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

Crossing the Faraway Ocean: My Life After the War

Mr. Kinzo Sunagawa

Birth year:1928

Birth place:Miyakojima City

Heading for Taiwan from Miyako during the war

I was born in Miyako Island near Harimizu Port (Hirara Port) in 1928. I have six siblings, and I’m the fifth child and the third son. My father worked as a livestock dealer called “bakuro,” which was an unusual job at the time. He purchased cows and pigs from farmers in Miyako Island and sold them on the main island of Okinawa. He went to and from the main island of Okinawa with livestock many times. In March 1943, I went to Keelung City, Taiwan to take an exam at the government official training school of the Ministry of Communication in Taipei, but I failed. But someone told me about a job for the stronghold of the Japanese Army in Keelung, so I began working there.

Working at the stronghold headquarters

At that time, I was called a “messenger,” and I delivered various documents from the headquarters of the fortress in Keelung to various units. The military headquarters was located in Taipei, so I sometimes delivered documents to a place over 20 kilometers away by bicycle. It was like I worked and lived there. There were two messengers including me. Our workplace was a large room that could be also used as a dining room. My bedroom was a private room, but we had phone duty in shifts, so I often spent the night in the large room every other day. The street sections of Keelung were well adjusted, so the city was much better than Miyako Island. The arcade architectures on the second floor of buildings stretched to the sidewalk in Taiwan so people could walk without getting wet even if it was raining. I was impressed by the architectural style.

Air raids in Keelung

At the time of the October 10 air raids of 1944, the Grumman U.S. aircraft came to Keelung as well. At first, we thought a Japanese Army airplane was flying to Keelung, so I climbed onto the roof excitedly. But all of a sudden, we heard an explosion from the port. So, we noticed it was a Grumman U.S. aircraft, and rushed into an air-raid shelter. The ships that were being anchored to the port were severely damaged by the air raid, but the damage in residential areas was not so bad. After that, a B29 U.S. heavy bomber came and bombed areas indiscriminately, devastating the city.

Post-war Keelung

On August 15, 1945, I listened to the broadcast of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito at the headquarters of the fortress in Keelung. I thought it was good that Japan had lost the war. When the local junior high school students who were mobilized for the security call heard that Japan had lost, they were crying a lot. However, Japanese soldiers were not so upset. After the war ended, I was waiting in the warehouse area at the port of Keelung to go back to Miyako. The area was bombed and the warehouses lost their roofs, so the area was desolated. I stayed there until we could leave for Miyako. The Allied Occupation forces were to land in Keelung from the Chinese mainland, so we Japanese were asked to move to a place away from the port to avoid causing any trouble. The only day we moved was the day the Allied Occupation forces landed, and we went back to the port in the evening after they had passed by.

The Sakaemaru disaster

Just after the war ended, people from Miyako Island chartered ships individually, and went back to the island. I was to get on a boat as well to take care of my uncle. The name of that ship was “Sakaemaru.” After several days of waiting for the ship to set sail, my cousin, who had experience as the chief engineer of a ship, told me the following: “Don’t get on. “Sakaemaru” was abandoned by soldiers and is on the verge of breaking down. They’re just using it because there aren’t enough ships. It’s too dangerous, so don’t get on.”I told my uncle that we shouldn’t board the Sakaemaru, so he stayed behind. I got on the ship because I had already loaded my baggage on the ship. Then, as I had been told, the engine of the ship broke down. It was November, and there was a strong northern wind blowing. The engine of the ship stopped, and we were at the mercy of the wind. After leaving the port of Keelung, the ship anchored to the rocky shore opposite of the port. I was on the deck of the ship, but big waves suddenly engulfed the ship, and I was dropped into the sea. In the end, the ship washed up on the shore. I don’t remember the exact number, but only about 30 people survived out of 160 people. Among the survivors was a five or six year old boy. In the end, it was up to chance on whether we were saved or not. When we swam ashore, the local residents came to help us. They were holding up torches and carried us to the top of the rocky shore. We spent one night in a small hut near the shore. I don’t have a clear memory of what the huts were like. The next morning the people who saved us called to us, asking for help to retrieve the remains washed ashore. The youngest amongst the survivors were tasked with gathering the remains. Many of the remains washed ashore. Some bodies had organs hanging out, and others had deformed heads. I wanted to shut my eyes when I saw them. Sakaemaru was a small ship weighing less than 30 tons. I think it would have been in trouble even without the engine breaking down. Despite how small the ship was, a lot people were on board, so when I look back on that now, I think it was reckless. I don’t really remember much about after I being rescued. I remember gathering the remains, but I don’t remember how I got back to Miyako Island.

Return to Miyako and a “black market” sailor

Around December 1945, I went back to Miyako Island. I boarded the Sakaemaru in November, so it was probably December then. The towns of Miyako Island were attacked by the air raid, and were burnt to the ground. There were some American soldiers, but not very many. The U.S. military was stationed at the meteorological station, and I worked there as a house keeper in the housing area for the U.S. forces for about half a year. Then I became a sailor. At the time, there was a marlin fishing vessel called a “tsukinbou” (spearfishing ship). I believe it was a “tsukinbou” that I became a crew of. Someone in Yonaguni Island had two ships, and I got on one of them and headed off to Itoman on the main island of Okinawa from Yonaguni Island. There I was involved in the “black market” for some time. The ship that left Yonaguni Island carried almost no passengers or cargo. Once I got to the main island of Okinawa, I would pick up lubricating oil stored in drum cans, as well as tires and clothes for American soldiers. I would then unload the cargo in Itoman. Our route always passed through Kume Island, so there was probably cargo from there too. I’ve heard that the ship’s owner was from Tarama Island. His wife was from Sonai, Yonaguni Island so they both lived in Sonai. The ship owner was an influential person who was running a dried-bonito factory and he unloaded cargo at Sonai port. The economic boom in Yonaguni took place some time after. When we were involved in the black market, we weren’t aware of the economy booming. There were few people involved in the black market like us. Yonaguni’s black market flourished much later on. I went out to sea on a boat four or five times and engaged in the black market for half a year. When I wasn’t on a boat, I stayed in Yonaguni Island and Miyako Island. After that, I boarded a ship called “Taiheimaru,” owned by a trading company run by Miyako merchants and joined their crew. After boarding the Taiheimaru, I loaded timbers and firewood in Yaeyama and carried them to Miyako Island. At that time, most of the timbers and firewood were carried from Yaeyama. I often loaded firewood from Hirakubo in the northern part of Ishigaki Island. Later, Taiheimaru aged and was no longer useable, so I joined the crew of the newly built “Bussanmaru.” On Bussanmaru, I went to the main island of Okinawa, Amani Oshima Island, and Toshima Village near Yakushima Island. One time, I went to Pratas (Dongsha) Island, which is located between Hong Kong and Taiwan, to load seagrass called “Nachora” (digenea simplex). I accidentally passed by Pratas, and went near the coast of China. Then, I was caught by a foreign coast patrol boat and taken to Macau. I stayed there for about six months. Rather than going to trial and imprisoned, the ship ended up being confiscated. The trading company which owned Bussanmaru was able to get it back by purchasing it in an auction. But there was only one problem. Essential parts of the boat, such as the nozzle, had been removed. So, I stayed in Macau for about six months until the necessary parts were gathered. Bussanmaru weighed about 30 tons and was made of Japanese cedar. I never carried cargo from Miyako Island, but since we passed through the main island of Okinawa, I picked up customers in Miyako, and dropped them off on the main island of Okinawa. Then, I went to Naze in Amami Oshima and Kuchinoshima in Jitto-son (Toshima village). I believe there were police at the time, but they didn’t intervene about the black-marketing very much. Although there was a border at the time, we could freely visit Kuchinoshima and Nakanoshima in Jitto-son (Toshima village). I loaded timbers, rice, and oranges there and stopped by the main island of Okinawa. If there were some customers there, I ferried them back to Miyako Island. I transported timbers and firewood from Ishigaki Island, using Bussanmaru.

Going to the main island and working at a power station

It was about 1949 when I quit my work on Bussanmaru and came to the main island of Okinawa. After hearing that my seniors from Miyako Island were involved with the construction of a power station in Makiminato, Urasoe. So I decided to go there and see for myself and was able to find them there. At the time, heavy stuff like turbines and boilers couldn’t be carried by car, so we put them on a U.S. military landing craft and transported them from the port of Naha. Since there was a beach near the power station in Makiminato, we carried the heavy stuff by bringing the landing craft to the beach. First, two of us carried large square timbers and put them on the beach, then put the heavy stuff like turbines and boilers on the timbers and pulled them up into the power station. That’s the type of work we did. After we finished moving the heavy stuff, we had to work on plumbing. We attached all the pipes and devices. Experts from mainland Japan were supposed to handle the plumbing using a blueprint, but we worked as their assistants to complete the plumbing. I did all kinds of work at the power station, but thanks to that experience, I grew knowledgeable about how machines work and their structure. When the power station was completed, there were no operators for the power station in Okinawa, so we were asked to test the power station’s operation just before it was completed. When I was doing the testing, I was hired by Toshiba as an employee, and I can only say that I was lucky. We were tasked with operating the power station even though we had no expertise. When the power station was finally completed, an American company called Gilbert was entrusted by the U.S. military to take over the plant’s management. Our employer was Toshiba first, which built the power station, and then changed to Gilbert. Then Ryukyu Electric Power Corporation was established, so our employer changed again to Ryukyu Electric Power Corporation. When the power plant was first built in April 1953, four15,000 kilowatt power generators were constructed. But with the growing demand for electricity, four generators were no longer enough. So, a power plant ship called Jacona arrived from the US, and in June 1955, power was supplied by this power plant ship from Hamby Airfield in Chatan. I transferred to the Jacona from the power station in Makiminato. It was a difficult job.

A message for young people

There are an infinite number of possibilities when you are young. If you find a job you want to do, work towards that goal. When I started working at the power station, I was absorbed in my work. I only graduated from elementary school, so I didn’t know much about physics or chemistry. The power station made full use of both physics and chemistry. I bought books on both subjects in Naha and studied. Carrying that kind of passion towards work is good to have. Be thorough about your work and strive to do your best.

Mr. Kinzo Sunagawa is both a Taiwan repatriate and a survivor of the Sakaemaru disaster. As someone who narrowly escaped death, Mr. Sunagawa contributed towards the post-war recovery through his diligence and perseverance and by gaining knowledge on electrical machinery.