Occasional excerpts from Tommy’s Wars


How the First Japanese Men Came to be Interned

On December 6, 1941 the FBI, over J. Edgar Hoover’s signature, sent dossiers on Shinri Sarashina and other Hawaii Issei to the Honolulu field office’s Special Defense Unit. The form letter accompanying Shinri’s brief dossier said Hoover recommended he “be considered for custodial detention in the event of a national emergency.” The FBI apparently was acting on the information from the intelligence services about the movement of Yamamoto’s fleet away from shore into the Pacific several days earlier. The agency was preparing its Hawaii agents just in case.

At least thirteen groups of FBI agents and military personnel had dusted off 1939 files with a long list of names, sorted in order of importance of presumed community influence and authority. Some of the information was old. Shinri’s address was listed as the rented house he had moved from after his family left for Japan. But it had his work address at the Honpa Hongwanji.

The dossier said he, “Is an alien Japanese, born in 1890 at Hiroshima, Japan, who first arrived in the United States at the port of Honolulu in 1916 aboard the ship Siberia Maru. He is said to have departed for Japan in 1932 and returned to Hawaii on August 11, 1932,” his FBI rap sheet went on, citing Immigration and Nationalization Service records: “Is assistant superintendent of the Hompa [sic] Hongwanji Betsuin, the controlling force of the major Buddhist sect in the Territory of Hawaii.

“Subject is vice president of the Society for the Support of the Hawaii Betsuin, the organization responsible for the financial support of the Japanese Buddhist sect, Hompa Hongwanji, in the Territory of Hawaii,” citing Chiwa Saburo of Honolulu on August 20, 1941. He was formerly a priest in outlying sections of the Territory of Hawaii, including Waianae, Oahu, and Laharina [sic], Maui, and is said to have been a consular agent at these posts. He was elected on 2-20-41 as one of the advisors of the Takata County Hiroshina [sic] Prefecture Peoples Society of Honolulu,” citing confidential information received September 20, 1941. It turned out that much of the information on him contained errors in dates, addresses, spelling and such. But the Immigration and Naturalization Service had even recorded that his father’s name was Joun and mother Sato, both living in Japan in 1939.

Apparently that was all the evidence the FBI had to justify the warrant that Lieutenant Colonel George Bicknell at Fort Shafter next to Pearl Harbor issued in the early afternoon of that day, as soon as martial law was declared, putting him in authority.

Bicknell sent the warrants to civilian and military police authorities and the FBI, saying, “You are hereby commanded to take the body of Shinri Sarashina on suspicion of being an alien enemy of the United States, and to detain said person pending final action by the Commanding General, Hawaiian Department, United States Army. This warrant of arrest is issued under the authority of the Secretary of War of the United States by his delegated agent this seventh day of December, 1941.”


Japan’s Military History and the Birth of ‘Kamikaze’

“Japan and China have been at loggerheads since Mongols began forming an empire in the Orient with dreams of beyond. Before Kublai Khan became the leader in 1260, the Mongols had begun invading other countries in the area.

“The Mongols got Korea to capitulate to threats and become an ally in ruling their part of Asia and eventually parts of China. Then Kublai Khan launched an invasion of Japan, which by now was a bit snooty about such threats since it had spent the previous 1,500 years without being conquered. Japan snubbed all requests for acquiescence.

“The forces of the three Asian allies tried twice to conquer Japan, the second one consisting of a Navy of nine hundred ships with forty thousand men sailing from Korea and 3,500 more ships with 100,000 troops from China to invade their neighbor island nation across the Japan Sea. An invasion force of that size might have worked, particularly since it initiated use of a new China-discovered weapon, gunpowder.

“The invasion was ill-timed. A few early ships got through, but were repelled by the forces of a vastly outnumbered Japan army. In those days, invasions of that size could not claim a D-day. Landings would have to take place over weeks, or even months.

“In this case, the Chinese force that was to attack from the south was delayed by logistical problems. It didn’t much matter, for the entire Mongol fleet of ships encountered a massive typhoon between the Asia mainland and Japan and ended up at the bottom of the sea, well short of its goal.

“Thus was born the now-famous Japanese word, ‘kamikaze,’ which means ‘divine wind.’ Unfortunately, ‘divine’ also would be used by emperors who convinced their flock that they were divine, thus invincible. So, it was a divine act to carry out a suicidal act in the service of one’s emperor, becoming a kamikaze.

“That concept was braced by more than a millennium-long history of not being defeated by a foreign power on Japanese soil. Apparently, that did not necessarily apply to Japan’s own invasions of other countries, particularly the one launched by the samurais who always had battled among themselves until they decided to unite and wage a war in foreign waters. They lost, and badly. Given that long history, it should not be surprising that Japan entered a complex series of alliances with a certain mix of divine arrogance and belligerence, mainly against an old enemy.”


Blame Europe for Much of Today’s World Conflict

The European Union can be forgiven somewhat for its smugness in sitting back and letting the United States deal with the mess it created and fomented in the Middle East. President George Dubbya Bush started it, let him or his successor clean it up. The smugness, however, is not justified if one looks farther back into of the past three centuries. Here is an excerpt of what Japan found when it found after acquiescing to the U.S.-enforced “Open Door Policy:”


“Well before the turn of the nineteenth century, nearly a dozen nation states that comprised the western half of Europe had outpaced most of the rest of the world in modernization and development.

“After fighting among each other for centuries, it was almost as if they attempted to out-compete each other by vying to see how much of the rest of the world they could control.

“Early in the 1900s the British Empire in Asia included what is now Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore as well as three nations on the north coast of Borneo, part of New Guinea and Hong Kong. It also held several islands in Polynesia, the northernmost of which were the Gilberts, and of course, New Zealand and the entire continent of Australia.

“The Netherlands controlled what became known as the Dutch East Indies, consisting of what is today Indonesia, most of Borneo, and the Celebes and Moluccas Islands and about half of New Guinea. France controlled Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, together what it called French Indochina. It also controlled a few islands in the South Pacific. Thailand, until recently the monarchy of Siam, was left alone to serve as a neutral nation.

“The United States controlled the Philippines, Guam and Wake Islands, Russia the Liaotung peninsula of China’s Manchuria section and Germany had pieces of China, the northernmost islands of the Central Pacific, the Marianas and the Marshalls.

“Japan had Formosa off the China coast and the Ryukyu Islands between, as well as Korea, the southern half of the Kurile island chain and some of the Pacific islands closest to home.

“One would have to be naïve to believe any of these were friendly mergers. As vastly superior military powers, most of the European acquisitions were relatively easy at gunpoint. By the end of the century there developed another, seemingly more gentlemanly method, ninety-nine-year leases with China, also at gunpoint.

“The British had one of the gunpoint leases for Hong Kong and adjoining islands, Russia the Manchuria peninsula and France had China’s Hainan Island next door to its Indochina holdings. Various other arrangements allowed Japan to hold Formosa and claim Korea as a protectorate. It was as if a bunch of ravenous animals were biting off pieces of China’s crust.

“Small wonder that Japan and other millennia-old nations of Southeast Asia felt surrounded by white Europeans who paraded around with an air of superiority, subjugating and looking down on the indigenous people as ignorant and uncivilized, even savage.”


Japan Surrenders, Aug. 15, 1945 (Japan time)

On Aug. 15, 1945, Tommy’s troop, now in central Manchuria  just eight months since being drafted, was herded onto a train shortly after noon, Aug. 15 and taken 175 miles south to the city of Mukden (now Shenyang) and its large train station. The previous week they had heard rumors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but more worrying to them was an accompanying rumor that the Soviets had declared war on Japan and were now fighting the Kwantung Army inside the northwest Manchuria boarder.

“They arrived at Mukden in mid-afternoon and were led into the main hall of the station where loud speakers were about to broadcast what was indeed a major announcement, by none less than their Emperor Hirohito. His common subjects had never heard him speak, not on radio or in person. That’s how far above their lowly selves he was. In stunned silence they listened.

“In a rare Japanese up-and-down tone sometimes hard for them to understand, he said:

‘To our good and loyal subjects: after pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in our empire today, we have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure. We have ordered our government to communicate to the governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration.

‘To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by our imperial ancestors and which we lay close to the heart. Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to ensure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.

‘But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone—the gallant fighting of our military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of our servants of the state and the devoted service of our one hundred million people—the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.

‘Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

‘Such being the case, how are we to save the millions of our subjects, or to atone ourselves before the hallowed spirits of our imperial ancestors? This is the reason why we have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the joint declaration of the powers.

‘We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to our allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the empire toward the emancipation of East Asia. The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met untimely death, and all their bereaved families, pains our heart night and day. The welfare of the wounded and the war sufferers and of those who lost their homes and livelihood is the object of our profound solicitude. The hardships and sufferings to which our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great.

‘We are keenly aware of the innermost feelings of all of you, our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that we have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable [sic].

‘Having been able to save and maintain the structure of the imperial state, we are always with you, our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity. Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion that may engender needless complications, of any fraternal contention and strife that may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose the confidence of the world.

‘Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith of the imperishableness of its divine land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibilities, and of the long road before it. Unite your total strength to be devoted to the construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, nobility of spirit and work with resolution so that you may enhance the innate glory of the imperial state and keep pace with the progress of the world.’

“Given what had happened to Japan within just the past few months, his “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage” has to be one of the greatest understatements of history. But he countered with one of the greatest overstatements when he said continuing to fight “would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”


The Lead-Up

Well before the turn of the nineteenth century, nearly a dozen nation states that comprised the western half of Europe had outpaced most of the rest of the world in modernization and development. After fighting among each other for centuries, it was almost as if they attempted to out-compete each other by vying to see how much of the rest of the world they could control.


The opening of Japan to the rest of the world also served to expose the country to just how far the rest of the world had developed, primarily in technology, during the 200 years of Japan’s isolation cocoon. The Meiji governments set about to change all that and bring Japan into the late nineteenth century where the Europeans were.


Japan could have taken the high road and played out what it had long given lip-service to the idea that as the dominant power in Southeast Asia, it should take on the role of leading a long-unstable Asia into the new century, which meant ousting all the Western powers from the region by diplomacy or force.

World War II

(July 5, 1945) Elsewhere, General Douglas MacArthur, head of the Pacific Theater of Operations for the Allied forces, declared the liberation of the Philippines, giving the allies a strong base from which to press its war on Southeast Asia areas still held by Japan, which no longer controlled a rail line it could rely on for supplies. (Takuji’s troop in central China was ordered to get ready to abandon camp and retreat.)


(July 10, U.S. conducts 1,000 bombings in Japan) Japan’s military leaders knew by mid-July they were going to lose all of China and Southeast Asia, so they turned their attention to the north. Most of the troops remaining in China had been reassigned to help defend Japan against an ever-tightening encirclement by an advancing enemy led by U.S. forces. (Troop builds retreat bridges.)


(Next day or two) Away from the council members, Hirohito told Konoe in secret that although his assignment was to convince the Soviets to seek something less than unconditional surrender, the emperor would accept peace at any price. (Troop marches to train station.)

Tommy’s Early Years

Takuji made his debut in what was to become a very troubled world, more so for him than his parents and siblings, two already here and two more to come, sister Tetsuko two years later and brother Junji in four years.


For Takuji, as with any pre-adolescent, life before responsibilities was wonderful and included all the hours-long play familiar to most families of the time, even among the poorest of them, the cane workers of Hawaii.


Behind the temple was a modest park that extended toward the ocean, the part of it that held a baseball field bordering a small spring. The area used to be considered sacred, for it was the ancient site of the Hawaiian royalty’s Moku’ula, the spring feeding a fish-filled pond surrounding a small island reserved for the king the nearby school was named after. The only other people allowed on the island were the alii, the royalty just below him in rank.


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