HAKU SAN JOU NEI - RETURN TO JAPAN
The first part of Frank's diary for his latest visit, and fortunately happy, to Jap.
Many readers will remember the haunting story by JOE JAPAN that ran in the Village Pump in 2000. The following diary of Joe's return to Japan, which will be serialized over the next few issues, does much to ease some of the pain and sorrow of his enforced wartime incarceration. Editor
In April this year I received an invitation to attend an investiture at the British Embassy in Tokyo. Two Japanese ladies Mrs. Taeko Sasamoto and Mrs. Yoshiko Tamura who are founder members of the Japanese POW Network were to receive the M.B.E. for their dedication and hard work in tracing details of the deaths and final resting places of all British POW'S who died in Japan.
I had become acquainted with these ladies when they visited my home in March 2004, so I decided to accept the invitation. I also decided to extend my stay to twelve days with the intention of visiting my old camps where I had been held prisoner. When I informed Mrs. Tamura of my intentions she asked if she and Mrs. Sasamoto could accompany me. I assented and they then arranged an itinerary. Unfortunately my wife was unable to travel with me as she had recently had surgery and not fit enough to travel, so my daughter Angela agreed to accompany me; also a personal friend Bari Logan. We booked our flights and bought a Japan Rail pass and, with the help of Mrs. Izumi who is a secretary at the embassy, were able to book our accommodation at a hotel quite close to the embassy.
My companions and I took off from London, Heathrow Airport in pouring rain arriving at Tokyo, Narita Airport on Sunday 28th May in pouring rain, but not for long. Soon the sun shone and stayed shining for the rest of our visit. We boarded the Limousine Bus which took us to a drop off point in Tokyo where we hired a taxi to our hotel, the Grand Arc Hanzomon. I had a pleasant view from my 15th floor room which overlooked the grounds of the Emperors Palace.
Monday May 29th
Next morning Yoshiko greeted us in the hotel lounge to explain the itinerary that had been arranged. She also accompanied us to the travel agent to pay for our hotels in Hakodate and Kamaishi, which had been booked in advance, and our flight tickets from Hakodate to Tokyo, Haneda Airport.
First stop was Tokyo Central Station where we exchanged our Rail Pass vouchers for Rail Passes and made seat reservations on the Bullet Trains. This task completed, we boarded a suburban train to Yokohama where our next stop was the travel agent. Business completed we were driven by Yoshiko to the Commonwealth Cemetery where Taeko was waiting with two newspaper reporters, one from the Daily Telegraph, the other from the Asahi Shimbum, Japan's No 1 selling newspaper, who then proceeded to question me about my return visit but also of the time I spent in Japan during my POW years. The reason for visiting the Commonwealth Cemetery was to see the grave of my friend who had died during captivity. I had kept his ashes with me until my release then handed them over to be returned to the U.K. In 2004 I learnt that his mother could not bear to accept him home in a box; she had not been informed of his death so was completely shocked and his ashes were returned to Japan.
Leaving the cemetery our next stop was to a restaurant where we enjoyed a meal and chat after which the newspaper reporters departed. We were then driven to Taeko's house for the afternoon where we indulged in more food, after a pleasant relaxing few hours we were taken to Yokohama station where we boarded a train to Tokyo returning without problems and back to our hotel.
Tuesday May 30th
It was a short walk from our hotel to the British Embassy where the investiture was to start at 17.30 hours. Arriving at the gates we were admitted after showing our invitation cards. On entering the building I was asked to put my signature beside my name on the list of guests, then escorted to meet the Ambassadors wife, a charming lady who informed me I was the guest of honour and would be seated with the recipients families. She then went on to explain the procedure that would follow. The guests were seated and the ceremony began, the Ambassador speaking in Japanese and an Army member of staff translated at intervals in English. The press and T.V camera's recording the event. Champagne followed; food and drinks were offered while people chatted.
I was kept very busy by a number of people from the press and several members of the Japanese POW Network who asked to speak to me. The Ambassador thanked me for coming to Japan, saying how much it was appreciated by all the guests and staff. It was a lovely warm evening as guests were able to stroll about in the gardens.
After a pleasant evening we made our way back to the hotel accompanied by fifteen members of the Japanese POW Network where a buffet meal and drink had been ordered in the restaurant. They all wanted to speak to me, asking questions, so I was constantly passed from one person to another; it seems they rarely have a POW to speak to in person. It was the early hours of the morning before this happy gathering came to an end. I was pleased that my companions and I had a free day ahead of us, needless to say, we did not intend to rise at the crack of dawn.
Wednesday 31st May
During the day we took a stroll around part of the perimeter of the large moat that surrounded the Palace Gardens, I then sat in the shade of trees enjoying this tranquility. The, back to the hotel for another rest before we out for a meal that evening.
Thursday 1st June.
This morning a car from the Embassy arrived to take us to Tokyo Central Station where we were to meet Taeko and Yoshiko to board a Bullet Train travelling north to Hanemaki where we changed to a branch line train for our 1 hour 50 minute ride to Kamaishi. This was a 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, reporters and a film crew and taken by minibus to the local museum where photo's of the ore mine, the prison camp and war damaged Kamaishi were shown to me. Great interest was caused when 1 pointed to myself in a miners hat paraded with others before leaving for the mine. We then boarded the minibus accompanied by the Press who interviewed me throughout the day.
First stop was the old prison camp site which was now completely flat with no sign of its previous habitation. I asked what had 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, to be replaced by a tarmac road. The next stop was the ore mine which now was a thriving water bottling company. I knew from experience that there was plenty of water in the mine but never envisaged this. The mine had a long history, established the mid 1800's. In the main building there was exhibits of the different types of rock 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 1 had been put to work but cannot say it bought back memories because they have never left me.
To be continued next month