Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Three shots fired across the Inland Sea

The funeral was brief. It ended with three shots fired across the Inland Sea.

The POWs' return to the camp on Innoshima was easier, unburdened with the weight of the dead, and
our spirits were higher because of the civilized manner in which the Japanese had played their part in the affair.

I came across Terence Kelly's POW memoir Living with Japanese back in the UK. Elsewhere it has the more vivid title of By Hellship to Hiroshima.

I picked my way through it, rather than reading from cover to cover. Among the inevitably disturbing content of a Japanese POW camp memoir, other bits were there to be gleaned. Here are a few of them:

1. The myth bit: An altruistic fisherman once gave a lift across the water to a priest who wanted to get to Innoshima. Once he had set foot on the island, the priest (as they are wont to do in this country) transformed himself into 88 holy men and the island now has 88 temples (for a pilgrimage similar to the famous Shikoku one presumably).

2. The history bit: Innoshima was where the Murakami Pirates plied their trade. The Murakamis seem to be called the Murakami Navy by some sources and the Murakami Pirates by others. Perhaps they started out as pirates extorting money from all bar landlubbers and then had a mid-life crisis or something. Perhaps they preferred the crisp white uniforms? Anyway, Innoshima is, of course, playing on the "pirate potential" to boost tourism.

3. The rhyming slang bit: The POWs were visited at their camp on Innoshima by two Englishmen (accompanied by Japanese wives). They had been on Innoshima since World War 1, spoke fluent Japanese, and still had Cockney accents. Their visit , naturally, came as quite a surprise to the POWs. I wonder if their families are still there?

4. The cold rice bit: The Nippon Times of 1943 reported, for the morale of the nation, that
a rear gunner in a Japanese bomber who, having run out of ammunition, threw his lunch (a rice ball) at the attacking American fighter and brought it down.
The power of onigiri!


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