Progress from the War YearsVideos Testimonies of War Survivors During and After World War II

Armistice, Defeat, the End of War, and My Post-war Years

Mr. Yuzuru Masaki

Birth year:1934

Birth place:Ishigaki City

Evacuation to Taiwan

My father worked at a meteorological observatory. At the time, it was the Ishigaki Island Weather Station. However, on the way back from his training in Tokyo on March 19th, 1943, his ship was attacked by a US submarine off the coast of Taiwan and sank, and he went missing. My mother had been home the whole time but was evacuated to Taiwan. Meiji Seito Co., Ltd. had its headquarters near Matou in Tainan Prefecture, and she worked in the Purchasing Department there. The evacuation to Taiwan was in September 1944.

Air raids in Taiwan

The air raids began between October 12th and 13th, when we were digging an air-raid shelter near our house after arriving at Matou. Since there was nowhere to escape, I managed to hide inside a water pipe about a meter in size in a large irrigation canal near my house. That’s when I witnessed a dogfight between American Grumman and Japanese Zero fighter planes. B-29 bombers were also flying high overhead. The black Zero fighters tried to retaliate against the B-29 bombers, but they could not reach the altitude at which the B-29s were flying. When their movement slowed, they were shot down. I saw it all. Afterward, this time, the Grumman fighters began low-level strafing runs. And in addition to the B-29s, there were also the B-24 bombers, which descended to a low altitude of about 200 to 300 meters before dropping large bombs. There was a chimney in the vicinity that belonged to a sugar company. The planes bombed the facility, thinking it was a manufacturing factory. The bombing was extremely intense. In the village of Matou where we were living, there was a secret airfield with nothing but a runway. The American planes often attacked this spot as well. I wanted to pick up a cartridge case as a souvenir, but when I was walking through the sugarcane field on the side of the road, I suddenly heard a loud rumbling sound approaching. When I looked back, an American P-38 fighter was flying toward us at a very low altitude. I panicked and hid in a ditch on the side of the road. I covered my ears and laid down, just as I had been taught at school. As the fighter roared past and raised its nose it fired its guns, and bullets kicked up puffs of dust where I had just been walking. “This is bad,” I thought. Then as I was trying to hurry away, I saw a water buffalo that had been hit by a machine gun bullet. The force of the bullet left a large hole in its body, where organs were spilling out of the gaping wound. The force of the bullet would have killed a human instantly, and I was impressed that it was still alive. I was just barely able to escape with my life. Looking back, I’m amazed that I did survive.

Armistice and the end of the war

I heard that the war was over when I was a fifth-year student at the national school. It was summer vacation, August 15th, 1945. I was climbing a longan tree and eating its fruit. My brother yelled up from below,“The war’s over! Oops, that’s not what I meant. It’s a truce!” When I asked what a truce was, he said, “It’s a break from war.” When I heard that there wouldn’t be any more air raids for a while, I almost couldn’t believe it. But that evening, the man living next door said, “Japan lost. Japan lost the war.” When I heard this, I was filled with sadness, resentment, and a bunch of other emotions. Even as a child, it made me really sad to think that we’d lost to the Western brutes who’d robbed me of my father.
The war ended in August, and for a while I had the same school teachers as during the war, but soon afterward, the Chiang Kai-shek army of the Republic of China advanced from mainland China to Taiwan, and a person named Chen Yi served as Taiwan’s administrator. Shortly before this person came to Taiwan, all of the Japanese principal and teachers at my school were forced to quit and replaced by a Taiwanese principal and teachers. All of the students were taught Mandarin. I was first taught the national anthem of the Republic of China. After Secretary Chen Yi came to Taiwan, I had to remember the words used to welcome him, and for a while, I took classes in Chinese.

Repatriation from Taiwan

When the repatriation to Japan began, the number of students at the Japanese schools gradually decreased. I ended up having to head back to Ishigaki Island in the winter of 1946, so I traveled from Tainan to Keelung. At the time, the only boats going to Ishigaki Island departed from Keelung. It took one to two weeks to get there by train, in a freight car towing a locomotive. Stations were also managed by Chinese (Taiwanese). It especially took a lot of time dealing with Chinese and Taiwanese clerks because money couldn’t be used, so we handed over kimonos and other belongings as bribes and somehow managed to reach Keelung. When we arrived at Keelung, we had no place to live and no relatives. We put up a tent and lived for days on the bombed-out site of a factory that had once been an ice company. Sometime later, we boarded a boat from the port at Keelung and returned to Ishigaki Island. We boarded a fishing boat on Miyako Island that weighed about 30 tons. Two or three families boarded the ship together and departed from Keelung. It took 36 hours to get to Ishigaki Island. During our passage, the sea was rough and we were nearly shipwrecked, but we managed to arrive.

Returning to Ishigaki Island

The roads in the cities of Taiwan had been wide, but when I returned to Ishigaki Island, the roads were narrow and covered in grass, and they felt really cramped to me. There were many war orphans, and there was an orphanage in the neighborhood. We had brought a lot of rice with us from Taiwan but when that was gone, there was not much to eat. We ate sweet potatoes and various other things. While I was eating weeds from the fields, the American army distributed rations. These were the rations that were dropped by parachute toward frontline soldiers during the war. They were delicious. That was my first time eating butter and, there was also cheese and biscuits. They also contained raisins which were dried grapes. It surprised me that American soldiers were fighting while enjoying such delicious food. Around then, there was this laundry soap that we used to call “Adeka.” The cheese was about the same size as that of a bar of Adeka soap. The old woman next door mistook the cheese from the relief supplies for soap. She complained that it wouldn’t produce any foam and left it on the edge of the well. When I asked her what was wrong, she said that the soap wasn’t producing any foam. So I asked her if I could have it, then I took it home, washed it, and then ate it. That cheese was delicious!

Malaria and planning migrations

In postwar Okinawa, the US military helped eradicate malaria because it wanted to expand its military bases to Kadena, Futenma, and Naha. But whenever a base was built, the land disappeared and people could no longer live there. There were Okinawans returning from overseas and other parts of Japan, but with no place to live, they were forced to move to the Yaeyama Islands, where there was still a lot of land left. Many people began to migrate there around 1950. But to the people on the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island, the image of Ishigaki Island was that of a malaria. At the time, the disease was not called malaria, but “fuuki.” At first, everybody refused to relocate to Yaeyama because they thought they would die from fuuki. The US military had to eradicate malaria first so people would not refuse to go. Patients with malaria were given medication, and DDT (an insecticide) was sprayed as well to eradicate the mosquitoes that spread malaria. One malaria drug was a yellow-colored drug called Atebrin, and it was terribly bitter.
At the time, one-step outside of Ishigaki City placed you in the malaria danger zone, while the inside of the village was relatively safe. At the village exit was a gate serving as a kind of checkpoint and health center set up inside a tent along with thatched huts and a kettle and water. If you went outside the village to gather firewood or go to the fields, the health center staff always made you drink Atebrin. There were many checkpoints like this at all the village exits. This was how they made sure we drank the malaria medication. DDT eradicated the mosquitoes spreading malaria as well. DDT was sometimes sprayed in houses with mosquitoes, but because the mosquitoes in the city were essentially harmless, a continuous “drip” of DDT was released into the source of the mountain rivers. This “drip” involved putting oil with melted DDT into an 18-liter drum, hanging it from a big tree, making a small hole in the drum, and letting it drip into the river. It would have been fine if DDT only affected the mosquito larvae, but of course it killed all the creatures in the river, such as shrimp, small fish, crucian carp, turtles, and eels. It was greatly destructive to nature, but as a result, malaria was eradicated. Once it had been eradicated, people could now come to Yaeyama. An area called Hoshino was designated as place for the newcomers to live. When those people went into the mountains to work, they were bitten by mosquitoes and got malaria.
There was a village called Omoto, and the Ryukyu government was cultivating land to have immigrants live there. In 1952, I was in my second year of high school and worked part-time during summer vacation to help develop the area. We high school students were tasked with climbing trees and cutting off the large branches. Once the branches were cut, they were removed with a bulldozer. There was a barracks belonging to the Japanese army still in Omoto. It was called a barracks, but it was more like a pigpen. I stayed there and studied by lamplight at night. I continued to work and eat during the day for about two weeks. Even when I was in the barracks, mosquitoes bit me. I came down with malaria twice, and both times I recovered soon after. Atebrin cured you as soon as you drank it. At one point, I drew blood from my ear and looked at it under a microscope. If you could see a malaria parasite, then you knew you had malaria. While I got well as soon as I took Atebrin, my skin and eyes turned yellow during my second year of high school. For a while, my nickname was “yellow race.”

The weather station post-war

There were weather stations at four locations: Ishigaki, Miyako, Minamidaito, and Naze on Amami Oshima. There was also a weather station on the main island but after the war, it became the meteorological observatory for Kadena under the jurisdiction of the US military, and it was not controlled by Japan. Ishigaki, Miyako, and Minamidaito were controlled by the Japanese government from the end of the war until 1949. Most stations were under the jurisdiction of either the United States or the Government of the Yaeyama Islands but these three were controlled by the Japanese government. There was a ship called the “Ryofumaru,” nowadays known as an observation ship, that carried consumables, machinery, salaries, and more for the weather stations. The route of that ship ran from Amami to Miyako, Ishigaki Island, and Daito Island before returning to mainland Japan, without passing through the main island of Okinawa. The ship carried “readers on democracy” and such that were distributed immediately after the end of the war. All culture was brought by this ship. New information arrived in the Sakishima Islands earlier than the main island. At the time, weather station staff had higher salaries than mayors did. Postwar reconstruction got fully underway after 1950. Roads were built, immigrants came in, and life on the island gradually changed.

A message for young people

I don’t think there is any other way to build a peaceful world other than for Japanese to be aware of and protect the Constitution. I think having this mindset is the first step. As long as the Japanese Constitution is upheld, no country should attack. I believe that practicing such diplomacy is what builds peace.

Mr. Yuzuru Masaki followed the same path as his father Mr. Tsutomu Masaki after graduating high school. He worked for various meteorological observatories all over Japan for 41 years. During that time, he joined the Ryukyu Government Senkaku Research Team and contributed to the Sakishima Island geological survey. After the war, he has written about and introduced the importance of nature through Yaeyama’s “saijiki” (seasonal terms) used in haiku and essays.