Tag Archives: Istvan Doma-Miko

Lurking Dragons

Lurking Dragons

FUKURYU, the secret unit of the Japanese Special Offensive Corps

Among the displays at the Yushukan Museum of the Heroes, which stands next to the Yasukun shrine in Tokyo, there is a space reserved among the kamikaze relics for the Lurking Dragons. This unit of the Japanese Special Offensive Corps, established in the Second World War, was so secret that, decades after the war, not even their compatriots knew about its existence.

The Dragons’ job was to blow up American warships, risking their lives in harbour depths, with bombs fixed to bamboo canes. They were able to breathe with the aid of an ordinary plate tank in their rudimentary diving gear, with caustic lye cleansing the stale air. Anyone who bungled his breathing died in terrible agony, as the natron corroded his respiratory organs. Fifty young men died during training.

After Japan surrendered, the officers burned all evidence and the unit was sworn to secrecy. Fearing retribution from the Americans, members of the unit kept quiet about it. Until now, that is …

Japan’s territorial expansion in the South Pacific led to conflict with the United States of America. Attempts were made to negotiate, but, according to Japan, it was the USA, deciphering the telegraphic code of the Japanese headquarters staff, that provoked the Japanese entry into war. The fact is that this Far Eastern country, which was militarily strong, became involved on the 8th of December 1941in the war with the United States − 25 times bigger than Japan − and its allies.

Initially, the war in the South Pacific brought victories to Japan. In Singapore, General Yamashita inflicted a crushing defeat first on the army of British General Percival and later on the American military forces. General McArthur had to escape from the Philippines on a PT boat.

However, the American offensive in the battle of Midway in 1942 turned the tide decisively. Having deciphered the Japanese telegraphic code, the Americans set an ambush and inflicted such great losses on the navy that the Japanese were only fighting on to stave off utter defeat. Their headquarters staff became resigned to taking a desperate step. Under the leadership of Vice-Admiral Onishi Takajiro, they founded the Tokkotai (Tokubetsu Kogeki Tai, the Special Offensive Corps), whose members, laden with bombs, undertook suicide missions against enemy targets. It was Lieutenant Seki Yukio who accomplished the first suicide mission with his flight called Kamikaze (divine wind) on the 25th of October, 1944. From then on, the Allies called every member of the Tokkotai ‘Kamikaze’.

However, the Special Offensive Corps included several other units and sections as well. The so-called Oka were also a part of this corps. Releasing a winged bomb from the bomber that carried it, a volunteer would guide it towards the target like a sailplane. There were motorised mini submarines, loaded with bombs, and speedboats. However, there was also a ‘foot soldier’ unit, called Fuku Ryu (Lurking Dragons). I tracked down a surviving veteran of this unit in Nagano Prefecture. Here is my interview with Shimizu Kazuro, one of the divers who carried bombs on bamboo canes.

– Mr. Shimizu, when and how did you join the Japanese army in the Second World War?

– I was born in 1928, in Shimoina in Nagano prefecture. One day, when I was in the third class of the local Iida junior secondary school, in other words, 15 years old, our teachers called us into the gymnasium where a high-ranking guest in the person of an army officer came to address us. By that time the war had been raging for one-and-a-half years, so we were not really surprised to see the uniform. At first the officer described the wretched lot of our country in a beautiful speech; he then announced that the army was waiting for us to volunteer. However, volunteering seemed to be somewhat compulsory when he closed his speech with the scathing words: “Whoever hesitates to volunteer to the defence of the country, get out!” To our astonishment, three fifth-form pupils jumped up, burst out of the door and dashed away, shouting something like “Who would agree to such great folly?” Each of these boys had been studying the philosophy of different eras. One of them I knew quite well – he had often quoted Hegel to me. We all got a tremendous fright.

– How did the first people volunteer?

– The homeroom teachers sent the classes of thirty back to the schoolrooms and the pupils were called out for the “conversation” one by one. I suspect that there was a kind of quota, and our school director made a promise of about 10-15 volunteers.

My school had rather a bad reputation, and there had been several incidents involving mischievous behaviour. Making snowmen was one of the boys’ favourite pastimes. Once they made one on the edge of the roof, and when an army officer passed underneath, they covered him in snow. The recruitment came at just the right moment to enable our teachers to get rid of their worst pupils. Our homeroom teacher nominated three.

– So you became a “volunteer” of the Japanese army by being nominated?

– No, not at all! I was the pupil president of my class, they did not even think of me. But one of the “volunteers”, a fatherless boy, begged me to intervene on his behalf because he did not want to leave his widowed mother alone. I pleaded with the teacher in vain to let him off, but he did not want to hear of it. I became angry and said, “Well then, I’ll join the army instead of him”. I was taken aback when he agreed. Not even the fact that I would be joining the Navy, the elite of the armed forces – as I was a good student – could console me.

– The rebellious students who ran out must have been severely punished.

– You would think so! At school I had always been taught that we were fighting for the Emperor. I also thought that, in war, a man’s place was in front. So imagine how surprised I was when our schoolmates who left the meeting so noisily were not punished at all. The director must have wanted to conceal the fact that he had such rebellious pupils.

– How did your family take the news of your joining up?

– My parents were poor farmers. My mother fought back her tears but did not protest. Two days before I left to join up she presented me with a new mattress. That was an enormous luxury at that time. During the war only newly-married couples could get a new bed, for their wedding night. And my father managed to get a fish for me – not a piece of tuna, but a whole one, with its head and tail.

– You joined the Navy, the pride of the Japanese forces. How did your military service begin?

– I started my studies in September 1944 in Tsuchiura, at the Yokaren Aircraft Academy, which was the dream of all Japanese boys. We did theory in the classroom, and practical training exercises in the Aircraft Detachment of the Navy.

In March 1945 the theoretical part of our education – prescribed in the curriculum – was unexpectedly suspended, and the field manoeuvres were increased. We did exercises all day, learnt to handle small craft and send Morse signals. Obviously we were preparing for imminent deployment. Then, one day, a drunken naval officer gave a speech in our 300-strong camp: “Japan is over”, he said. “None of you will even get onto a plane. Everyone should look out for himself as well as he can and save his own skin.”

I found myself in the headquarters of Lieutenant Watanabe Kojiro. All the other detachments were very violent – as part of the training they had the recruits beat each other with cudgels. But Watanabe was different from the other officers, he forbade things like that. He often talked to us about Darwin and about how animals adapt in order to survive. Even after the war we used to get together for conversation.

– The Allies were inflicting ever-greater losses on Japan. Did you feel the effects of this?

– The shortage of raw materials was felt everywhere in the country. We were transferred to the Tsukuba Mountains to collect pine tree roots. We increased the volume of petrol by mixing it with the gum fluid that we extracted from the roots. Japan was grasping at straws. However, I did not like doing it. The Americans were penetrating deeper and deeper into the country. At the bombardment of Tsuchiura the barracks we had been in were destroyed, and towards the end we were coming under fire daily. While we were digging for roots, six of my mates were strafed from aircraft. I felt that my turn was about to come, too, but I wanted to die a nobler death. So when they were looking for volunteers for the Special Offensive Corps in 1945, I applied.

– On what basis were the members of the Tokkotai chosen?

– From three hundred of us, one hundred were chosen for certain death. Three groups among these were eliminated: firstborn sons, only children, and the fatherless. As the fourth son of the family, I was obviously suitable. For the next round, the more intelligent ones were filtered out from the hundred. We did not know which suicide corps we were going to but, considering that I was put into Yokosuka, I supposed that I, like the others, would also be an airman. Only at the end of June or the beginning of July, when I arrived at the coast of Kurihama, did I discover that I had been drafted to the Fukuryu, the Lurking Dragons. But there was no going back. Taisen Training Camp, where I ended up, was called the hell of the Navy.

– What was your mission, and what did the training consist of?

– We had to wait for the American warships in the shallow harbours, in diving suits, with bombs fixed to bamboo canes, and blow them up along with ourselves.

It is well known that, during deployment, the soldiers of the Tokkotai faced certain death. The aircraft of the “flying” Kamikazes were filled with just enough petrol to go one way, and inside the torpedo (kaiten) – released from the submarine – the cover of the wheel house was screwed shut from outside. Anyone who was not killed in the explosion would suffocate as soon as the oxygen ran out.

Our diving gear was closed in a similar way. When we got into our gear, two of our mates would seal the helmet on the collar of our rubber diving suit and then fix it with screws. We could manage to get out of this without help. We did not have an oxygen tank – a simple but clever gadget solved the problem of breathing. From the big helmet we would inhale air through our noses and after using it, we would blow it out through a pipe. This pipe led into a metal tank fixed onto our backs, in which caustic lye transformed the used air into oxygen. Anyone who bungled the breathing and drew up concentrated caustic lye into his mouth would lose consciousness after the third breath.

Our movements were special, too. We always had to take up a position calculated in advance to 10-15 degrees, so that our gear weighing 38 kilograms did not pull us back. This was completed with our weapon, a 15-kilogram bomb fixed onto a cane that was several metres long. I was 16 years old and carried gear that was heavier than I was.

– Did anyone die during training?

– We started preparations on the 10th of July 1945. Our training camp counted 1200-2000 would-be suicides. We put out to sea, with sections of 15-16 in each boat. At first we practised how to dive vertically 8-16 metres down, and how to get back. As a rule, we stopped after every two metres in order to swallow, so that the pressure would be equalized, otherwise our eardrums would burst. Later we learned how to walk on the sea bottom. A rope was fastened onto the waist and the training officer, pulling it, gave instructions about which direction to turn or how far to go.

Accidents often happened on training. Concentrating on the movement of the rope, many people bungled the order of their breathing and fainted. Those of us who were above were informed of the problem by the loosening of the rope and pulled our mates up as quickly as possible. By that time the window of the helmet had become milk white. There was an accident like this in my section, too. When we removed his helmet, blood burst out of the boy’s mouth and he shouted “help me, Mom!” I have no idea what happened to him later. Others perished because of faulty brazing of the tank – water oozed in and on meeting the caustic lye generated a hot mixture which burned their respiratory organs. And those who got caught in the thick sea plants or lost the end of the rope, drowned. Fifty of my mates met their deaths in this training, but many of the survivors suffered permanent brain damage caused by respiratory problems.

I hoped this would not happen to me.

– The front came closer and closer. How did you spend your days?

– We could no longer carry out the ceremonial cremation of our fallen comrades in the shrine, so we simply built a fire on the coast and burnt their bodies. Our daily program became monotonous: training, praying, burning.

We were 16 years old and we smoked a lot, so much that our heads hummed and we could not think. In this hell we went to sleep dreading death every single night.

I was brooding on why my life had to end so terribly. I was envious of the “flying” Kamikazes who would perish by crashing into the enemy’s aircraft carrier with their proud metal birds. I kept myself going by hoping that it would also be good to die in the sea, that it would not hurt, and that I would simply fall asleep. I pondered a great deal why I had to die at all. I had learnt that I had to die for the Emperor, but I thought of my parents as well, who loved me so much. It made me bitter to think that, even according to our training officers, our mission had no hope of success. On the sea bottom even standing up is impossible after fifty metres. If, by chance, one of us managed to blow up a ship, the others would lose their lives, too. However, it was more likely that the Americans, who attached so much importance to their safety, would “sprinkle” the sea with bombs before landing anyway. The “daihonei” planned to sacrifice us on the coasts of Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, and in the Shibishi Bay of Kyushu Island.

– Did you have a premonition of the coming surrender?

– During our daily training we were not informed about the technical and numerical superiority of the Americans. On the 15th of August we listened to the Emperor’s radio broadcast announcing the end of the war, but the radio set crackled so much that we did not understand what he was talking about. We knew that a new kind of bomb had destroyed Hiroshima totally and we supposed that the speech of the ruler was encouraging us to hurl defiance. We continued our training for two more days, thereby increasing the number of those who lost their lives in peacetime. On the 20th, when training ended, the officers made us collect all our gear and burnt it all, together with all the written records. On the 25th, we were ordered to return home. The members of the Taisen Training Camp, including me, found it strange, until we eventually heard that the war was over. So I could go on living, I did not have to die! I felt relieved; I did not even care about the humiliation of defeat.

– What happened after you got home?

– Returning home from the war, I was glad to see that none of our family members had lost their lives; my two brothers had also got back safe and sound from the front. I went to bed and am told that I slept for a week. I kept it from my people that I had been in the service of the Special Offensive Corps, but they felt I had gone through terrible ordeals, so everybody pampered me. At my old school, I was surprised to see that the floor of the passage had been lifted and the walls had become blackened. I heard from my classmates who had stayed at home that in my absence the school building had served as a war factory and that they had worked there. I came to hate our teachers who had sent us to our deaths without conscience. They did not ask for forgiveness – what’s more, they even ridiculed me. They called the Yokaren Academy the Yotaren Academy, which means ‘trudging’ or ‘reeling’. I lost all interest in learning anything from them. Whenever I could, I would gather the boys in the attic of the school and we would smoke and discuss the events of the past. I did not know who to believe. My life took a 180-degree turn. I became a nihilist; I read the books of Nietzsche and Shift and the book ‘Revolution’ by Lenin. In a period of 4 to 5 years I tried to kill myself twice.

– What did the general public think of the Lurking Dragons?

– For years, no-one even knew the Fukuryu existed. We had to keep the secret, and as for the Americans, as we had never really been deployed, they did not even hear about us. We made our voices heard only at the exhibition of the Tokkotai Museum, and said that we, too, belonged there. However, it came to light that no records or documents giving the story of the Fukuryu had survived destruction. We, the survivors, reconstructed our gear from memory, for the statue exhibited in the Yushukan (Museum of the Heroes).

– Have you forgotten the Fukuryu already?

– I will never be able to forget it as long as I live. However, so many things have happened to me since the war. I am already a pensioner. I have retired from a newspaper in Nagano. Now, finally, I can enjoy the peace and the life I received as a gift.


Steven Doma-Miko





An exclusive interview with the granddaughter of the last shogun

In ancient Japan, enormous power was concentrated in the hands of the Emperor. He was the absolute ruler of the islands, as well as the head of the Shinto religious group. (In terms of European concepts, it was as though the Emperor and the Pope were one and the same person.) However, over many centuries, the power of the mikado became weaker, its role gradually became more and more symbolic, and real power shifted to the military regent, the shogun. The shogunate had been the ruling system in Japan for 700 years, before the Meiji era. The shogun was the main figure in the legislature, law enforcement and the military. The most important shogun was Tokugawa Ieyasu, who seized power in 1603. His dynasty ruled for 265 years.

This story is about the fifteenth and last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, whom we know only from history books. However, his 89-year-old granddaughter, Tokugawa Motoko, still remembers of him very well. Before we turn to her, though, let’s look at Yoshinobu’s life story.

He lived from 1837 to 1913, coming from the third (Mito) line of the family. Later, as heir to the powerful Hitotsubashi dynasty, he was also the heir apparent to the shogun title. However, the title was assumed by his rival, Yoshitomi. Yoshinobu was pushed into the background for a while. But he soon became the main support of the shogun and later became the shogun himself, the last in the line, the fifteenth.

By the time he attained this, however, the days of the shogunate were numbered. The following year, in 1868, the Meiji Emperor abolished the position of shogun and took back power from the Tokugawa dynasty. At this moment, the 700-year-old shogun rule came to an end, and the Meiji government controlled the country. Yoshinobu fared badly and retired to his home region of Shizuoka. In 1897 he moved to Tokyo. As scanty compensation, he was finally granted the title of count, but his life of varied fortune finally ended at the age of 77.

Lady Motoko’s father, the fifth son of the last shogun, married into the wealthy landowning Ikeda family.

At present Lady Motoko is the senior member of the family, and was personally acquainted with her legendary grandfather. In the interview that follows, I ask her about Tokugawa Yishinobu:

– Hungarians, along with the Japanese, belong to the Ural-Altaic race. According to historians, Hungarians moved from the area of Japan about 2500 years ago, in order to settle in Europe. That’s why we are interested in Japanese history. Please tell us about your grandfather, the last shogun.

– When he passed away, I was in the fifth class of elementary school. I was about ten years old, but I still remember of him well. To be honest, I never lived under the same roof as my grandfather, as my father married into the Ikeda family, and I was born there. Of course I have memories of my grandfather, as he visited us several times. As I have mentioned, my father lived far away from the capital, and he often invited my grandfather to our house. My grandfather knew political life very well, even after his downfall. My father would have been interested in the Meiji era in particular, but my grandfather did not answer his questions in much detail.

It was obvious that my father, who had not experienced the ordeals of political upheaval, did not really understand the events of the past. By the way, grandfather Yoshinobu was not the son of a shogun. He was born into the Kito line of the family, and then, marrying into the Hitotsubashi line, managed to become a shogun after many hardships. There are no surviving children. I am the olderst of his grandchildren, but I was only 10 when he passed away. How then could the other members of the family remember him?

-The shogunate ended 120 years ago. Please tell us how the Tokugawa descendants live today.

– Times change. What member of the Tokugawa family yearns for shogun rule? They all work like other people. In the Meiji era it was mainly the descendents of the aristocratic families who managed to get into Parliament. But now none of them are involved in politics.

– Please tell us something about yourself, too.

– I was born in the 35th year of the Meiji era, in 1902. The Ikedas, being members of an aristocratic family, guarded their traditions well. We had many servants. When I became a teenager, I was dressed in wonderful kimonos and travelled in a barouche. I was surrounded by discreet ladies of the court, who took turns looking after me. I was 18 when I reached marriageable age. A man adopted into the Mito line of the Tokugawa family was chosen to be my husband.

– Hungary is very far from Japan. Have you ever been there?

– Certainly! After the first World War, we lived in Germany for two and a half years. At that time we visited Hungary, too. Japan was calm at that time, and Germany was recovering after its defeat in the war. There were no flights to Hungary, so we took the train. Hungary also seemed to be calm, and nothing of special importance happened. Our hotel faced the Danube river. It was a wonderful view. I am sure that hotel still exists. I remember our interpreter well, because he spoke excellent Japanese. He guided us all over the city. Unfortunately his name escapes me. He was a man with black hair and strong cheek-bones, with an Asian face. I thought he might have Mongolian blood in his veins. Our stay in the capital was short, just two days, but it made a strong impression on me. From there we embarked on a European tour, then we returned to Germany. Two days are enough to sense the atmosphere of a country. Hungary made a pleasant impression on us.

– Mrs. Motoko, what message would you send to the Hungarians?

– Our countries are far away from each other, our mental outlooks may also be different, but if we wish for peace, we can get close to one another. The fact that more and more young Japanese people are learning foreign languages and more and more foreigners are learning Japanese, means that communication barriers are being bridged. Japan has opened its gates to the world, it has become international, but it is still not easy for people to understand one another. You cannot identify with an other country’s culture and customs if you did not grow up there. Knowing the differences of culture and nationality that separate us, we have to make an effort to live in tolerance and friendship with each other across the globe. As for me, I am now too old to travel abroad, but I welcome foreigners’ visits. When I get to know new people, I still feel that I am enriching myself with new experiences, and I recommend this to everybody.

Steven Doma-Mikó


Mrs. Motoko was 89 years old at the time of this interiew and was still vital, had a good memory and was an entertaining partner in conversation. She lived for six more years after we met. She spent her last years on her land in Mito, and devoted most of her time to her hobbies, making baked enamel and pressed leather items.

In 1996 she broke a leg and became bedriddenand very weak. She passed awy a month later, on the 17th of September. She started this day like any other, energetically and with many plans, but died suddenly, at the age of 95. The granddaughter of the last shogun, a witness to history, lies at rest under the Tokugawa coat of arms, together with her ancestors.

When I was young, I wanted to look beautiful, so I put on a decorative kimono and got into the barouche whenever I wanted to anywhere. The dresser, not my mother, would dress me, and young ladies put make-up on my face. Then my mother would do my hair in a wonderful elaborate style.

I even wore elaborate clothes and make-up to school. The servants often told me that I was

When my grandmother was young, she went to the Rokumekan. It was like the “Institute of International Communications”, the “dance hall” or “bazaar” of today, playing the role of all of these institutions. Once a month, the ambassadors of different countries assembled together with important members of Japanese society, and everybody brought their families. The foreigners displayed their goods, and the Japanese made purchases. Then, everybody danced. In those days, people wore corsets, and curled their hair in the French Baroque style. To go with our gowns, we purchased lace hats and long blouses from overseas. At that time, Japanese people started to wear European shoes. We practised walking in them a lot at home, because we did not want to make fools of ourselves.

In my time, the Rokumekan was taken over by the Tekoku Hotel (Imperial Hotel). These international parties were different from those overseas. I know this, as I travelled a lot in Europe after my marriage. In Japan, only couples went to these parties, so it was impossible for two young people to meet and get married. Japanese people who lived overseas did not have the opportunity to enter into an international marriage. If a Japanese couple was invited to a party, only the husband went. The Japanese did not understand the language, could not establish connections, so they gave up going to the parties. In the Meiji era, contact with foreigners was very rare. It involved many difficulties, and many strange things took place. But everything is different now. After the war we started to learn foreign languages, and it became natural in Japan to hear foreigners speaking. Nowadays it is not unusual for a family to have a foreign commission.

In other words, we have become much more at ease in situations involving foreigners, not only in official but also in social and private situations.

Steven Doma-Miko


Robinson Crusoe of the War

Robinson Crusoe of the War

Hiding out on an island for 28 years

An exclusive interview with Yokoi Shoichi

– You spent 28 years living on a tiny island, cut off from the rest of the word. Please tell us how you got there.

– I was called up for military service in the infantry when I was 27 years old. I was sent first to the Manchurian front and then, after some tough battles there, to the Micronesian island of Guam along with 20 other soldiers. At that time I had no idea that a mission planned to last a couple of months would last so long, and that I would spend most of my life in the jungle on an island 2500 km from Tokyo.

– So you went behind enemy lines together with 20 other soldiers in order to prepare the land for Japanese occupying forces. How did you start these preparations?

– First of all we were divided into teams of seven to eight people so that our movements around enemy territory would not be conspicuous. We investigated strategic landing points and prepared everything for the invasion. But when our people had not yet arrived after many long months, we started to suspect that something must have happened in the war situation and that we had been forgotten. We eventually ran out of basic supplies and had to decide on a matter of vital importance: how to go on? We had such different opinions on this question that heated arguments broke out within the group. I was also at loggerheads with those dreamers who spent their days just thinking of rescue. I insisted that we would have to take charge of our own lives if we didn’t want to starve to death. However, lacking any real experience of the jungle, we couldn’t even agree on how to find food. I sided with those of us who thought we should eat whatever organic material the animals ate. Even primitive people knew instinctively what was fit to eat and what was not, so I felt we should trust our instincts.

– So what did Yokoi cuisine consist of?

– I ate snails, frogs and mice by the thousand. I caught fish and crabs with my hidden fish baskets. Game was considered a real treat, and it was a feast day when I managed to catch a rat or a crow. I found out that you can even eat snakes if you remove the venom. But it’s impossible to eat your fill in the jungle – you can barely survive if you are lucky. It was vital for me to fill my stomach every day, with anything I could get. Even so, I was sometimes just a shadow of my former self!

– Some years ago you were seen on TV with the competitors in the Japanese all-in wrestling competition. You took them to the jungle of Guam to see if they could survive there as well as you had once done.

– Yes, that’s right! (He laughs.) They were very strong (and good-looking as well), and could take a lot for the sake of shooting the film. However, when I started to mince a bat into a cauldron, they couldn’t take it! But I still get letters from them.

– Coming back to our story, what happened to your mates?

– Once we had scattered, we had no idea what happened to the others. Because of the nature of our situation, there were only three of us in a group. Just think, the other two were 10 years younger than me and often disappeared, just the two of them … I used to worry about them, but they always came back, only to disappear again. After twenty years, the next time they disappeared, they didn’t come back.

– How did you spend your lonely days?

– Looking for food and hiding occupied all my time. Wherever I went, I took great care to cover my tracks. If I could, I waded in the river or at least crossed the same stream many times. I did my best to obliterate any signs that someone was living there.

– Did you know the war had ended?

– I didn’t know for sure, but I guessed. Suddenly there were no more Japanese planes overhead – only American ones. Japan is a small country, so I assumed we had lost the war. But I would not have expected outright defeat – I thought of something like compromise rather. It would have suited our mentality better. And then when the Vietnam war began, I could see the modern B-52 bombers and I thought a new Japanese-American war had started. But I couldn’t understand why America would exert itself to obtain such a small country as Japan.

– Twenty-eight years in the jungle, eight of them entirely alone. Most people would have gone crazy.

– Well, to be honest, I did often think I was going crazy, but my stubbornness always saw me through. I vowed to myself that I would return to my motherland one day, hale and hearty.

– How did your hermit’s life come to an end?

– An emotionally disturbed girl went into the jungle from a small American village. The people who were looking for her found my hiding place by accident. We were all equally surprised, and stared at one another for several minutes, completely taken aback.

– And how did you feel at that moment?

– I’ve been asked this question by journalists many times, but in the end they always make up their own answers. I hope you won’t do the same! I am honest, so I have to tell you the truth: I WAS AFRAID! I was afraid because I hadn’t seen anyone for eight years and suddenly found myself standing among strangers, weak and defenceless. I was a captive in enemy territory.

– What were your first words to your captors?

– When I was taken to an official, he asked me ‘nihonjin?’ (Japanese) and I said ‘Hai!’ (yes). That was the full extent of our conversation.

– How did the news of defeat affect you?

– It was very painful – I had suffered for 28 years in an attempt not to lose the war, or not in this way at any rate. When I returned to Japan, I said at Haneda Airport: ‘Although I am shamefaced, I have returned.’ These words were then disseminated by the media and became famous.

– Rumour has it that your first meeting with your compatriots was not entirely cordial.

– Not at all! When the news broke that such an oddball had been found on the island of Guam, the major Japanese newspapers sent their closest reporters there. They came straight from their beds in Hawaii, wearing aloha shirts, and didn’t want to understand that I wanted to sleep at night, not tell them stories. And they couldn’t stop panting, wheezing and complaining about the heat. In the end I snarled at them: ‘Damn it, are you Japanese men or American?’ Hearing this, they felt ashamed and calmed down.

– When you got back to Japan, were you surprised by the level of technological development there?

– When I was called up for military service, the telephone had already come into general use and we also had TV. The ‘wonders of technology’ on my return did not amaze me at all – as a matter of fact, I had expected to find much greater development.

– How did you manage to return to everyday life in Japan?

– It happened more quickly and easily than I would have hoped. The government gave me a medium-sized grant of 900.000 Yen which I used to buy a house, and I got married shortly afterwards. We live in a small village in Nagoya prefecture. Mihiko, my wife, is my only treasure! We grow our own vegetables and eat meat only once a week (150g for the two of us) and use half as much electricity as other people. I have tried my hand at pottery, but these days my main concern is self-sufficiency.

– Some years ago you stood as a candidate in the election of representatives. What were the results?

– I was told it would cost a lot of money, and I thought it was unfair that you can’t take part if you are poor. I thought patriotism and my program would be enough. Well, I didn’t succeed. It seems to me that Japan has become a country where only money matters.

– It is said that you have met Emperor Akihito.

– It happened not so long ago. He asked me: ‘When was it that we met on the train?’ He was referring to an accidental meeting between us 18 years ago. The fact that he remembered me so well made my heart flutter so much that I even forgot my waist-ache. You know, before the war we were taught that the Emperor was divine. That’s no longer the case, but there’s still an unusual atmosphere around the Imperial Palace.

– A military command sent you to an island where you held out for 28 years. Do you think you are a good soldier?

– Call me proud, but the enemy has never seen my back. I couldn’t even imagine being captured or killed. When I was in hiding, I couldn’t imagine I would die, either. I still think that we were, and are, Japanese men rather than soldiers. This spirit of endurance has been always instilled into us.

– Finally: If you got into the same situation, would you do the same as you did then?

– Thank God, our country’s economy and its role in the world mean that the question doesn’t even arise. But if it happened … I wouldn’t give up 28 years of my life. After all, we only have one life!!!


The report above was written in 1992, in hospital, where Yokoi Shoichi was being treated for Parkinson’s disease. He seemed to be a man with a strong character and a good sense of humour, and his illness did not depress him at all. He said with a smile that after his return to Japan, scientists had asked the authorities in Guam for samples of the snake and frog species he had eaten before, for purposes of analysis. They replied that in the area around his blockhouse, covering a few square kilometres, they hadn’t been able to find any snakes or frogs, not even for a sample.

When his wife had to travel away from home for a couple of days in 1997, the old trooper was sent to a hospital to be looked after during that time. On her way, his wife had an accident, and was taken to another hospital. The prolonged trauma and the fear of not seeing her again were too much for Yokoi’s weakened body, and he died of a heart attack on 22nd September, at the age of 88.

‘In the last 15 years I have done everything I wanted to do and everything I had to do,’ he said.
That’s not entirely true – we could go on listening to his stories for ages.

Yokoi Mihoko moved to an old people’s home in Kyoto some years ago. I still get New Year’s cards from her with her best wishes. She is proud to have been the wife of a strong-willed, patriotic man.

Steven Doma-Miko


The Last Samurai

An exclusive interview with actor Mr. Hiroshi Fujioka

Samurai is the word for a Japanese warrior class and also for a member of this class. Samurais first rose during the Japanese Middle Ages, the Heian period, in the 10th century. At that time the Japanese shogunate, a system of military rule controlled by the shogun, was formed. Under this system, the emperor ranked the highest, followed by the daimyo, shogun, samurai, peasants, craftsman and merchants. In these times, the carrying of swords or any other weapons was the privilege of samurais and those of higher rank. If people from the lower castes were found carrying arms illicitly, they were immediately beheaded.

The samurais gained their knowledge of the martial arts, their skill in the use of weapons, and their understanding of war tactics at schools and dojos. They were paid in accordance with their knowledge and their skill in handling weapons. You might think that samurais lived lives of relative ease. However, their lives as true soldiers were based on a rather shaky foundation. Shoguns often entered into disputes with the emperor and the daimyos to gain political power, and fought with other shoguns to gain power and territory. A shogun who lost a battle against another shogun also lost his territory. Samurais formed military units under the shogun to protect their master, but they also fought for themselves. Even if the samurais managed to survive a battle they had lost, they lost their master shogun and became ronins. These ronins often ended up as robbers, attacking the caravans of rich merchants travelling from town to town in order to survive.

But the stories of the glorious samurais became an enduring legend, and they became heroic figures in many Japanese films. Samurais were brave, generous, loyal and unselfish. The two famous actors Toshiro Mifune and Kinnosuke Yorozuya starred as samurais in many films, but they have since passed away. Now, Hiroshi Fujioka is the biggest samurai actor in Japan, and is also known as the Last Samurai.

Fifteen years ago, I had the opportunity to meet this legendary actor in person. We were on stage together for a presentation in Tokyo. His show was the main attraction of the evening.

On the darkened stage, the Last Samurai sat silently. Only one stage light was lit, shining down on him as he looked down, apparently lost in thought. Then he placed his hands on his sheathed sword. The music gradually swelled, and the narrator’s monologue describing the strong feelings in the hero’s soul echoed throughout the theatre. The members of the audience were motionless with suspense. Then, suddenly, the samurai grabbed his sword and, after a moment of perfect silence, drew it from its sheath. What came next happened in a flash. As the samurai roared, the bundle of bamboo in front of him was cut into two. Another bundle was sliced in two with the swift backward movement, and yet another by his backhand stroke. A complex sequence of movements followed, like the dance of a mystical butterfly, slicing the sword though the bamboo bundles that had been placed behind him, cutting them up into little pieces. He sheathed his sword, but the remnants of his actions were still there. The bamboo pieces were still falling, dust was rising and the theatre rang with the echo of his shout. Then a sudden silence descended. The samurai placed his hands over his chest, bowing, enchanting the audience, who had been thrilled by his performance. They gave a thunderous round of applause. But the samurai was gone, leaving only the vibrating air as a memento of his presence.

Since then, I have formed a good friendship with this man of iron. Because we are both always on the go, we call each other from different places in the world. But I know his films and I know that he is more than just a good actor – he is also a very kind, friendly and outstanding person. At one time, I planned to invite him to Hungary, but planning something and carrying out the plan are unfortunately not the same thing: my plan came within a hair’s breadth of succeeding. So, to compensate for my failure to introduce him to Hungary, I decided to hold this interview.

Master, your first demonstration recalled the image of a TV advertisement. A diaphanous silk scarf slowly falls onto the edge of a samurai sword, and its featherweight is enough to cause it to be sliced in two by the blade, which is as sharp as a razor. Tell me, are the legends about the samurai sword true?

I certainly believe that the Japanese samurai sword is the sharpest weapon in the world, but I don’t think it is possible to cut through a falling silk scarf. I think that scene used a particular film technique to exaggerate the sharpness of samurai swords. Even the sharpest sword that can be made by the world’s most elite craftsman requires a “pulling” movement to cut through something. You actually need to move the edge of the sword across the surface of the object you want to sever. I’m sorry if I disappointed you.

Does your sword have a story?

I have several swords, and all of them certainly have some sort of story to them. But I feel that one sword in particular carries the heaviest weight of history. It is a sword that has been passed down from one of my great ancestors. It is more than a hundred years old, and our family crest is engraved on its grip. My ancestors killed the enemy with this in various wars. From generation to generation, each owner of this sword carried it to protect not only himself, but his bloodline as well. Every time I hold this sword, I feel great weight in it.

How sharp is your sword? Have you ever cut anybody with it?

Sorry to disappoint you again, but I have never harmed a soul with my sword. However, I have cut thousands of pieces of bamboo and wood. I have even chopped a block of iron, but for that I used a special type of sword.

Tell us about your early life.

I was born on the island of Shikoku, in Ehime Prefecture, on February 19, 1946. My father, Kiichi, taught judo in the police service. My mother, who taught the tea ceremony and the art of ikebana, was a versatile woman. She also taught shamisen and koto, the traditional Japanese plucking instruments, she did exquisite embroidery, and she was an excellent cook. She had a profound influence on many young ladies in Japan. I believe she was a worthy counterpart to the male samurais.

Who taught you the science of the martial arts?

My father, as a master of the martial arts, knew all kinds of techniques to kill people. He taught students how to use swords in kendo, how to throw knives, and even techniques that were forbidden to be taught.

He introduced them to you though…

If the Japanese traditions had been followed, my older brother, who was also the first-born son, would have been the one to follow in my father’s footsteps. I still do not know why my father decided to teach me instead of my brother. His education, or rather his “training”, was hard and strict. The Japanese martial arts are usually taught in dojos, which have tatami or board floors, because Japanese martial arts are practised barefoot and we are prone to getting wounded. However, my father trained me in churches that had stone flooring and churchyards with pebbles or sandy ground. I was wounded many times just by falling on the ground. The repetitive training by my father taught me how to survive, which is a great prize.

Was your mother opposed to your father’s rigorously strict training regimen?

My father was certainly a strict man, but there was always love in his strictness. My mother, who had a nurturing type of love, had a deep understanding of my father, so she never went against him. But she herself was once extremely strict with me. To explain fully, I first need to tell you a bit about my childhood.

When I was little, I was always the target of bullying. Older kids always used to tease me and sometimes they resorted to violence, although it was not too severe. I tried to put up with it silently hiding my sadness and anger. But on one occasion they hurt my pride too deeply, so I used my martial arts technique and fought against them. One of the boys was seriously injured. When my mother found out about this fight, she was infuriated. She said “I cannot face my ancestors. What you did has brought great shame to me. If you do it once again, I will kill you, and kill myself too”. I tried to explain why I had needed to resort to violence, but when I tried to open my mouth, she said, “No is no. You’re not going to make any excuses,” and her voice filled with rage. I was shocked, but I realized how serious the situation was. I apologized from my heart, and my mother made me go to my ancestor’s grave to apologize and swear that I would never use martial arts in hate. Since then, I became aware of how terrifying it is to use martial arts in the wrong way, and I searched for ways of winning without resorting to violence.

What kind of meaning do martial arts have for Japanese people?

These days, martial arts are sometimes seen as sports. But the true meaning of the martial arts, which are referred to as “budo” in Japanese, is that they show the “way” to self-control. If the “way” of “budo” is used incorrectly, you can hurt or even kill someone. In Japan, there is a phrase “He who controls himself does not have any uncertainty within his heart. The “way” of the samurai is the way to care for the defeated and never to forget how to forgive others”. I hope that the Japanese keep these words in their hearts.

In your movies, you can be seen driving many different vehicles. It is said you can drive on land, on water and in the air. Is that true?

I have a driving licence for large motorbikes, special vehicles, and even a pilot’s licence. And I also hold a scuba diving licence.

Let’s get back to acting. How did Hiroshi Fujioka became a well-known star?

In 1970, I was lucky enough to land a part in the series Kamen Rider. It was very popular with young people because of the acrobatic stunts. We fought a lot and jumped from great heights. And it wasn’t only through special effects that we were Superman – there was an element of reality too, as we did these dangerous stunts ourselves, without using stuntmen. Perhaps that’s why we became so popular. I became a household name quite quickly.

How long was “actor’s luck” on your side?

Until the shooting of the tenth episode of the series. During the shooting of that episode, I was involved in a major motorbike accident, and the bones in my left leg were shattered. Naturally, I was very upset. I thought my career as an actor was over. Others thought the same. But I managed to recover from the accident and returned to the screen after six months. I still have metal rivets in my left leg.

After this you started to appear in historical movies as well. What do you think is the most important part of your success?

Luckily for me, I always have played heroes, the “good guys”. Of course, I have to fight against criticism. In 1984, we were shooting the Sci-Fi film “Ghost Warrior” in Hollywood. I could feel that my fellow actors thought of samurais as mere butchers, who killed anyone without reason. They spoke to me without much respect – one of them even addressed mw with “Hey, Jap”. But I didn’t care what they thought of me. I think the true nature of the samurai world is a spiritual calling.

Another reason for my success, I think, is the fact that I was given roles of prominent historical figures. I took the part of Oda Nobunaga, also known as Sakamoto Ryoma, one of the most important samurais, who enforced the new social system, as well as Yagyu Gude in the samurai serial “The wolf protecting its cub”.

You have a reputation for being very versatile. How many faces does Hiroshi Fujioka have?

In the first place, I am an actor and I also make films. Secondly, as a master of martial arts, I try to protect the disappearing Japanese tradition. Thirdly, I do volunteer work by travelling around the world with shows and on tours. I have even been to more than ten politically volatile countries, even Kosovo during its difficult period.

Some years ago, you led an expedition to the jungle. Wasn’t that extremely dangerous?

The jungle teemed with predators, poisonous snakes and insects. Sometimes we heard really frightening sounds. There wasn’t a dull moment. It was dangerous during daylight hours, but even more so at night, because we were more vulnerable inside our tents. One member of my expedition team was stung by a poisonous scorpion, another got malaria, and a third developed a very high fever and lost consciousness for two days. Being the leader, I was responsible for their safety and for the safety of the film crew as well, and I had to ensure the success of the shooting besides. I could feel that death was always near, but I had to bring them back alive. You can imagine that it was a pretty tense time.

Has your life been touched by tragedy at all?

Nothing tragic, rather something a little bit comical. I once visited a city for a casual shopping. It was not long after the trip to the jungle and, as I mentioned before, I was very uptight because of the many dangers we’d been exposed to. As I was walking through a department store, I felt great tension in the air. By the time I realized what was happening, several security guards were running after me. They had sensed the atmosphere I carried with me and felt threatened by it. They encircled me, thinking that I was a dangerous criminal. As soon as I was aware of the situation, I calmed myself down, releasing the tension that I held, and I smiled at one of the security guards. All the security guards immediately relaxed, and a peaceful atmosphere filled the department store once again.

When I am in Japan, I know when to be tense and when to be relaxed, so I can unconsciously control the atmosphere I project. But when I am away, I am always nervous about my surroundings, so the atmosphere around me is like that of a battlefield. From this experience of being chased by security guards, I became more aware of myself, and I realized that there are many things I still don’t know about and need to train myself for.

What are you working on now, and what are your plans for the future?

So far I have written seven books about samurai honor, the warnings addressed to young people and the shooting of my films. This year I published the eighth one, the Bushido nyumon, namely the school of samurai honor.

I spend a lot of time travelling to talk about and share the samurai spirit. Some time in the future, I want to create a true samurai movie. I not only want to illustrate the life of a samurai – I want to explain the reasons why there are people like that, what they live for and where they are going.

I’ve got a surprise up my sleeve, but I would not like to let it out in advance.

What are your impressions of Hungary?

Unfortunately I have not been there yet. I know that Hungary is a great center of culture and science. We owe several inventions to the Hungarians. They have wonderful buildings and a rich musical tradition, their actors are excellent and the historical movies are masterpieces. I especially like the scenes on horseback, because I also like riding in my own films. The slanted shooting of arrows while riding at full speed is an ancient tradition in Japan, too, called yabusame. Also this connects us and our difficult histories.

Are you planning a Hungarian show or film shooting?

Although I have always wanted to go there, unfortunately it is not in my plans for the near future. If I have the opportunity, I will definitely make time to get there. I would be glad if I could introduce my knowledge of swordplay there, too, and a Hungarian-Japanese movie would certainly be a big success.

Finally, let me ask you a personal question. In your breast pocket, I always see these specially-shaped ballpoint pens. Are these family souvenirs?

They look like innocent pens, don’t they? However, they are more than that. They are lethal weapons. I travel around the world a lot and I go to even the most dangerous places without a bodyguard. If someone were to try to take my life, I would dispatch him or her with one of these. This is a part of my father’s heritage, and it is a tactical weapon whose secrets I cannot share.

Steven Doma-Miko