Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Japan emperor heads for WW2 battlefield as war memories haunt Asia

April 8th, 2015

Some 10,000 Japanese defenders, fighting in the name of Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, died in a two-month battle in 1944 on Palau’s tiny Peleliu island along with about 1,600 American troops. Unaware Japan had surrendered on August 15, 1945, 34 Japanese soldiers hid in the jungle until April 1947.

Besides mourning war dead at home, Akihito has sought to help reconciliation with former enemies. In 1992, he became the first reigning Japanese monarch to visit China, where wartime memories still rankle.

Akihito and Empress Michiko marked the 60th anniversary of the conflict’s end with a trip to the US territory of Saipan, site of fierce fighting in 1944.

The soft-spoken Akihito, 81, has often urged Japan not to forget the suffering of the war. Such comments have attracted increased attention at a time when the Japanese prime minister appears to be pushing for a less apologetic tone towards Japan’s past.

“He has been saying the Japanese need to reflect on their history, including the dark chapters,” said Portland State university’s Kenneth Ruoff, author of The People’s Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995.

Some young Japanese also worry memories are fading. “Until now, you had veterans and families of the deceased who could talk about their experiences,” said Atsushi Hirano, 22, a student who travels to old battlefields to help collect remains and bring them home.

“But those people are older now and it is harder to hear about their experiences first hand.”

Members of Japan’s dwindling band of veterans are grateful for the royal pilgrimages. “We felt we had to fight on for the country, for the emperor, for our families,” said Masao Horie, survivor of a doomed campaign in New Guinea, where more Japanese soldiers died of starvation and disease than in battle.

“I am truly grateful that the emperor goes to places like Saipan and Palau,” the 99-year-old said.


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Japan searches for Second World War soldiers’ remains in sealed caves of Palau

March 29th, 2015

A team of experts took five days last week to clear their way into just one small cave with a 7ft opening.

Archaeologists found a set of bones which are believed to be human and will be taken back to Japan for testing.

“They found some bones while they were clearing the entrance of the cave,” Bernadette Carreon, a local journalist, told ABC Radio. “They did not use heavy equipment because they have to make it clear of heavy ordnance. When it’s clear, the archaeologists can go in and start bone collection.”


Marines smoke cigarettes, but keep their weapons close in a blasted landscape of Peleliu Island, Palau during WWII

The attempt to find the bodies has been welcomed in Japan and is part of an effort to end a brutal chapter from the war, in which US marines were pitted against Japanese troops who had set up their defences in the intricate labyrinth of heavily fortified caves and underground bunkers. It is still regarded as one of the harshest conflicts in the history of the marines.

Unlike previous battles in the Pacific, the Japanese did not focus their defence on using suicide charges to prevent the Americans from establishing a beachhead.

Instead, the Japanese forces largely allowed the marines to land but staged their defence from inside the caves.

The Japanese, who had occupied Palau for about 30 years, had spent decades using dynamite and axes to enlarge existing caves on Peleliu and blast out new ones. The caves and their entrances were then heavily camouflaged.

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The US forces expected the battle in September 1944 to last only four or five days. “It will be a hard-fought quickie,” predicted William Rupertus, the US marine commander. It took more than 10 weeks.

More than 1,600 US soldiers were killed during the battle, which ended with the marines blowing up many of the caves, leaving thousands of the enemy trapped inside. Shortly before the Americans finally seized the small island in late November, Col Kunio Nakagawa, the Japanese commander, atoned for his defeat by committing ritual suicide in his post.

About 35 Japanese soldiers remained hiding in the caves until April 1947, more than 18 months after the war officially ended. They were the last troops to surrender.

Keiji Nagai, 93, and Kiyokazu Tsuchida, 95, two of the 35 soldiers who surrendered in 1947, met the Japanese emperor and empress earlier this month to provide an account of the hand-to-hand combat they experienced during the battle. The empress quietly told Mr Nagai: “You went through a lot.”

Authorities began collecting the remains at various locations around the island in 1953, but Japanese authorities say 2,600 soldiers have yet to be found. The bodies are believed to be holed up inside about 200 caves which were deemed dangerous and left sealed to prevent public access. About 450 Japanese soldiers survived the battle and later helped to direct the authorities to the site of graves.


The island of Peleliu (Alamy)

The entire island has become something of a monument to the battle, with unexploded bombs a constant threat to residents and tourists. Following the war, Japan created a peace park which included a Shinto shrine with the inscription “To all countries’ unknown soldiers”.

Officials in Palau have worked closely with Japan to try to recover the remaining bodies and return them to the families of the soldiers. Some representatives of the families of the Japanese soldiers have assisted with the search.

Sachio Kageyama, from a group representing families and fellow soldiers of those who fought on the island, told The Japan Times: “I hope the forthcoming visit by the emperor will pave the way for [further] collection of remains.”

Palau, a remote cluster of islands east of the Philippines with a population of about 21,000, was the scene of heavy fighting during the war. The fierce battle at Peleliu was over an airfield now deemed of questionable strategic value by most historians.

The search for the bodies has also focused on a long-lost mass grave on the western side of the island, close to where the current cave search is being conducted.

US military documents indicating the cemetery’s location were found two years ago at a naval museum in California. The documents included a map created in January 1945 which says “Japanese cemetery” and points to the centre of the island. A separate report from a construction battalion says that logs were placed on the site to prevent people disturbing the graves. US officials reportedly told Palau in 1994 that a mass grave was located near Nakagawa’s grave.

US experts have also been searching Palau’s coral reefs, lagoons and islands for planes that were lost in the conflict. Last year, underwater robots were used to find two warplanes on the ocean floor.


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Footage captures US air raids on Japan in dying days of WWII

March 17th, 2015

In one sequence, filmed on July 24, 1945, US forces attack the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carrier Amagi as it sits at anchor off Kure, Japan’s most important naval base during the war.

The footage also shows attacks on the heavy cruiser Tone and Oyodo, a light cruiser, with near misses clearly rippling out on the surface of Etajima Bay.

The grainy images also show rocket attacks on land targets, including factories manufacturing aircraft in Kure, while another clip, shot through the rear canopy of the US aircraft, shows a pall of smoke rising above the Kure Naval Arsenal after a raid on June 22, 1945. The war ended less than two months later.

Japanese records indicate that 162 B-29 Superfortress bombers attacked Kure shipyard – the home port of the battleship Yamato, which had only been sunk in April 1945 – dropping more than 700 tons of bombs.

“As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, we are hoping to pass down to younger generations the reality of war by collecting important wartime footage”, Soei Hirata, head of the civic group, told the Asahi.


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Japan complained over ‘Tenko’ BBC television series

July 16th, 2014

The idea for the programme emerged from research into Evelyn Turner, a British military nurse, for an episode of “This is your Life”. Ms Turner was aboard one of the last transport ships to leave Singapore while it was under attack from Japanese forces in early 1942, but was captured after the vessel was sunk.

She endured regular beatings, malnutrition, disease and the death of many of her friends in a succession of camps in Sumatra.

The initial approach to the Foreign Office stated that while the Japanese Embassy was “not trying to deny the historical fact”, according to Kyodo News, the embassy nevertheless suggest there was “a danger that the association of past Japanese violence, and its gratuitous screening at this moment, with the cultural manifestations of the exhibition, would create a bad impression”.

The embassy also felt it had received a “deliberate brush-off” when it previously contacted the BBC and asked the Foreign Office to intervene.

Louise Jamieson as Blanche Simmons in Tenko (BAND Photo)

An official “expressed anxieties” to the BBC, while another Foreign Office official criticised the BBC’s “complete lack of feeling over timing” in correspondence to a colleague.

He also pointed out that the BBC had broadcast a documentary about Japanese atrocities in Malaya earlier in the year, when Zenko Suzuki, the then-Japanese prime minister, was paying an official visit to Britain.

The files also show that Julian Ridsdale, the chairman of the British-Japanese Parliamentary Group, asked George Howard, the chairman of the BBC, to edit the programme.

Mr Ridsdale allegedly asked the BBC to make “cuts in the future [programmes] to remove some of the more brutal scenes”. It is not clear whether the BBC acted on the request.

Tenko – which translates as “roll call” – regularly attracted 15 million viewers and was largely filmed in Dorset.


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