Photo/IllutrationHosei University spent six years to release the books based on accounts of former student soldiers. (Yasuji Nagai)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Tokyo's Hosei University provided student fodder for Japan's last-ditch efforts to reverse its fortunes in World War II, a toll that exacted a heavy price in blood.

Of the 3,395 university students and recent graduates drafted into the war effort, at least 694 perished, 40 of them in suicide missions.

The private university spent six years poring over the recollections of 45 survivors to publish a blood-curdling account of their experiences.

The reminiscences from more than seven decades ago dwell on the deaths of comrades-in-arms, how a student survived a suicide mission, an incidence of senseless military brutality by officers and other unsettling stories that university authorities deemed essential to pass down for posterity.

The university started the project in fiscal 2012. The books, titled "Gakuto Shutsujin Shogen-shu" (Collection of testimonies by student soldiers) and published in late March purely for research purposes, feature the experiences of 42 students and graduates mobilized into the various branches of the imperial forces.

The volumes also contain an account by a woman who had the unenviable task of caring for special attack unit members right up until they embarked on their missions and certain death.

Those who provided accounts were between the ages of 88 and 95 when they poured out their stories. Eleven died before the work was released.

Akira Shimazaki, now deceased, recalled his experiences with the Imperial Japanese Navy’s flying corps. On one occasion, while on a transport ship south of Japan, he watched with dismay as other vessels were sunk with torpedoes fired by enemy forces.

Shimazaki recalled how the stricken ships disappeared from sight beneath the waves with their bows sticking upright out of the water, carrying his comrades to their doom.

“We were unable to rescue survivors from the sunken vessels because our ship would have come under attack if we had stopped,” Shimazaki explained.

Only four of the 12 vessels in the fleet survived the attack, he said.

As Japan’s defeat in the war appeared ever more likely, the government introduced full-scale student mobilization in October 1943 to shore up the nation's depleted armed forces.

Noboru Ogawa, 95, enlisted in a special attack unit operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy and was awaiting his turn in a kamikaze suicide mission.

But the aircraft at the Hyakuri base in Ibaraki Prefecture that Ogawa was due to fly was riddled by U.S. machine-gun fire in July 1945, rendering it unfit to take to the air.

He didn't get the chance to move to another base in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan, for a suicide mission before the war ended in August.

Ogawa, who was drafted by the navy in 1944 as a student flight trainee, said that 411 of his fellow pilots were killed, many flying on kamikaze missions.

“I barely escaped death,” said Ogawa.

Yoshimi Ito, now deceased, was assigned to an Imperial Japanese Army unit but later ordered to study at the Nakano School for intelligence personnel in Tokyo. The school’s gate bore the words “the Communications Ministry’s meteorology research center” to disguise its purpose.

Ito was told to sign a sheet of paper in which he agreed to “lose my nationality” and then underwent training to become an intelligence agent.

During the training program, Ito was taught to pretend to cooperate with the enemy in the event he was captured, but to continue trying to gather intelligence.

As Nakano school graduates were regarded as being part of the elite in those days, they were often targeted for bullying in the military.

Akio Yukimachi, 96, who worked in air corps engine maintenance, recalled that student recruits were hit by superiors for no reason, adding that “one individual was actually beaten to death.”

Setsuko Kaneyuki, 94, was tasked, along with her mother, with providing some of the comforts of home for crew members of midget Koryu submersibles as they lived near the special submarine attack base in Matsuyama in Shikoku.

Kaneyuki said her first love was a Hosei University student who belonged to the unit, although she never opened her heart to him.

According to Kaneyuki, her mother often lamented, “Why are children being forced to fight this war?”

Tatsuro Komata, who works at the Center for the History of Hosei University and conducted the interviews for the book, said the next challenge is to gather accounts of the families of the 694 students and graduates who were killed in the war.

“We need to try to find out what they told their families and friends before they met their end,” said Komata, 36.