

The blast furnaces were destroyed during the air raids and bombardment on the 9th August 1945 and never rebuilt. These were the first western type in Japan, built in 1857, their remains are a museum site now.

Now it was a hasty retreat as we had only twenty five minutes left to return to our hotel for a quick shower and change before presented ourselves to a formal dinner with invited guests in honour of my visit.

Friday 2nd June

Today I had a rather daunting task ahead of me, I had been asked to speak to 460 students, school officials and some parents, about my imprisonment in Ohasi and the work I did in the mine. I had never spoken to an audience of this size before.

On arrival we were taken to the headmaster’s office for introductions then sat round a table to drink tea and have a chat, then it was time for me to face the waiting audience. Clapping started as soon as we entered the hall, Yoshiko sat beside me on the stage to interpret and so I began to speak.

There was complete silence as I spoke which made me more comfortable and relaxed as the students listened intently. I spoke of the ups and downs of life during the two and a half years I spent in the Ohasi camp, also of the freedom when the war ended and we were all released.

I had managed to explain life as it was at the camp in the hour allotted to me, the students now had just thirty minutes in which to question me, they didn’t waste any time, the boys asked endless questions which I answered in turn until the headmaster interrupted to say that time had run out. Then a boy and girl both made a speech on behalf of the students thanking me for coming, I was then presented with a symbol of Kamaishi city, I replied that it had been my pleasure.

On leaving, the headmaster told me he was surprised at the students interest and the number of questions asked. As I made my final attempt to leave all the boys crowded around me wanting to shake my hand. I was as surprised as the headmaster was, at the amount of interest shown.

Outside the minibus was waiting to take us to the station. As we waved and said our goodbyes to the Kamaishi people there was a warm feeling that we all had enjoyed the visit and meeting each other.

Returning to Hanemaki railway station we boarded a ‘Bullet’ train to Moriaka where the fast track ended. We then changed platforms for an ordinary express to Hakodate, during the change over I noticed a member of the railway staff point me out to another so I assumed he had seen my visit on the television news the evening before although I did not see it myself.

The express was fairly fast speeding past mountainous scenery and through several tunnels, the longest tunnel was the one under the sea from the island of Honshu to the island of Hokkaido, which I understand is one of the longest in the World being 33½ miles long. We arrived in Kakodate at dusk after a total five hour rail journey from Kamaishi.

It was 19:30 in the evening when we arrived at Hakodate rail station and it felt much cooler this far north from Tokyo and as evidence, cherry blossom was still in bloom. Our hotel was just a short distance from the station across a large open square, next to the harbour and famous Hakodate fish market. We were feeling rather weary after another busy day so had our evening meal, then retired to be ready for another busy day ahead of us tomorrow.