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.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating account of your return to Kamaishi. The details of changes between past landmarks and those of the recent present will be of great help to me when I travel there this coming spring, 2012.