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Senkan Yamato ga shizunda hi (Day that Battleship Yamato Sank)
by Hidehiko Nakagawa
Bokkasha, 2005, 117 pages

Battleship Yamato, escorted by one light cruiser and eight destroyers, went on a suicide mission from mainland Japan toward Okinawa on April 7, 1945. Overwhelming American air power sank the world's largest battleship, earlier thought to be unsinkable, in about two hours after several bombs and torpedoes struck the ship. The Yamato crew numbered 3,007, but only 276 men survived the attack as escorting destroyers picked them up from the oil-covered water. Yasuo Yasugi, who served aboard Yamato on the battleship's final mission, tells about his wartime experiences in this book for upper elementary school students. Hidehiko Nakagawa wrote this children's book based on stories told by Yasugi, who presents his experiences in an even-handed manner that does not defend or criticize the war.

Yasugi's parents worked as tofu makers in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, where he got up early each morning to help his parents. As a child, he loved music, especially the piano at his elementary school, and after war's end he pursued his dream and became a piano tuner. Yasugi entered the Navy in August 1943 at the age of 15, and he attended Yokosuka Gunnery School after finishing three months of basic training at Otake in Hiroshima Prefecture. One snowy winter night in Yokosuka, an order came for all students to assemble at the shallow pool used for cleaning clothes. Officers ordered students to jump into the frigid water and immerse themselves up to their shoulders, and then the officers hit them with rods if anyone had more than his head showing out of the water. After about three minutes in the freezing water, they finally were allowed to get out. Later the officers explained the drill's purpose was to have students learn they could survive for three or five minutes in the cold northern seas until rescue came. Yasugi looks back at this drill as just one example of the many ways that the Navy taught him to preserve his life if he encountered trouble.

After graduation from Yokosuka Gunnery School, Yasugi was assigned to Saiki Naval Base (Oita Prefecture), which faces the Bungo Strait. He felt some dissatisfaction with this land-based assignment to defend the home islands, since he had thought he would be assigned to a large ship due to his gunnery training. He soon received a transfer to battleship Yamato, which he proudly boarded for the first time on January 12, 1945, at the age of 17. His station was at the highest point of the superstructure, about 30 meters above sea level, where he had responsibility for determining the angle and aim of the battleship's main guns by measuring distances to enemy ships.

On March 29, 1945, an order arrived for Yamato at the Navy's Kure Harbor to sortie toward Okinawa, but everyone knew that the giant battleship and nine smaller ships stood no chance against a much stronger enemy. Yasugi had the opportunity to spend one night at a Kure inn with his mother before Yamato left port for Tokuyama Harbor (Yamaguchi Prefecture), where Yasugi states that the ship received enough fuel for a round-trip to Okinawa despite many sources that still claim the battleship had enough fuel for only one way.

Yasuo Yasugi (77 years old)
talks about the battleship Yamato


As Yamato proceeded toward Okinawa, three huge waves of American planes attacked the ship, and the giant battleship sank at 2:23 p.m. During the battle, Yamato's main guns never fired due to the low cloud cover from which American planes swept down on the battleship. After the ship sank, three planes tried many times to machine gun survivors floating in the water covered with pitch-black oil from Yamato's fuel tanks. Yasugi describes the bravery of Lieutenant Commander Kawasaki, officer in charge of Yamato's anti-aircraft artillery, who brought a piece of wood to Yasugi, gave him some words of encouragement, and then swam off to help others in the water. Yasugi floated for about five hours before finally being picked up by the destroyer Yukikaze. Just before being rescued, Yasugi saw Kawasaki swimming in the direction of where Yamato had sunk, but he never returned. Yukikaze proceeded to Sasebo Naval Base, and Yasugi remembers the falling cherry blossoms on the shore of the Sasebo harbor when they arrived there the next morning. The main story quickly ends after his arrival at Sasebo, and the book does not mention how he spent the last four months of the war.

This well-written children's book does not try to exaggerate the story of Yamato's sinking, but rather describes realistic battle action and Yasugi's true feelings. The book includes several photos of Yasugi, pictures of a Yamato model showing different parts of the ship, and maps of the book's main locations. The author's fourth-grade son drew several illustrations for the book, but a professional artist could have provided more effective drawings.

In the book's postscript, Yasugi gives advice to the younger generation: "My dream [of being a piano tuner] was realized since I lived by pursuing it with all my heart without giving up. Today many paths are open to you: baseball player, singer, soccer player, doctor, pilot. Please strive with all your might to search for the path you want to follow. Also, please make Japan, which many servicemen protected risking their lives, a marvelous country."