Recently Nobuo Iromoto, publisher-editor of Nikka Times, interviewed me for a forthcoming issue of his Toronto-based Japanese-language monthly newspaper. He approached me because he had learned I had been a Canadian Army soldier in India when the war against Japan finally ended in August 1945.
Hiroshima city devastated by the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. Photo taken from the US aircraft Enola Gay. Photo courtesy: WMC
With the 70th anniversary of that climactic event coming this summer, he wanted to report on my personal reactions at that crucial time. (By the way, Nikka Times was converted to an online publication a few years ago. And, of course, the interview would be entirely in Nihongo.)
That last aspect got me looking up such terms as “military intelligence” and “propaganda warfare” in an English-Japanese dictionary, so I wouldn’t fumble around in my answers.
The following are some of the things I told Iromoto-san:
In July we had arrived at Bombay, known today as Mumbai, via Britain, been tested for our Japanese linguist ability at a Special Force 136* camp at nearby Poona, today known as Pune, and then entrained to Calcutta where we would be sent on operations or for further training.
So on August 6, we were in another Special Force 136 camp, this time just outside Calcutta. After breakfast we privates were sitting around chatting in our large hut when suddenly the door burst open and in came two hakujin Canadian Army officers. They were among those who had graduated earlier from the Army’s S-20 Japanese Language School in West Vancouver.
“Fellows,” cried one, “we just heard a news broadcast on All-India Radio in Japanese, and it said a new kind of bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima (by a US Air Force aircraft) and had done incredible damage. Quick, what is a genshi-bakudan anyway?”
All-India Radio was like our CBC or Britain’s BBC. During wartime it broadcast in foreign languages besides the various spoken domestically in the Indian subcontinent. The Japanese-language broadcasts were aimed at Japanese forces still holding out in Burma, Malaya, Singapore, etc.
Genshi-bakudan? We knew bakudan was bomb, but what the heck was “genshi”?
None of us could answer the officers right away even the few nisei who were schooled in Japan. We rushed to our dictionaries and found no such word combination. Finally checking out genshi alone, the best we could come up with after some head-scratching was, “a bomb made of small particles.” “Atom” was mentioned in the definition, but nobody had ever heard of “atomic bombs” being a tightly held military secret until then.
Then an English-language broadcast used the term “atomic bomb,” which was also printed in the next day’s Times of India daily newspaper.
Much later, we learned that the Japanese name for atomic bomb may have been created by Canadian nisei Albert Takimoto. He was one of the first group sent to Asia and did Japanese-language broadcasts from Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, aimed at Japanese forces across the water. He had looked up what would be the correct way of saying “atomic bomb” in Nihongo. Albert, who was a UBC graduate, was the most senior of the first group.
Another first group member, Fred Kagawa from London, ON, had been sent to Rangoon which the Allies had recaptured from the Japanese in Burma, or Myanmar. Fred did the same translating English-language news into Nihongo and then voicing them in regular broadcasts aimed at Japanese forces nearby.
Back to our Calcutta camp. Three days later while we were still waiting around, news came on August 9 that a second atomic bomb was dropped—this time on Nagasaki with similar terrible damage to the city and the people. Then on August 14 in a radio broadcast the Emperor of Japan urged his people to surrender and the Second World War came to its end.
The duties of we Canadian niseis in Asia then changed as well as of those arriving after full training back home. Now it was taking part in vital postwar events dealing with the Japanese military in various Southeast Asian places that had been captured by them. We were not only accepting official surrenders but also dealing with war crimes trials and other such matters.
I am a Canadian and therefore I had volunteered to the Canadian Army when we JCs finally got the chance. It was to prove ourselves and all other Japanese Canadians against the racist element in our country. So defeating Japan where my parents were born and had emigrated from had become the main goal of those like me.
But the unbelievably terrible way the atomic blasts ended the war and killed or sickened thousands of Japanese civilians was most hurtful.
(And although I didn’t mention this to Iromoto-san, on my first-ever trip to Japan—in 1962 on assignment for Maclean’s magazine — I also visited Hiroshima. At the well-attended atomic bomb museum, after less than an hour of looking at displays of the horrifying damage done in 1945, I could not stand it any more and moved on to other things in that city.)
*Special Force 136 was a unit of the Central Operations Executive, a British counter-intelligence force in Europe and Asia.