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Human face of war
Takasago Giyûtai
The Takasago Tribe was an old generic term in Japanese for the indigenous population in Taiwan (previously Formosa). They had been called this since the island became a colony of Japan in 1895. The people spoke Austronesian languages and had already lived in Formosa prior to Chinese settlement in the early 17th century. The indigenous population numbered about 140,000 in 1929.

During the Japanese control of Taiwan, the indigenous people received intensive colonial education in order to convert them into loyal Japanese citizens. Although they were encouraged to volunteer and join the Japanese Military Force, they were not accepted as full regular servicemen, but only as civilian volunteers.

In the field, Takasago Giyutai members were appreciated for their strength and natural ability to operate in mountains and jungle. When the South Seas Force was deployed for the overland attack on Port Moresby, Takasago Giyutai as well as Koreans, in total 500 men, were included in the Force in order to increase manpower to carry the supply into the mountains. In addition, about two thousand native carriers were recruited to accompany the Force.

During the campaign, the courage and ingenuity of the Takasago Giyûtai members were commended. One of the commanders of the Buna Garrison, Major YAMAMOTO Koichi, praised them for their adept ability at jungle fighting. Just before the rout of the Buna Garrison, YAMAMOTO left his last report with a member of the Takasago Giyûtai who managed to survive. In it, YAMAMOTO wrote that they excelled as crack shots, and had sharp ears as they were always the first to hear an approaching enemy. Furthermore, they could move in the jungle without making noise, and was good at reconnaissance. Yet, some of these positive comments had the resonance of a patronising tone towards the colonial subjects. A military doctor, SUZUKI Masami, who was sent to Buna, wrote that he worked with many Takasago people and agreed with YAMAMOTO about their natural ability to operate in difficult situations. He described the Takasago soldiers as follows:

The Takasago Tribe consists of groups of people from the mountains regions of Formosa. As a people it is said that they resemble the Yamato tribe. They share similar skin colour and many elements of their lifestyle and customs are similar to us. Their pupils are clear like obsidian and full of mystery and their singing voices are beautiful. When I heard a young Takasago soldier sing a song in the shade of a coconut tree at a mountain village, I was so moved that I wanted to embrace him dearly.

The ingenuity of the people who knew how to operate in the rugged environment was apparent in the following episode which was recorded in the official history. After Major General HORII went down the Kumusi River on a raft, the rest of the troops had to figure out how to cross the river, which was 120 metres wide and 2 metres deep. Then, a solution was presented by a member of the Takasago Unit. He told the troops to cut light coloured logs of about 6 cm diameters into about 2 m length and to construct a small raft with four to six of them. This raft was not to transport the men, but to ferry weapons and clothes. (The light coloured timber was thought to be lighter than dark coloured.) Then, the rafts were pushed to the middle of the stream as much as possible at the river bend. The soldiers needed to hang onto the raft and wait until it reached the other side along the flow of the river. In this way, the troops managed to cross the river even though many soldiers who were physically weak drowned as they lost their grip to the raft.

As the Japanese troops withdrew from Buna, only 65 Takasago Giyûtai members and 15 Koreans were alive. It was, however, not clear if they were the remaining members of the initially dispatched volunteers with the South Seas Force when the Port Moresby attack commenced.

In spite of their work and contribution during the war, the Takasago Giyûtai and their families were not fully compensated for injury and death related to their service, and they were excluded from the military pension scheme due to their civilian status and nationality. Some veteran groups are still fighting for recognition.

Contributed by Keiko Tamura (AJRP)

Bôeicho Bôei Kenkyûjo Senshishitsu (ed.), Senshi sôsho Minami Taiheiyô rikugun sakusen 1: Pôto Morusubii-Gatô shoki sakusen (Official war history South Pacific Area army operations, vol.1: Port Moresby-Guadalcanal first campaigns), Tokyo: Asagumo Shinbunsha, 1968, p. 178.

Bôeicho Bôei Kenkyûjo Senshishitsu (ed.), Senshi sôsho Minami Taiheiyô rikugun sakusen 2: Gadarukanaru-Buna sakusen (Official war history South Pacific Area army operations, vol.2: Guadalcanal-Buna campaigns), Tokyo: Asagumo Shinbunsha, 1969, p. 212, p. 592.

YOSHIHARA Kane, Minami jûjisei: Tôbu Nyûginia-sen no tsuioku (Southern Cross: Reflections on the East New Guinea campaigns), Tokyo: Tôbu Nyûginia Kai, 1955, p. 30.

SUZUKI, Masami, Nyûginia gun'i senki (A military doctor's New Guinea war report), Tokyo: Kôjinsha, 2001, p. 44.

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