River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Memories Shaken - Not Stired

March 2003

Part 4

Next morning we breakfasted and attended to a few chores before leaving the hotel. Outside in the square below us, a rally was in progress; large groups of people all waving different flags and taking turns to parade round the square singing and acting. I think it must have been a celebration of sorts as there were several ladies in town wearing national costume.

We wandered along and came to where a dry dock had once been; there was now seating and shrubs. Nearby was a steamship with full rigged masts, an exhibit of the past. I read in a newspaper delivered to our room each day that they were now in the process of dismantling an old warehouse brick by brick with the intention of re-building it in another suitable environment where they would be put to other uses, stressing that it was 1880's history.

Our 17th floor apartment at the hotel overlooked an amusement park and gardens that had originally been part of the docks. We lunched and then went back to our hotel for a rest until it was time to pay another visit to our new favourite restaurant. There were always people waiting at the entrance for a table but we didn't mind that; it was very popular.

We were kept amused during the meal by a youngster of around 5 or 6 years of age sitting at the adjoining table. Between each course he would climb into the vacant seat beside him, then gradually peep over the back of the chair at us. He would then gradually disappear behind it and then slowly up he would come again, his face expressionless. Well, we had entered Japan through an entrance marked Aliens, hadn't we? On the way back to the hotel we met up with another couple from our party, enjoyed a drink and a chat with them before returning to our beds.

Cases out for early collection, we left for Tokyo at 10.00am, visiting a Japanese garden on the way. This was the real Japan with its' Pagoda style buildings and the quaint bridge over the lake containing black and white water birds. What a tranquil and peaceful place. We were served lunch in one of the pagoda buildings, removing our shoes before we entered.

We continued our journey, eventually arriving at our final hotel, The Takanawa Prince Hotel, Sakura Tower. We busied ourselves unpacking, made a cup of tea, switched on the TV and across the screen, in large capitals, was printed "WELCOME FRANK PLANTON TO THE SAKURA TOWER, WE HOPE TO PLEASE YOU DURING YOUR STAY HERE!" Our apartment was situated on the 7th floor overlooking the hotel gardens, a wooded area with paths running through and a rather large pond of Koi Carp of all colours and sizes.

After sorting ourselves out we decided to take a walk and eat out. Tokyo was much busier and bustling than Yokohama, in fact the whole of Japan seems to be bursting at the seams. In all the miles we had travelled across and around Japan we had never seen any open countryside to speak of. We eventually decided to try an Italian restaurant. All the eating-places seemed full to the brim with queues waiting to get in, but we were patient and didn't have too long to wait. The food was excellent but the wine was pretty awful. We had another stroll round before heading back to the hotel and browsed round a supermarket on the way, noting that some British goods were on sale.

We woke up to typical English weather, pouring rain. The hotel helped us with umbrellas. After breakfast we boarded our coach to journey across Tokyo to the British Embassy. The traffic was dreadful. I had noted from our hotel window that there was grey smog hanging over the city and I could now understand why.

On our arrival we were greeted at the gates by a navy Captain, the Defence Attache and his aide and then escorted to the Embassy building. We signed the visitors book and were then shown into a beautifully furnished room where staff were waiting to entertain us with drinks and a chat. Next on the itinerary should have been a walk around the garden but because of the weather we were shown a video of a day in the life of the Embassy and its' staff. The Embassy grounds cover 4 acres and I was told that it was the best piece of real estate in Tokyo. No bombs had been dropped on or near it during the war as the Emperor's Palace was not too far away and the Americans had not wanted to harm him.

A group photo was taken followed by an excellent lunch. After this the Ambassador's wife seated herself with Lena and I, asking about my PoW days. She told us her father was also a PoW. We went to the covered veranda to view some of the gardens before being escorted back to the gates where we waved our farewells.

Our next stop was at the British Commonwealth cemetery in Hodogaya where a service was held in the rain. We ex-PoWs laid a wreath after which the son of a PoW put some flowers on his father's grave. We looked along at some of the names and the ages of the men buried there and put single flowers on some of the gravestones. It was heartbreaking! Most of them were so young and had been deprived of the full and happy life we had enjoyed. At the far side of the cemetery were the graves of the unknown. We left there in a rather sombre mood to return to our hotel. On the way our organiser said time was short as we were due back at the Embassy, in another building, for the evening as guests of the British Legion in their social club at 6.00pm. Some of the ladies were horrified and Lena told her we all felt rather smelly after our hectic day and needed to shower and change. No chance; ten minutes only we were told. I'm sure a crowd of schoolchildren would have been exhausted by our schedule.

I'm afraid we took more than the allowed ten minutes. I'm not sure what time we finally arrived back at the Embassy, but we received a warm welcome. Each one of us being seated at one of the small tables and served drinks, then lots of questions, as always, about our years of captivity in Japan. As there were only five PoWs, we were much in demand. As one host would get up to replenish drinks so another would take his place. There was also a buffet from which Lena kept us supplied with food.

A professor of Japanese culture was one of those who sat and introduced himself. He was interested to know the various aspects of behaviour of the Japanese army towards us, the prisoners. During this conversation, I spoke to him of the officer who seemed keen to chop off my head but changed his mind at the last minute; something that has always puzzled me. His view of the incident was that I had been unbelievably fortunate. I had broken the rules by leaving the ranks, which showed that I had no respect for his command and had belittled him in front of his soldiers. My host said his interpretation of the incident was that the officer had kept to the rules that he had been taught until his anger at being belittled had got the better of him. He had drawn his sword too early. After the reprimand he gave me I should have been ordered to kneel, leaning forward, exposing my neck, showing submission. Instead, he had his sword raised above my head and I was looking into his eyes. I asked if it would have taken one or two blows to decapitate me and I was assured only one, they practice well.

At the end of the evening we were escorted to the gates by a piper in full regalia, still playing as we pulled away, waving our goodbyes. A pleasant end to another hectic day. I switched on the TV as soon as we reached our room as instructed. The news was on and later showed coverage of parts of our journey and newsreels of skeletal prisoners during the war. I think the aim was to show that their people are being informed of some of the suffering that went on. There was a bilingual button on the TV so we were also able to listen to what was being said.

To be continued...

Frank Planton (Joe Japan)

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