|71 years ago the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.|
Here is one Japanese soldier’s recollections of that time in history.
Recollections Of Hiroshima.
(as told to Edith Morris in 1998)
“On a calm summer morning we heard the siren screaming that the American bombing had started.
I made the mistake of being one of the first Japanese soldiers to run
to the underground air-raid shelter. Within minutes I thought I was
going to choke to death from the dust stirred up by hundreds of
soldiers pressing into the dark cave. The smell of bodies, foul air,
and fear filled my lungs to bursting point as we waited for the all
clear call so we could pour out into the bright sun and fresh air
Kentaro Kubo has a far away look in his eyes as he relives the war more
than 50 years ago. The old soldier continued.
“So when the next alarm sent the men running underground in panic I
didn’t run with them. The thought of being almost buried alive filled
me with horror. Instead, in an act of defiance, a fellow soldier and I
hid on a small hill behind our barracks near Kure naval base. We were
determined to see this enemy who kept us running underground.”
Four American P51 Mustang fighter planes flew over the brow of the hill
straight towards him. The last one veered from the group and shot a
Japanese plane to the ground. As it burst into flames Kentaro looked up
at the American plane and was sure it was his time to die. To this day
it remains one of his most vivid memories of the war.
Little did he realise then that the bombing of Kure Naval Base by
American and British aircraft which took place on the last days of July
1945 was a prelude to the most destructive bomb imaginable would
explode in the valley below only 20 miles away.
“I am now 70 years old and the years since that incident have been
God’s gift of life to me, when I realise I could have died as a
17-year-old on that hillside. It was the closest I came to death.”
Kentaro Kubo was born into a Shinto family in 1928 in Fukuoka
Prefecture, Southern Japan. His father was a scholarly man, a teacher
who taught him the precepts of classic Confucianism. His mother, like
most Japanese mothers at the time, was proud that her only son joined
the military. Indeed he was fighting a Holy War for the Emperor,
obeying the command of a living god. Citizens who were against the
second world war were imprisoned and silenced.
Kentaro was only 16 years old when he volunteered. His unit was made up
of many young friends and neighbours from his village. He trained and
studied in the Air Force for almost two years being moved around
several bases in the southern part of Japan. There he saw many suicide
seaplanes with bombs attached to their wings and watched the pilots do
their training. One of his unit’s duties was to dig a wide trench from
the beach to further inland to hide these suicide seaplanes. Eventually
he was transferred to the motor boat division of the Imperial Japanese
This division had the impressive title “Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kogekitai”
(Suicide Special Attack Force) and was the counter-part of the kamikaze
suicide planes. Small boats, which were poorly constructed, were
powered by two Mitsubishi truck engines. Two bombs were mounted on each
side of these flimsy crafts and one or two riders manned the boat on
its suicide mission. The target was to hit large warships with
torpedo-like explosives. It was a one way ride, a suicide ride, a
In the waters around the Philippines these suicide boats were used
successfully in surprise attacks against the enemy. The little boats
and their youthful riders could hide behind rocks and islands at night,
sheltered from sight of the huge US ships. When the bomb boats hit
their marks, the riders blew up with them. But by the time the US
military had taken Okinawa sometime later, they knew to surround their
large war ships with their own small vessels for protection against the
sneaky Japanese suicide crafts.
Soldier Kubo proudly volunteered as a suicide rider. While he waited
for the construction of these boats at Kure base near Hiroshima, he
spent his time studying wireless and morse code, pistol shooting, gun
practice and athletic fitness. He and his unit were separated from the
other soldiers. They were the elite, the ones willing to die in suicide
missions. They would then become gods and their ashes enshrined in the
ancient Yasukuni Shrine close to the Emperor’s castle in Tokyo. Then
the entire nation would come and worship them. Most soldiers were eager
and willing to volunteer as riders and those special ones chosen were
Being isolated from the regular soldiers on the base, the suicide
soldiers were given better food, exempt from the menial task of
gardening, denied entertainment and the pleasures of life which might
increase their desire to live. They were preparing themselves to die.
Each soldier was given a harakiri sword to kill himself if his mission
failed or he was shamefully captured by the enemy. Kentaro believed
that since ancient times Samurai warriors had swords. Now he had one he
felt like a mighty Samurai, a warrior, proud to fight in his country’s
religious war. He was a 17-year-old boy soldier.
Kentaro Kubo still has his sword today. (1998)
Decades later, now a stately old gentleman, he was asked about the most
painful subject: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. A flicker of
hesitation came over his square, plain face and he rubbed his forehead
as if trying to erase a bad memory. The Kure naval base was close to
Hiroshima where he trained and he recalled the day before the bombing.
“It was a hot, humid, mid-summer August day and I took a stroll through
the military complex. I noticed some men erecting a stage for evening
entertainment and thought it would be good to attend. But my unit was
forbidden such frivolity least it weaken our resolve to die for the
Emperor and country.”
The next sultry day he went to the entertainment barrack again and
asked if they all enjoyed the previous evenings show. “No” was the
reply. The entertainers didn’t arrive because a huge bomb was dropped
on Hiroshima, just beyond the Kurashiki hills of his camp. One of the
soldiers from his unit went to look over the city of Hiroshima from a
distance. He found a paper sign on a primary school building. It had
disintegrated and the black ink lettering had turned to a white powder.
Was this caused by an atomic bomb?
Within a week of the devastating bombing, the barracks were emptied of
the hundreds of soldiers. Kentaro Kubo returned to his home-town on the
southern island of Kyushu by open baggage train. From that train he
could see Hiroshima was in ruins, flattened, it looked like a desert.
The concrete train station at Hiroshima had been pulverised into sand.
He didn’t know if it was radio-active or not. He travelled down war
torn Japan to his own village, to the burnt out home of his parents.
All had been destroyed by American forces a week earlier. How would he
start his new life?
“Just after the end of the war we heard the quivering voice of our
revered Emperor for the first time.” Mr Kubo continued his painful
memories. “To us Japanese, he was a living god and his voice had never
been heard by the masses before. The radio connection was not good,
faint and full of static, but one sentence I heard …. ‘we have
He ran his hands through his thick silver hair, slightly puzzled by the
story he was relating. He sat in silence for a long time.
After the end of the war, he attended teacher’s training school and was
part of a discussion group of 40 or 50 young men.
Most of these men were former soldiers, some from his own unit. One by
one they became Christians. So did Mr Kubo. It happened while he was
teaching at a Junior High School that he met a Norwegian missionary who
told him about Christianity.
So he then changed the direction of his career and studied at the Kobe
Lutheran Bible Institute. After graduating as a Lutheran Pastor, Rev
Kubo spent many fruitful year in various churches in central Japan. Now
in semi-retirement, he and his wife are actively engaged in senior
Pastoral care at the the Good Samaritan Church in Park Town, Kawanishi
Over the years the war has became a distant memory but on the
anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki every August, he
recalls how his life was spared and he never become a suicide craft
rider. Instead Rev Kubo has live his life at peace with God, and
bringing that peace to others.
In 1998, while I was living in Kawanishi, I asked Rev Kubo if I could
interview him about his war-time experiences. He kindly agreed. This is
his story written up from notes which were interpreted to me at that
Now in 2016 in Hamilton, New Zealand, I am looking again at this story
on the eve of the 71st Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I offer it as one man’s recollections of these events which still
linger through the decades.
Copyright © 2016 Edith Morris