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Attitudes to the war
Arrival of the ashes to Japan
The Kamakura Maru reached Yokohama on 9 October 1942 with the midget submariners’ ashes. Its arrival was well publicised beforehand throughout Japan, as the news had been dispatched from Singapore where some passengers disembarked. The anticipation in Japan was high. About 800 Japanese civilians, including the diplomatic representatives who had been interned in Australia since the beginning of the war, were returning to Japan on the vessel, but their arrival was hardly reported. Instead, the intense focus was on the return of the submariners’ ashes. The newspapers again published a detailed report of the Sydney attack in May that year, in addition to the personal profiles of the submariners, accompanied by their photographs.

The Kamakura Maru waited off the Yokohama wharf overnight before it reached the pier on 9 October. The emotion was high as a big crowd assembled at the wharf to welcome the ashes. They included young naval cadets in white sailor uniforms and the Greater Japanese Women’s Association members, who were in their uniforms of white kappogi (kitchen aprons). Several well-known writers were dispatched to Yokohama by newspapers as special correspondents to cover the arrival. They included YOSHIKAWA Eiji, a novelist who had written best-selling novels, including Miyamoto Musashi, and YOSHIYA Nobuko, a female writer who published popular teenage novels.

The family members of the submariners were informed of the return in advance and were assembled in Yokohama, away from the media. The fact that one submarine had not been located and that its crew (Sub-Lieutenant BAN and Petty Officer ASHIBE) was missing was not mentioned at all. At dawn, the 13 family members were transferred to the ship in a small launch. Some dignitaries, such as governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, the Commander of Yokosuka Naval Headquarters, the Naval Air commander, and the mayor of Yokohama City, were on the launch as well. They were to receive a private briefing from Minister KAWAI Tatsuo, who was returning to Japan on the ship and who had been assigned the task of escorting the ashes back to Japan from Australia.

During the briefing, KAWAI told them about the Sydney attack and also the military funeral arranged by the RAN. The information he provided came from Australian newspapers which he and his staff had access to in Melbourne while they were interned at their mission compound. He also received a briefing from Swiss Legations in Australia. Kawai revealed how he found out about the attack and the subsequent funeral arrangement to the waiting family members:

I found out about the attack the next day through the newspaper. A few days later, the Department of Navy contacted us and asked if cremation was the appropriate way of treating the remains. On 9 June, we were notified that the funeral was going to take place and asked if we wanted to arrange a wreath. On that day, I was under house arrest and could not attend the funeral, so I asked the Consul-General of Switzerland to attend the funeral on behalf of Japan. The master of ceremonies was Rear Admiral Gould. He was a respectable man in spite of his enemy status, as he organised the military funeral to be held against strong opposition. A few days later, he went on the radio to give a speech. In it, he said that the enemy came to attack them on board the iron coffins. He also said that the crew did not expect to survive the mission and return safely, and asked how many of those who opposed to the funeral would have one thousandth of the courage of the submariners when they fought for Australia. The ashes were delivered to us a day before our departure. I did not know how to keep the ashes properly, but we built rather an awkward looking small Shinto wooden stand placed between pine and oak bonsai. I also cut a branch off a camphor tree in the backyard and placed it at the altar as a sacred branch. I cannot forget how I felt then. [1]

As KAWAI praised the bravery of the submariners, CHUMAN’s mother, who had been grieving the son’s death, was greatly moved when she heard about her son’s action. At least, that was what reporters wrote. It was not clear whether that was her actual feeling or whether it was merely the reporter’s interpretation. In these reports, any tears shed by the family members were described as tears of pride of their sons’ bravery rather than tears of sorrow of mourning their deaths. KAWAI also showed the photographs of the military funeral to the family members. When the boat finally docked in the wharf, the first ones to disembark were again the ashes which were placed in individual wooden boxes, and wrapped in white cloths in the traditional style. They were carried around the neck by the crew’s colleagues, followed by the family members. The procession moved along the pier, while the entire crowd bowed to the ashes to express their sorrow and respect.

After the procession, the ashes and family members were driven to the Yokosuka Naval Headquarters where the ashes were kept until the joint naval funeral was organised. The family members could not reclaim the remains since the navy retained the control over them until they were discharged. MATSUO’s elder brother, Jikyo, who travelled to Yokohama from Kumamoto on behalf of his parents, returned home the next day empty-handed.

1. Osaka Mainichi Shinbun 10 October 1942.

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