Navy aircraft mechanic Kuniyoshi Takimoto watched as Japanese planes roared off the aircraft carrier Hiryu to attack Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The shock assault 75 years ago this Wednesday in Hawaii sparked patriotic celebration in Japan but left Takimoto feeling uneasy.
“I wondered if such a poor country would be all right fighting such a big one,” the former real estate agent, now 95 and one of the few Japanese participants still alive, told AFP at his home in Osaka.
This attack brought America into World War II — though it was already well underway for Europe, and China.
This year’s anniversary comes after President Barack Obama’s visit in May to Hiroshima, the Japanese city pulverized by a US atomic bomb in the closing days of the conflict.
Japan’s Pearl Harbor blitz fired up resolve in the US, with president Franklin Roosevelt declaring the day would “live in infamy.”
“What you see in kamikaze movies never happened on aircraft carriers. We had to do our jobs, rolling the dice against death”
“It was just a start … and more or less a deceptive attack,” Takimoto said, stressing that given its surprise nature some success was virtually guaranteed.
He and other crew members were stunned when first informed of the mission after their flotilla departed toward Hawaii.
Reaching an area 460 kilometers (285 miles) from target, the first wave of some 180 planes — including nimble Zero fighters — roared off the Hiryu and other carriers, followed later by a second swarm.
‘Rolling the dice’
Pilots and mechanics were phlegmatic throughout, as aircraft took off one by one minus any special rituals or even “banzai” cheers.
“What you see in kamikaze movies never happened on aircraft carriers,” Takimoto said firmly. “We had to do our jobs, rolling the dice against death.”
Despite his misgivings about the risks of attacking the US, Takimoto was proud to support the pilots. “We built relations of trust that went beyond words,” he said.
Japan also attacked the Philippines, Hong Kong, Guam, Singapore, Malaya, Burma and the Dutch East Indies, in one fell swoop, overturning what had seemed an eternal Western colonial order.
But despite such initial success, the tide was fated to quickly turn — confirming Takimoto’s fears. In June 1942, at the epic Battle of Midway, a US aerial blitz engulfed the Hiryu in massive flames.
A thousand crew members died, while 500 survivors, including Takimoto, were picked up by nearby Japanese ships, a scene he described as “hell.”
After Midway, US-led forces began to reconquer the Pacific, island by island, on battlefields in Guadalcanal, Saipan, the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Japan finally surrendered but only after the US dropped two atomic bombs — the second on Nagasaki — and the Soviet Union declared war.
Takimoto has no plans to personally commemorate Pearl Harbor this year, calling it just one of many momentous episodes in the war. For himself, he calls Midway “much more important.”
Indeed, Pearl Harbor draws little attention in Japan compared with annual events marking the atomic bombings — solemn, nationally televised memorials attended by the prime minister.
Among the few instances of remembrance are brief fireworks in Nagaoka, the hometown of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who masterminded the attack but was killed after the US targeted his plane in 1943.
In the US, meanwhile, every December 7 is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and the atomic bombing anniversaries are not officially commemorated.
Such historical tunnel vision on both sides is no surprise, says Yujin Yaguchi, professor of American cultural studies and Hawaiian history at the University of Tokyo.
“People more naturally remember getting a beating rather than meting one out,” Yaguchi says.
Both Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima have mythic symbolism in the US and Japan, respectively, and are deeply intertwined in historical justifications.
Without Pearl Harbor there would have been no Hiroshima, goes one argument. Another is that a conventional attack on a military base is not the moral equivalent of targeting civilians with nuclear weapons.
“People more naturally remember getting a beating rather than meting one out”
Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, the first by a sitting American leader, was generally well-received in Japan, and seemed to be an attempt at seeking common ground, though no apology was offered.
The trip sparked debate over whether nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should return the gesture and visit Pearl Harbor.
Yaguchi says Abe might do so “if he thinks it would strengthen the Japan-US alliance” though only after carefully weighing domestic sentiment. And while Abe appears unlikely to go this year, his wife Akie made a quiet offering of flowers and prayers at Pearl Harbor in August.
Takimoto, who has over the years denounced the war and the leaders who started it, said he believes Abe will go only if he thinks it likely to boost his popularity.
My Grandfather also fought 2nd WW.I understand that Japan had to intervene for Asians since the xtian was selling opium to chinese people & destroying their civilization…..then looking at all the malnutrition,starvation inflicted by the pope & xtians & his persecution of Jews in concentration camp.Japanese people took a pretty bold step to fight the xtians who had outnumbered him in Industrial capacity,finance,resources which he had belonging to aboriginee,man power etc etc.
Those who fought favoring the xtian….the xtian for winning them the war showed his middle finger actually…….their countries sufferred from low per capita GDP of 1 dollar when he left……there were no toilets,houses,irrigated land,roads were scarce,illiteracy was quite high upto 95%…….but Japanese should not feel bad an attempt may be a failure but there was not be a failure of a attempt.The xtian race will keep whining because they are born sinners.
These Japanese lost WW-II to Yanks all right, but who is the winner now? Look at the number of Japanese cars on the road!
At the request of General MacAuthur, it was an American, Dr. W. Edwards Deming who rebuilt Japan by teaching them quality management and SPC. Business leaders here in the US spurned his methods and resorted back to command and control. (I’m up here, you are down there mentality) Some are just now beginning to understand. BTW – Dr. Deming is still highly revered in Japan even 33 years after his passing.
If China had not held back the main Japanese army for years, Japan would have taken Hawaii after Guam. Then with the American main fleet destroyed, they could have conquered continental America.
Russia also aided China and felt confident enough that the communists had enough control over the Japanese army to divert their forces to their western front and defeat the German invading army.
China was included in the UN Security Council as one of the 5 major powers with veto rights in recognition of its contributions in WW2 which paved the way to vicotry for the allies.
America was able to rebuild its navy and defeated the Japanese navy which was running low on oil. It subsequently took on isolated small Japanese garisions on islands in the Pacific when the war was effectively over. USA nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki to test their new weapon of mass destruction.
The myths distributed by the American media are lies to portray USA to be a the victorous saviour.
Even Erik Priebke or Dr Mengele did their job but history will not be lenient with them. Same with Japan: aggressive foreign policy well before WWII (see Manchuria and Korea) and everything they have to say is "Following orders" which equals to say "It was in our interest". Sadly, there are other countries with other interests. Asia Times: so sorry to see you whitewashing japanese crimes.
USA was collaborating with Japan then selling them oil and steel during those years when Japan invaded Manchuria.
Yes your country had great eco system it produced a Mao who killed 70 million of his own people now you accuse the Japanese emperor.I tell you what if Japan fails the whole of Asia will fail like nine pins.We have past the era of ecosystem where truth prevailed which produced Gandhi,Abdul Kalam,Khan abdul ghaffar khan….even the medicine we drink will turn into poison……..when the nazis (aka xtian) will come to kill civilization.
Even china cannot produce great moral leader like sun yat sen now.Be real watch around man .
Did you know if Japanese Imperial army was not stopped and weakened by years of resistence from the Chinese and only much later, the USA to finally step in only after the Pearl Habour was attacked, they would have taken India? Yea, they would like to get rid of the Brits and keep the vast land of India for themselves. Imagine, what India would be like at present if those little guys succeeded in pursing their sick dream. Remember, Usa and the some western counttries (equally evil colonial masters) were in cahoot with Nippon before they became victims themselves. Talking about bad KARMA rippening in time.
Vijay Raghavan Your concept of KILL is taken out of context. The Chinese never denied Mao bad domestic policies backfired and indirectly took many lives. Your over exagerated claim of 70 million dead does leave a lot of room for debate. The most devastating was the Great Leap Forward which was unforseenly a failure on Mao’s part. In retrospect, the Chinese to this day have unsolved issue with the Japanese brutal military past is the unprovoked INVASION of a sovereign nation. To put it simply, you surely would be incensed if a stranger march into your house uninvited and ravaged you. Please dwell on the feelings of the vicitms as yourself the victim wisely and reflect on your senseless apathetic words.
"…they could have conquered continental America…"
Sure, an amphibious landing on the continental USA, from an enemy island 2000 miles away, and 5000 miles from your home base. Did you read this in a comic book?
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