In 2015, journalist Hiroyuki Ota wrote a serial for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper called Following Space Battleship Yamato, in which he examined the unique cultural aspects of the anime. In November 2018, he returned to the subject for a deeper dive that explored the attitudes and principle figures of the Imperial Japanese Navy that informed the storytelling of the first Yamato series.
Through special arrangement with Mr. Ota, we present this 10-part serial in full. Settle in for a fascinating read.
1: The battleship that carries the suffering of defeat
In the 73 years since the war, the stories of Battleship Yamato and Space Battleship Yamato are still not complete. Yamato’s sister ship Musashi was found on the sea floor off the Phillipines, scattered into more pieces than Yamato. The Imperial Japanese Navy’s Battleship Yamato, which sleeps off Kyushu and Cape Bono was re-examined by unmanned submersibles in 2016. The anime Space Battleship Yamato debuted in 1974, and its current remake Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love is airing on TV.
Takashi Yamazaki (54), director of the live-action Yamato movie (2010), comments thus: “Battleship Yamato is overwhelming. For the Japanese people, there is no greater icon of the Pacific War than Yamato. In Space Battleship Yamato, there is a deep-seated grudge about IJN Yamato, and the desire for a dream that could not be fulfilled.”
Both Yamatos are also special to me. I once “followed” Battleship Yamato and Space Battleship Yamato in independent serials. (Published in 2014 and 2015. See the latter here.) Of course, the story of IJN Yamato is based on historical reality and the story of Space Battleship Yamato is just fiction. But these words from novelist Haruki Murakami (69) catch my heart:
“The principle of non-fiction is to fictionalize reality, and the principle of fiction is to create reality.”
Battleship Yamato was just one of the weapons used in the previous war, but we absolutely regard it as something special, with a “life” of tragedy. It summarizes the story of the war and brings together Japan’s destiny.
On the other hand, as Yamazaki points out, the “story of Space Battleship Yamato” is not completely fictional; it is influenced by the reality shouldered by IJN Yamato, and has points of contact with that reality.
In the words of writer Akira Yoshimura, who wrote many novels on the subject of the Pacific War such as Battleship Musashi, “That war was the greatest historical event for the island nation of Japan.”
At the time, the majority of Japanese believed their defeat meant the collapse of the “story of the Great Japanese Empire.” There was simultaneously a deep experience of “loss” and “liberation.” We have not yet completely recovered from the pain. With Space Battleship Yamato, there is an imaginative aspect that heals the pain by spinning the story of IJN Yamato’s loss.
At the core of the “story of Yamato” there is the figure of Captain Juzo Okita. For me, Okita serves as a “compass of life.” As the images of both Yamatos overlap, you can catch a glimpse of various real soldiers in Okita.
Tsuyoshi Matsumoto was the father of Leiji Matsumoto (80), an artist on the main staff of Space Battleship Yamato. Along with fleet admirals Hiehachiro Togo and Isoroku Yamamoto, and Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki, how did the reality of their fate find its way through the narrative intersection from IJN Yamato to Space Battleship Yamato? I want to think about how the story affects reality.
2: How we could fight an overwhelming enemy?
The TV broadcast of Space Battleship Yamato began in October 1974, starting with a scene of the Earth Defense Fleet challenging an enemy alien fleet in a desperate battle. However, the difference in resources, performance, and weapons on both sides was overwhelming, leading toward a crisis of extinction. Leading the Earth fleet, a wounded Juzo Okita mutters, “We can’t win against them with these ships!”
According to the IJN Battleship Yamato battle detail report of April 1945, the ship was committed to a suicide attack at Okinawa. It included the following description of the US aircraft group that attacked and sank her:
“The bulletproof equipment of the enemy aircraft is almost perfect. Many enemy planes began to burn from our gunfire, but the flames were soon extinguished and they did not crash.”
“The cooperation of enemy aircraft was excellent. They attacked Yamato from different positions. And once they hit some areas of Yamato, they concentrated bombing at those weak points.”
When observed objectively, any regret over the difference of power begins to blur.
In Space Battleship Yamato, Okita reluctantly issues an order to retreat, but his subordinate Mamoru Kodai of Yukikaze refuses to obey. He says, “I hate that. If I run from this, I can never show my face to those who died. If I’m a man, a man fights to the end. Shouldn’t we take as many enemies with us as we can?”
Okita tries desperately to persuade him, but cannot manage it. Kodai’s ship is enveloped in flames after taking barrage after barrage from enemy ships.
However, these words of Kodai, who does not respect his own life, were changed in Star Blazers, the dubbed edition for the US that was broadcast five years later.
“It’s a simple problem of mathematics. There are 470 people on your ship, and only 20 on ours. We’ll cover your escape and we’ll see you on Earth.”
Even in the live-action and remake versions produced in Japan after 2010, this scene played like the dubbed version, changing Kodai’s words to “self-sacrifice” and making him a shield for Okita’s ship to escape. I suppose the creators of these subsequent works thought they couldn’t make Kodai’s original behavior convincing.
Animator Tim Eldred (53) who runs a Yamato/Star Blazers fan site in the US says, “I sympathize more toward Star Blazers. The original version of Mamoru Kodai sacrificed his men and his ship for his own personal pride and honor.”
However, the original version of Kodai was the prototypical suicide story that reflected the reality of war.
In September 1944, Tsuyoshi Matsumoto, a major in the Army Air Corps and the father of staff member Leiji Matsumoto (80), experienced this on Negros Island in the Phillipines. He couldn’t stop his reckless subordinates from engaging in bloody battles, and he let many young men die…which closely resembles what Okita experienced in Yamato.
3: The suffering of a father who let his men die in a desperate fight
Leiji Matsumoto’s father Tsuyoshi was a pilot in the Army Air Corps. In 1944, as signs of Japan’s defeat seemed more certain, he was appointed as chief of the 32nd Training Squadron and went to Negros Island in the Phillipines.
Why did a unit that was responsible for the development of fighter pilots dare to train at the front, within a stone’s throw of the enemy? According to the records of the 4th Air Force to which this corps belonged, it was “to strengthen the front-line forces.” But this optimistic prospect forced young people into blood sacrifice.
On September 12-14 of that year, the Japanese army and navy in the Phillipines suffered greatly under an air raid by 2,057 US military aircraft with losses of 30-40% of their equipment.
According to Japanese Army Fighter Corps, edited by aerial warfare historian Yasuho Izawa, the 32nd Training Squadron responded with 22 Type-97 fightercraft in September, and 12 were shot down immediately. In a telegram of the 4th Air Force dated on the 16th, it was reported that the squadron committed 12 suicide attacks that did not return.
Tsuyoshi Matsumoto told his son Leiji about his memories of that day, giving the following order before going to a meeting: “Men, your skills are not yet high enough, so even if an enemy plane comes, you must not attack. The siren rang out and they began to take off steadily. I tore after them on my motorcycle, but I couldn’t make it in time. About two-thirds of them were shot down.” He said that he regretted this for the rest of his life.
The old-fashioned aircraft these men flew into battle were usually used as training machines. The US military’s F6F fighters they faced had engines with more than double the output and triple the number of machine guns. The records and testimony that emerged from the 32nd Training Squadron’s battle have a lot in common with the opening battle in Yamato. The difference in power on both sides was overwhelming. A young man who took on a reckless fight could not be stopped by his commanding officer. At first glance, it seems unreasonable and unacceptable in the original Yamato, but it reflects the reality of the battlefield more than the live-action or remake versions.
After the war, many former pilots were re-employed in the Air Self-Defense Forces and in private airline companies. Tsuyoshi Matsumoto suffered through extreme poverty, supporting his family by making charcoal and working as a grocer. Leiji’s younger brother Susumu said, “In order to atone for the intense feelings of those who died under my father, I never boarded an airplane again.”
Bereaved family members visited the Matsumoto family to ask, “Why did you come back without my son?” to which Tsuyoshi could only lower his head and say, “I’m sorry.” Even in the story of Yamato, Okita murmers “I’m sorry” to Mamoru Kodai’s brother Susumu, his eyes cast downward.
I think one reason young viewers had a fondness for Okita, including me, was because he carried such regret. “I let those pure young men die in a reckless fight.” At the time of the broadcast, people who had lost their subordinates and colleagues in the battlefield were still active. They rose from this, and it’s possible that Okita embodied the “Japanese regret” that children received subconsciously.
4: Admiral Togo who became “the Hero of a Fantasy”
Last time I wrote about Space Battleship Yamato captain Juzo Okita as one who shouldered his regret for “letting pure young people die in a reckless fight.” But Okita wouldn’t appeal to us for that alone. He was also the hero who broke through the enemy with bold commands and saved Earth.
Okita’s calm and silent disposition, along with his white beard, is reminiscent of Heihachiro Togo, who served as commander of the combined fleet in the Russo-Japanese War. Whereas Okita endures a realistic war despite being a fictional character, Togo is a real soldier and “the main character of the story.”
Togo’s story centers around May 1905 in the Battle of the Tsushima. In the face of the enemy fleet, Togo ordered a “fearless 180-degree turn.” It was devised by Saneyuki Akiyama, an excellent staff officer, a fleet movement of “Crossing the T” in which concentrated allied fire showered the enemy Russian fleet. It was said to have saved Japan. In Clouds on the Slope, author Ryotaro Shiba praised Togo’s command at the beginning of this battle as “Almost infallible.”
However, recent research has revealed that this diverges from the real story of Togo and the Battle of the Tsushima.
Tsutomu Nakagawa (86), who has studied the naval history of each country for many years, analyzed the movements of both the Russian and Japanese fleets in the battle and concluded, “The military situation developed into something else, far from the T-crossing tactics of Togo.”
Just after the turn, the Japanese fleet achieved an overwhelming advantage without “Crossing the T,” since both sides navigated in the same direction and the gunfire transitioned to “parallel warfare.” Rather than Togo’s brilliant commands, it became a “battle of brute force” that Japan won since their precision shooting and the performance of their artillery exceeded that of Russia.
Togo took a risk by turning in the face of the enemy, but as Nakagawa observes, “The goal was not “Crossing the T” but to prevent the enemy from escaping even if it meant sacrificing allies.”
Furthermore, Kazushige Todaka (70), director of the Battleship Yamato Museum in Kure City, reviewed the history of 110 naval battles in The Top Secret Imperial Japanese Navy Battle History of Russo-Japanese War and clarified that Togo and others adopted unprecedented new tactics immediately before the battle.
The destroyer Akatsuki, which the nation of Japan had captured from Russia, was disguised to be indistinguishable from Russian warships, and was equipped with mines tied by ropes. It was to be secretly placed in the path of the Russian fleet in a clever plan to strike the enemy fleet and disrupt their formation. On the day of the battle, the waves were too high and this apparent “surprise attack” tactic was canceled.
Nevertheless, the image of Togo as a “godlike hero” emerged from this reality instead of a “stubborn realist willing to win without regard for appearance.” Why is the “Togo of legend” so far from the real Togo?
In fact, the “original author” of the story about Togo was Navy Lieutenant-General Naganari Ogasawara, said to be the “literary admiral.” Ogasawara was very close to Togo, and virtually monopolized the role of telling Togo’s story to the outside world.
5: The man who elevated Admiral Togo to a God
On June 30, 1905, about a month after the Battle of Tsushima, an account was published in the Asahi Newspaper. The article explained “The T-crossing tactics of General Togo” and was based on a lecture delivered in Tokyo on the previous day by Navy Commander Naganari Ogasawara, who was in charge of public relations for Imperial Headquarters. Many researchers believe it became the starting point for the notion of “Crossing the T” to spread as the cause of victory.
On the other hand, details of the actual battle were published in the navy’s formal history of the war, for which Ogasawara served as the de facto editor-in-chief, and there is no description of “Crossing the T.” While Ogasawara knew that this tactic was not actually used, it is suggested that describing it was “an acceptable explanation for the general public.”
According to Hiromi Tanaka (75), Professor Emeritus of the National Defense Academy, Ogasawara was blessed with literary talents and played a central role in editing the official history of the Russo-Japanese War. On the other hand, I was involved in the editing of Heroes of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Russo-Japanese War, which was sourced from many impressive stories told by naval soldiers in the war.
In 1914, when Togo took office as the president of the University of Tokyo and became the educator of Crown Prince [and future emperor] Hirohito, Ogasawara became the secretary of the school and had a close relationship with Togo thereafter. He played the role of Togo’s spokesman to the outside world and also wrote Togo’s first biography.
The international situation became increasingly unstable in the early Showa period, and the Manchurian Incident also occurred. A heightened sense of national defense awareness emerged from the “Russo-Japanese War Boom.” After his promotion, Ogasawara took on a role in the reserves, writing dozens of war accounts. Destruction, his account of the Battle of Tsushima, became a million seller and made its “main character” Togo into a national hero.
Destruction contains the following passage: “Admiral Togo’s insight is Godlike. His predictions always come true.” But he was not an “infallible man.” Before the Battle of Tsushima, the real Togo fought in the Battle of the Yellow Sea and his judgment caused him to nearly miss the enemy. While Ogasawara knew of this, there is no doubt that the power of his pen deleted it from the “story of Togo.”
In May 1929, 20,000 children gathered in Hibiya Park to inaugurate the Boy’s Togo Association. Togo was there to participate in the ceremony, and Ogasawara was seen at his side. Just after Togo died in 1934, the Togo Shrine was created in 1940. At Ogasawara’s appeal, the Togo Temple was erected at the same time. Through Ogasawara’s efforts, Togo became a “God.”
Tanaka observes, “The majority of the soldiers who participated in the Pacific War were convinced of Japan’s victory like that of the Russo-Japanese War. The image of Togo nurtured by Ogasawara was the origin of that confidence.”
Just as I idolized Captain Juzo Okita of Space Battleship Yamato, countless other young people adored the image of Togo created by Ogasawara. They grew up and went to the battlefield. Some of them might have been Tsuyoshi Matsumoto’s subordinates, who challenged US military planes in a reckless fight.
Human beings are not moved merely by the enumeration of facts. In order to motivate people, “a story that moves the emotions” is required.
6: The Curse of “Decisive Fleet Battle”
It was not only civilians who were intoxicated with the Battle of Tsushima as a story of victory with Heihachiro Togo as the “main character.” People in the Japanese Navy were also spellbound by their victory.
After the Russo-Japanese War, the navy considered the USA a hypothetical enemy. In order to intercept a US fleet that advanced toward Japan’s waters and destroy it in a “decisive fleet battle,” the navy consistently intended to reproduce the naval battle at Tsushima and firmly maintain it as the “Imperial national defense policy.”
Whether or not an enemy would engage in a decisive fleet battle in a real war was unknown, but the navy continued believing in this “story.”
The “main character” in this story was the Battleship Yamato and its sister ship Musashi. Aircraft such as the Zero fighter would have a supporting role to offset the enemy forces prior to a decisive battle, then the mighty guns of Yamato and Musashi would determine victory or defeat.
Yamato and the Zero fighter had something in common: both were based on the idea of “out-range” to win, using pre-emptive attacks from a distance that enemy weapons could not reach. Yamato’s main guns had a maximum range of 42 km, more than that of a US battleship at that time. The flying range of the Zero was over 2,000 km, which greatly exceeded the global standard. Assault craft and bombers also took pride in their “footprint length” over enemy ships.
In addition, the Japanese Navy’s torpedo had a range of 32 km, more than double that of its western counterpart. Practical use was made of the “oxygen torpedo.” In a decisive fleet battle, the plan was to launch hundreds of torpedoes at cruisers and destroyers from long distance.
“Out-range” was the secret decisive fleet battle strategy of the Japanese Navy, which was numerically inferior to the US Navy. How did it work in actual battle?
Yamato’s main guns attacked enemy ships in 1944, in the Battle off Samar. According to naval war historian Katsuhiro Hara (76) not one of more than 100 shots hit their target. The planes sacrificed their ballistic performance in exchange for long range distance.
An authentic “out-range strategy” was used was in the Battle of Mariana when US aircraft, detecting the approach of Japanese planes, where ambushed and mostly shot down.
In practice, the oxygen torpedo seldom struck a target unless it was launched from within 10 km. Ships filled with torpedoes were easy to detonate when hit, and they sank one after another.
The out-range strategy was nothing but a fantasy.
Tsutomo Nakagawa (86), who has studied the navy of each country, says, “The Japanese Navy was very unique among the world’s naval forces.” To some extent, other navies had developed and equipped themselves with versatile weapons, but the Japanese Navy specialized in decisive fleet battle, becoming a rigid military with weapons that only “emphasized offensive power and neglected defensive measures.” They were incapable of coping with the unexpected assumption that “no decisive fleet battle would ever happen.”
The navy fell into a lack of reality, insisting “we do not doubt the convenience of the story we presume” and “we believe we can attack an opponent unilaterally without hurting ourselves.”
However, not all navy men lost sight of reality. One of the few exceptions at the outbreak of the war was Commander of the Combined Fleet Isoroku Yamamoto.
7: Realist naval officers surrendered to their fantasy-addicted colleagues
How do you fight against an enemy with an overwhelming difference of power? This problem was faced by both Captain Juzo Okita of Space Battleship Yamato and Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander of the Combined IJN Fleet.
In Space Battleship Yamato, the story seemed to develop from “the higher technology of aliens.” On the other hand, in prewar Japan, there was a choice based on the realism of “avoiding a fight against the overwhelming strength of the United States.”
Tomosaburo Kato, who assisted Heihachiro Togo in the Russo-Japanese War, was a chief delegate to the Washington Disarmament Conference of 1921. His close friend Teikichi Hori, who attended the naval academy at the same time as Yamamoto, said the following:
“National defense is not the property of the military, and wars cannot be fought by soldiers alone. Where will we get the money for war against the United States? A US-Japan war is impossible.”
Tomosaburo agreed to a disarmament plan that reduced Japan’s capital ships to a ratio of 60% that of the US. On the other hand, his subordinate Hiroharu Kato insisted that “70% is necessary to oppose the US.” But he shed tears when “60% of the US” was decided upon, and shouted “War with the United States began today!”
Now that the difference in power with the US was overwhelming, and even if some adverse conditions imposed by the disarmament treaty could be tolerated, there was no way to avoid a war through diplomatic efforts. That was the realism confronted by Tomosaburo and other naval leaders in the government at the time.
But Hiroharu did not forgive the US. Even within the navy, resentment toward the US and leaders of the Japanese Navy welled up from the actual combat troops. The root of their grievance was, “The Japanese Navy, which won the Russo-Japanese War, should be equal to the US naval forces.” This sense of humiliation over injured pride disregarded the reality of a difference in national power. And a “secret strategy to beat the overwhelming enemy, the United States” was a story that would never be realized as a “victory through decisive fleet battle.”
When one’s bloated narcissism becomes detached from an acceptance of reality, human thought loses flexibility and becomes rigid. A “story” may be accepted that turns inward and diverges from reality.
In 1929, Hiroharu was appointed as general manager of naval operations. At the following year’s London Naval Treaty, he asked for Heihachiro Togo’s help and strongly argued again for “70% of the US.” A compromise regarding support ships did not win him over.
From 1933-34, Hiroharu forced into retirement the naval executives who had insisted on arms limitations. Yamamoto’s best friend Teikichi Hori was one of them. Admiral Togo and King Hiroyasu Hushiminomiya used their great political powers to realize Hiroharu’s goal. (King Hushiminomiya was a relative of Emperor Hirohito who fought in the Russo-Japanese War as a naval officer and had a strong influence on the Imperial Japanese Navy.)
Haruaki Deguchi (70), president of the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, points out that “As organizations look inward without considering reality, peoples’ perspective narrows, and they try to promote homogeneity by eliminating those with differing opinions. As a result, diversity is lost and the divergence from reality increases.”
Isoroku Yamamoto, who attended the London Naval Treaty as a representative, stated the following in a letter: “I’m very worried about the future of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The navy’s arrogance will soon destroy itself. We will only be able to rebuild it after that.”
War between Japan and the US began in December 1941. Yamamoto, who had been opposed to war, proposed a strategy to compete with an overwhelming enemy, a denial of the decisive fleet battle story. It was the “Pearl Harbor Attack.”
8: The annoyance of Admiral Yamamoto as “the lone realist in the navy”
In late May 1942, just prior to embarking on Operation Midway on the Battleship Yamato, Combined Fleet Commander Isoroku Yamamoto wrote the following to his mistress: “For the sake of the nation, I devote myself to this last service. Beyond that, I want the two of us to escape the world and abandon everything. I will command the entire army at sea for about three weeks. I don’t think it will be very interesting.” He was a font of backhanded statements before his mission.
Just before the war, Yamamoto wrote the following to Minister of Navy:
“I do not have enough talent to conduct this large fleet.”
“I would retire with pleasure if someone could replace me.”
Why was he so reluctant?
Yamamoto assumed command of the navy at the beginning of 1941 and pointed out the possibility that “decisive fleet battle” would not take place in a real war. At the beginning of the war, he proposed a plan to hit the US fleet with an air strike at its home port in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
It was a strategy to overturn the sensibilities of the Japanese Navy, according to war historian Katsuhiro Hara (76). Before the war, US Navy Hawaii air force commanders and others said that an attack on Pearl Harbor was “the best action plan that could be initiated by Japan.” This correctly predicted the actual strategy, but the upper echelon was not listening.
The United States had decrypted Japanese codes, but was unable to pinpoint their target’s location. It was grasped that the Japanese military was preparing for a pre-emptive strike on December 7 United States time, but a warning to Pearl Harbor was delayed by human error.
The success of the Pearl Harbor attack was a victory on thin ice, supported by a number of accidents. The lack of good luck was soon proven in the defeat at Midway.
Yamamoto was a realist who could escape the “seduction of a decisive fleet battle,” which is why he continued to oppose war against the United States. By dealing a great physical and psychological blow to the overwhelming enemy of the US at Pearl Harbor, he tried to carve out a slight possibility for victory.
However, the position of the Naval General Staff that led the strategy plan declared it as “an auxiliary strategy to reduce the enemy’s forces in order to advance toward a favorable decisive fleet battle.”
The purpose of Yamamoto’s Pearl Harbor strategy was to decide victory or defeat on the first day, which watered down the entire navy’s fantasy story of a “decisive fleet battle” before it could be implemented. Even in terms of actual combat, the attack on Pearl Harbor was not thorough. Since the majority of the organization had lost its sense of reality, it was impossible for a commanding officer to get through to them.
Yamamoto did not aggressively explain his strategic intention, and often couldn’t even describe it to his immediate subordinates. There was no use in talking about it, which gives us a glimpse into his resignation. As the lone realist, Yamamoto continually tasted the suffering of battle while convinced of a final defeat. This may be what motivated his backhanded statements.
Yamamoto was killed in 1943, in an aircraft on its way to a frontline inspection. His successor Koga Minekazu died in an airplane accident in 1944 after continuing to pursue “decisive fleet battle” in vain. The navy suffered crushing defeats at the Battle of Mariana and the Battle of Leyte, and the allied fleet was effectively destroyed.
Without the Battleship Yamato and the navy, only aircraft were left.
9: Captain Okita, who brought hope to a desperate world
“If I’m a man, a man fights to the end. Shouldn’t we take as many enemies with us as we can?”
At the beginning of Space Battleship Yamato, Mamoru Kodai plunges his space destroyer into the overwhelming enemy fleet with those words. I mentioned that in the second part of this series, but I noticed something else about it.
It’s the phrase, “If I’m a man.” If you replace that with “If I’m Japanese,” it may have expressed the desire of Japan at the end of the war, a slogan for “100 million honorable deaths” or “100 million suicide attacks.”
Just before Battleship Yamato plowed into the waters of Okinawa on its suicide mission, Commander Seiishi Ito said the words, “I want to be the herald of 100 million suicide attacks.” In those days, the suicide attack mission of Yamato symbolized the Japanese. It was a despair that said, “I have no choice but to fight and die against the overwhelming enemy the United States.” The beginning of Space Battleship Yamato exactly inherits this sense of despair.
Battleship Yamato, which sank into the seabed, is revived as Space Battleship Yamato, but that alone isn’t enough. A person was needed to take the despair shouldered by the Battleship Yamato and turn it into hope. This was Yamato’s captain, Juzo Okita.
While staring at the Earth, which was burnt to a deep red by enemy bombing, he mutters, “As long as I live, I will fight. I will never despair. Even if I am the last one left, I will not despair.” The old soldiers who fought like Okita said the same.
“The person who believes that and remains calm could find the one possibility in ten thousand.”
Seizing on the hope of saving Earth, Okita talks about his determination for the distant journey.
“148,000 light years is hopelessly distant…but if the Wave Engine works perfectly, we can go there. I will definitely go! I will go and I will return!”
From the time I was a boy until now, no other words have given me so much power.
Director Hideaki Anno (58), whose work includes Shin Godzilla, says that his life was greatly influenced by Yamato.
“To turn despair into hope, you need an adult who can give you reality. An adult is a person who has the ability and responsibility for a given role, and can make a decision. Okita is one of them.”
The Imperial Japanese Navy ordered Yamato on a suicide attack to turn the whole history of the navy into an honorable legend. Kazushige Todaka (70), the director of the Battleship Yamato Museum, severely criticizes this: “The navy at that time was focused on protecting the glory of its own organization, and the state was of secondary importance.”
The navy no longer devoted itself to “protecting the country.” If it had neither the ability nor responsibility worthy of the role, it could no longer make proper decisions. Was there no one like Okita, an adult who could “turn despair into hope”?
In my opinion, there was at least one person. This was a naval officer who fought in the Russo-Japanese War and served as prime minister at the time of defeat: Kantaro Suzuki.
10: Like Captain Okita, Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki was free from “fantasy”
Battleship Yamato’s suicide mission in Okinawa is said to have been triggered by the word of Emperor Showa. In late March 1945, Naval Minister Koshiro Oikawa told him about the navy’s strategy in Okinawa, a “fierce suicide operation with aircraft.”
The emperor asked, “Are there no more ships in the navy? Don’t we have any naval forces?”
Fearing those words, the heads of the navy shuddered and said they were planning a “Maritime suicide operation” with Battleship Yamato as the main force.
There was no room for excuses when they guessed at the purpose of the emperor’s question, and they forced their subordinates into suicide. They also felt the influence of the Emperor over the people in those days. With “100 million suicide attacks” at its core, the military thought, “If the emperor-centered national constitution collapses, it is better for the nation of Japan itself to perish.”
On the other hand, the Emperor respected the spirit of the Meiji Constitution not to govern, and avoided giving direct instructions.
Prime minister and former navy man Kantaro Suzuki brokered Holy Decision, the emperor’s instructions for ending the war, opening the way to a peaceful defeat. How could Prime Minister Suzuki realize the direct decision of Emperor Hirohito to surrender? In the Empire of Japan, the Emperor was prohibited to show his own will or make direct decisions. Because the Emperor was thought to be sacred, he did not become involved in real political affairs.
Actor Tsutomu Yamazaki (81), who played the part of Suzuki in The Emperor in August (2015) said, “It was a difficult role, but in the end I arrived at ‘the power of an old man.’ An old man nearing death does not dwell on the assertion of power and principle. Suzuki was once a thriving military soldier, but he lost his power as he got old. He saw the energetic world differently.”
“After abandoning his deep attachment to the emperor and his human relationship with War Minister Korechika Anami, he attached himself to the Japanese people. I think he was freed from the national constitution.”
Yamazaki also played Captain Okita in the live-action Space Battleship Yamato movie. “Okita grew old, too, and became freed of various things. His love was deepened for those who would go on living.”
The foundations of both Suzuki and Okita were that they were both detached from the “story” and the beliefs of the organizations to which they belonged. You could say they gained “the freedom to relativize.” On the other hand, Heihachiro Togo, the hero of the Battle of Tsushima, thrust a spear into the disarmament issue, and as a result the navy got caught up in its own “inward story.”
How did these two soldiers, Suzuki and Togo, differ in their old age?
In his later years, Suzuki loved to read Lao Tzu, which contained a strict passage for soldiers: Weapons are ominous tools. They are not the noble ruler’s tools…Victory should not be praised. Those who praise victory relish manslaughter.
Meanwhile, Okita continued holding onto his regret for letting his subordinates die in war.
One must be aware of the limits and negative aspects of their work, or that of the organization to which you belong, to have an opportunity for self-doubt. Isn’t this necessary to be free of inward stories?
Togo was was set up by the navy as the “main character” in a story of victory that affirmed the organization, making it difficult to doubt both the organization and himself.
Suzuki died in 1948 at 80 years old. His last words were “Eternal peace, eternal peace.”