‘Memories of War’ is a project which leaves voices of the people who survived the war. We are not supporting any specific organization, and we are not agitating any thoughts.

Moreover, please be consent about the following descriptions.

  • The contents of the interview have left the voices and thoughts of the people who survived from the war.Moreover, there might be inappropriate expressions but we have left the voices as it was spoken.
  • The articles were recorded based on the knowledge and memories during the interview were taken.Therefore, there might be memories difference and some ambiguous point.

Memory 9 Yoshiki Sugata

Readiness and conflict to death
Teachings of Naval Academy

Yoshiki Sugata Yoshiki Sugata

born in 1926, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo
Lives in Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture

He had been longing for the navy since early childhood. He passed the competitive entrance examination of the Naval Academy in Etajima. He said he relived his Naval Academy days over and over over the years even though he only spent 1 year and 9 months there. He felt that that was the life he lived for his whole life even though it was for just a short time. “To volunteer as a soldier” means “Death.” This was always at his side. Through this atmosphere, what were irreplaceable experiences for him?

Hard road to the Navy

——Could you tell us where and what you were doing in 1945?

I was 19 years old and was a student of the Naval Academy at that time. The principal was a famous person, Shigeyoshi Inoue. During the war, almost all schools abolished or shrank English education, but he had the opposite opinion. He continued to do it with his strong faith and did thorough education to students. He said, “We don’t need naval officers who have no skills of foreign languages.” This was his policy and led us to continue to study English till the end of the war. I graduated from the academy at the same time too. “Naval Academy”, “Naval Engineering School”, and “Naval Paymaster School” were called “Three Navy Schools”. This Naval Academy was one of the biggest schools in the world, such as “Britannia Royal Naval College and “United States Naval Academy”.

Graduates from this academy played active roles in various quarters as the leaders. The following is the introduction of two of them.

Shoichi Sakamoto : Professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.
   He served as an obstetrician and gynecologist in
   attendance to the Imperial family for a long time.

Takekuni Ikeda : Architect
   He is known for the pioneer of high-rise buildings.


——What kind of examination did you take when you entered the Naval Academy?

It was a usual examination I think. The first one was English with the next one in mathematics, but before taking these, we had to get a healthcare check. Only people who passed the check had the right to take the academic examination. The applicants who had poor eyesight, for example, less than 1.0 points, and with glasses weren’t able to pass. The check was so strict. I took my picture for the resumè half-naked. I heard that this academy didn’t allow students with tattoos or something as a disability to enter. The reason seemed that if these kinds of people became officers in the future, their subordinates may talk about their officers behind their back.

——Could you tell us in detail what kind of things you learned there?

I forgot about it in detail but I remembered I leaned just the basis of navigation. There was nothing I could do on the battleship with just only my knowledge through lessons. I needed to practice more training on it to stand on my own two feet but I had to take general subjects, such as science and physics till the end.


Existence of father as a medical officer

——I heard your father was a medical officer, right? Had you already decided to become a doctor since your childhood?

No, I hadn’t. I decided to become a soldier after graduation from this academy. In fact, there may not have been a chance to become a doctor because of the atmosphere of that time.
However, this situation seemed to change after the war. I had a right to take the university entrance examination as I graduated from this academy. I told my father about my hope of entering the literature department but he didn’t agree with me. He said, “Enter the medical department or else I will never ever pay your university tuition.” That is why I followed what he said and took the examination for the medical department.

——Does it mean you didn’t have the intention to become a doctor from the bottom of your heart?

I didn’t have the will of being a doctor. I had a strong will to be a soldier.

——How were your brothers and sisters’ career choices?

Out of 6 brothers and sisters, I was the second oldest of them. My older brother went on to a medical department course and became a doctor. About my younger two brothers, one of them didn’t like studying so didn’t enter university. Another graduated from the University of Tokyo and worked for one of the biggest companies. My two younger sisters got married in Hiroshima.


Longing Path to Naval Academy

——Was entrance the Naval Academy a longing thing to the young generation of that time?

Yes, I think so. Especially, for people who had a dream of being a soldier. Some of them had a hope of being a public servant after graduation from high school and university, but in general, most of the people’s dreams were to be a soldier.
I went to elementary school from the second to third year which was located in the Naval Academy. I saw the students of that academy acting energetically so I longed to be like them. That is why I focused on the examination of the Naval Academy. I didn’t take the exam for the army.
At that time, the examination was so highly competitive, magnification of dozens of times and difficult. To be honest, I took this when I was the fourth year student of junior high school, but I failed. Once I failed that, I didn’t need to go to school but went to get my picture and report compiled by teachers back secretly because they were thrown away. I was so ashamed of that.

On the evening before the entrance date to the Naval Academy, we were taken to the bathroom in an accommodation, which was called “Club”, in Etajima. We prepared a bath, took off our clothing, and soaked in the bathtub. After that, we wore a loincloth, shirt and dressed up in a military uniform. They were like a ceremony when we entered the strict and not routine situation we had been used to or subjected to until with now. The next day, we started Academy.


Volunteering as a Navy is fraught with threat of death

——I live in the present age. I am so scared of wars, so I never want to enter the Naval Academy. However, at that time, did the majority of students enter the academy “For the good of the nation”?

I think it is not for the nation but for the longing of the Naval Academy. We knew that many dangerous situations, such as death are always with us and we were scared of death. However, we had much stronger longing to be soldiers. We may have pretended to be OK. We thought we would volunteer as members of a suicide attack unit with writing in blood and die. If this war had continued one more year, I would have died in the battlefield 100% of the time. This Naval Academy was my longing but at the same time, I was always aware of my death.

——How close did you feel about your death?

Our academy granted a certain autonomy to students, so older students trained younger ones. I was punched by them a total of 2,000 times in less than one year. However, when they graduated from this academy, we were crying in sadness. Even though they punched us, we thought those things were important tutelages for us.
We lived in a dormitory. About 15 minutes before bedtime, scary older students came to us and gathered around our beds. We chatted there and they asked us about popular songs of that time. These memories were piled up in my mind. That is why their graduation ceremony was full of tears I think.

——In 1945, I heard that Japan’s defeat was unavoidable, but didn’t the information come through?

When I knew the information, I never dreamed of Japan’s defeat. However, I gradually felt the situation because the air raid damaged National Port and the Naval Academy. The combat aircraft launched the missiles. It caused a kicking up of a cloud of dirt. I was scared of that but I pretended to be OK.
As I said before, when I volunteered to become a member of the suicide attack unit, I thought I will do it with writing in blood. In general, they said students who were educated in the Naval Academy aren’t scared of death, but I was so scared of my death till the end of the war.


——How did you feel about the end of the war on August 15th?

We got together to listen to Gyokuon Hoso, but something obstructed that, so I couldn’t listen to that clearly. (“Gyokuon Hoso is the broadcast of the voice of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito)
I was able to hear some parts of the broadcast but the noise kept getting cut off.

——Were there any obstructions occurring in not only the Naval Academy but also any other places?

I guess that may have occurred. I heard that people in the Tokyo area felt the same situation we did too.

——What type of people tried to disturb this broadcasting?

I guess those who wanted to continue this war may have done it.

——Could you tell us if you felt anything hateful towards the winners of this war or not?

I had intention to defeat them thoroughly because they were my enemy.

——Could you tell us how you felt just at that time you knew of Japan’s defeat?

I felt that it deprived me of my immediate aspiration. I saw a naval ensign fluttering in the wind and a midget submarine arrived around the seashore of the Naval Academy. (Midget submarine is a submarine and submersible for military use. This was used to attack the opponent navy’s anchorage and to make it inside as an operative.) It was preparing to make a sortie and we waved out hands with gratitude. However, the war had already ended.
I felt so frustrated to the defeat even though we didn’t need to worry about death. I didn’t feel happy to my survival from this war too. After the war, I had some choices to my future besides being a soldier, such as going on to school but my future was not clear.

——Could you tell us what was your turning point?

Time may have changed me I think. My feeling was different between just at the time of the end of the war and after a couple of months. I got a chance to take the entrance examination to university. Through some lectures, I gradually made a decision to become a doctor.

——In retrospect of the life in the dormitory of the Naval Academy, could you tell us some of your best memories?

I just went to this academy only for 1 year and 9 months, but I got valuable experiences there. We had the same purpose under the umbrella of the same association.
Let me tell you about one of the funny things there. Girl students from outside came to our dormitory to see our wake-up action. The action was like a training in the morning.
We only had 2 and a half minutes to get up, get dressed and to put our bed away. It was a strict rule in this dormitory. Those girls came to see this. While sleeping, I felt something noisy between beds. I was wondering what happened. I noticed that those girl students were there. I was so surprised and rushed to wear my loincloth again.

——They got a permission to that, right?

Yes, definitely.
Wake up call with a trumpet sound and the voice of “Get up Get up” were the announcement in the morning, so we had to finish dressing ourselves in 2 and a half minutes, so I forgot about the girls later, but it was a surprising happening to see those girls who were lined up around me.


My Peak ended after the war
Valuable place, Naval Academy in Etajima

——Could you tell us what was the hardest thing to you through the war?

I may not be the same type of person like others. After the life in 1 year and 9 months of the Naval Academy, I feel my peak ended. My aspiration may have gone somewhere at the same timing of the end of the war. I am 87 years old now. When I was 19 years old, the war ended. The term of 1 year and 9 months to 19 years old was so short but still remained in my mind.
I enjoyed drinking and chatting with my friends from the academy. There used to be 20 people but now only 4 people around me. Although the members are gradually decreasing, this meeting, which is held every year, is the most enjoyable event for me.

——You were excited to talk about during the war compared with nowadays, right?

Yes, because we lived under the same roof and were trained in the same academy sharing both good and bad experiences.
Many people said, “The time in the Naval Academy was their peak in their lives. They felt that that was the life they lived for their whole lives.” I have felt the time after the peak though more than 60 years has passed. My feeling has never changed.

——How do you feel now of Japan?

I am against wars. We shouldn’t do wars. Especially, to the wars which
we predict our defeat.
Mitsumasa Yonai (the 23th Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet), Isoroku Yamamoto (the 26th and 27th Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet), and our principal, Shigeyoshi Inoue, these three people opposed the Tripartite Pact between Japan, Germany and Italy. They also opposed the war against America, but finally, Japan attacked Hawaii. I really respect their opinions to oppose those things. I spend my life in idleness as a silly doctor in the countryside, but the time of the Navy Academy brings back memories. I totally forget about my school days in the medical department course in Okayama. The Naval Academy in Etajima always comes first.
During the war, the academy continued to teach English. It is an honorable thing. I also took a lecture of table manners. I thought this academy was the only place to do it at that time.

(Interviewer:Yohei Hayakawa, Writer:Emi Endo, Translator: Yoshino Wakamatsu)