Before leaving Japan, our accompanying battleship had to spend some time at Kure on the Seto Inland Sea near Hiroshima. We arrived in Kure on June 25th, the day after we left Yokosuka in Tokyo. While the ship was having some guns placed on her decks, and the warships that our ship was accompanying were being fully stocked with ammunition and supplies, I did some basic military training. On my first day, I was given a military officer’s pistol, and taught how to use it accurately and safely. The next day I was shown how to use an Imperial soldier’s rifle. Then the next few days were spent on physical training – I had to do push-ups, sit-ups, sprint short distances, jog long distances, jump over walls, crawl under barbed wire and the obstacles and tasks seemed endless. Finally, when I thought I could take no more, basic physical training stopped and I was instructed in unarmed hand-to-hand combat. I was covered in cuts and bruises by the end of the day and slept extremely well that night.
This combat training continued for a few days and I gained confidence in my own fighting skills, and in the art of self-defence. As a school student, I did Karate, Judo, Kendo (with bamboo swords) and Kyudo (with wooden arrows), along with many of my classmates; but this was full-contact, martial arts training, and it was a gruelling experience that I will never forget. I find it amusing to think of the Japanese government giving free military training to a Yakuza boss, but life is stranger than fiction - a fact of which I am only starting to become aware.
I know that the skills and training I received during that time would be put to good use later back on the streets, when I returned to my Yakuza clan and resumed my duties as their ‘kobun’. Lastly I had to do some academic training – mostly geography (especially in the Pacific region and that of South East Asia), but also some rudimentary history and culture. I was also given some standard navigation training to finish off my studies there.
Truk (also known as Chuuk Island, or originally the Chuuk Estate) is a group of South Pacific islands that have belonged to Japan since the end of the First World War. It was Japan’s Central Pacific fleet anchorage. Truk itself is made up of fourteen volcanic islands, and numerous small islets, all protected within Truk Lagoon - a body of water about sixty-five kilometres# wide, its perimeter a wall of coral reef forming a protective barrier around it. On the ship I was given some reading material on Truk, which I read before our arrival there. Truk has quite a colorful history.
The islands of Truk are situated in the Caroline Islands, half way between Palau and the Marshall Islands, and above New Guinea. Like many other islands and countries in the Pacific Ocean, the Spanish had colonized and controlled Truk, which was mostly inhabited by people of Polynesian descent. However following the Spanish-American war in 1890, the Spanish sold the islands to the Germans. Germany’s defeat in 1918 saw the islands mandated to Japan by the League of Nations. Since that time Japan had built up its arms and bases on Truk, especially on the main island of Dublon. That was our destination on Truk. We sailed through the North East Pass into the lagoon, past the larger island of Weno, and into port at Dublon. Upon our arrival the massive warship that we were accompanying, the Musashi, immediately assumed the role of Flagship - until the mammoth battleship the Yamato arrived on August 23rd.
Standing on the shore of Dublon, I watched with awe as the battleship Yamato arrived at Truk and anchored near the Musashi. I was amazed that we would be accompanying these massive warships around South East Asia and the Pacific Islands. They both appeared identical in size. I heard from some of the sailors that the two ships had a top speed of twenty-eight knots, and a displacement of sixty thousand tons! They were real behemoths! Both ships had three metal towers rising from the deck, the first and largest being the conning tower (the armoured pilot-house), and both seemed almost cluttered with large armaments; most prominent were the four sets of huge gun turrets, three on the bow and one on the stern. To look at them simply took my breath away. Not being an engineer or a university-educated man, I couldn’t fathom how they floated at all, being so heavy. However their very presence made me feel safe and secure while on my trip.
Joshua realized that he had to know more about the history of the two warships, if he were to discover the full story behind Hideki’s adventures on the Pacific Ocean, and which countries he had visited. Still, there would be time for that later.