Imperial Navy Vet Feels Pressure To Keep Quiet About Wartime Experiences

Imperial Navy vet feels pressure to keep quiet about wartime experiencesKuniyoshi Takimoto, now 94, was almost killed during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. A mechanic aboard the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Hiryu, he was wounded in the shoulder after bombs from American Dauntless dive bombers ripped into the flight deck and sparked fires in the hangar bay below. The fires spread, the ship was abandoned, and sank the next morning -- one of four Japanese fleet carriers lost in the battle.

Takimoto survived the battle and the war, but he was furious that he had been put in such peril. After the war, he pledged to do his best to prevent Japan from waging war again, and in 2006 began giving talks to young people about his harrowing experiences. Now, however, he feels under increasing pressure to keep quiet.

"Japan is becoming a society in which you can't freely talk about even facts," says Takimoto.

A native of Kagawa Prefecture, Takimoto joined the navy in 1939 at the age of 17. After training to be an aircraft mechanic he was posted to the Hiryu, and was even aboard the ship when it took part in the attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941. And then came the disaster at Midway.

After his narrow escape from the dying Hiryu, he was sent back to Japan to recuperate. While in hospital, he read a newspaper article quoting an Imperial General Headquarters representative who claimed that Japan had lost just one aircraft carrier, with another badly damaged. He knew for a fact that the Imperial Navy had lost all four of the carriers it committed to the battle, but he could tell no one the truth, effectively cut off from the outside world as he was in the hospital. His shoulder ached badly.

Midway became a turning point in the Pacific War, the beginning of the end of Japan's command of the seas.

A year after he had recovered, Takimoto was deployed to Truk in the western Pacific. The island's airstrip and port were destroyed in bombing raids, and supplies were cut off. Starving, he ate grass boiled in sea water to survive, always scared that the island would be bombed again.

Following the war, Takimoto returned to Japan and moved to Osaka, where he opened an oil wholesale company. He read books about the war at libraries to learn what had actually happened to Japan during the war.

He grew angry as he read. Few top military officers took responsibility for failed operations, the Imperial General Headquarters lied about the progress of the war, and about the damage suffered by Japanese forces. Much later, a schoolteacher read his personal notes on the war and asked him to talk at elementary schools about what had happened. And so about 10 years ago he began his speeches, giving 30 in a single year.

"I'll convey my experiences to you to fulfill my responsibility as a survivor. Please learn ability to learn the truth," he said in his talks.

The 2013 enactment of the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets -- under which those who leak designated information can be punished -- sparked memories of his isolation in hospital in 1942. Takimoto wondered why the government then had sequestered servicemen injured at Midway instead of telling the truth of the battle to the public.

Back in the present, the government reinterpreted the war-renouncing Constitution in 2014 to open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, and security legislation based on the reinterpretation was enacted in 2015. He wondered whether Japanese people cannot understand the tragedy of war unless they experiences another war.

Furthermore, a speech scheduled at a junior high school was abruptly cancelled this year. The principal of the school, and not the teacher he had talked about his speech with, notified Takimoto he was no longer invited to speak. While he doesn't know what led to the decision, Takimoto said he felt that "the school was surmising something."

"The school may be under strict constraints. Children should be allowed to feel whatever they will freely about the experiences I talk about," he added. He is wondering whether to discontinue talking about his experiences, while saying he wants children to acquire the ability to detect lies.

"I think those who experienced the war should speak out more," Takimoto said.