IN SPITE of his enthusiasm and hard work, Mr. Ishihara was capricious. When May came, I went home to help with the planting. This was all right with my employer, since the charcoal business was slack in the spring and summer. But while I was gone, giving excessive credit transactions as the reason, Mr. Ishihara sold the charcoal business and set himself up in the pickles trade, with which he had no previous experience. On my return to Tokyo in September, I found Mr. Shoji Sugiyama in possession of the charcoal shop. He had purchased the capital investment, stock, and equipment plus the custom; but as of yet, he was unknown.
For this reason, I stayed on and helped for a while. By the spring, Mr. Sugiyama was well enough known among the customers to handle things himself. I returned to the village to work during the planting and then came back to assist in the charcoal business in the autumn and winter. I alternated this way for two years, occasionally helping Mr. Ishihara with his pickles trade.
On December 1, 1926, I passed the physical examination for entry into the navy and went to the Maizuru Training Corps of the Yokosuka Naval Station. Training was conducted at Maizuru because facilities at Yokosuka had been burned in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
In those days, many people volunteered for the navy - more than for the army. Volunteers and conscripts alike underwent six months' basic training and then received the rank of seaman fourth class, a rank that was later abolished to conform with the army system of grades. Our divisional commander was Lieutenant Kiyoshi Tomonari, an intelligent and warmhearted man. Our trainer was Petty Officer Second Class Kosaku Kikuchi. Both of them were very good to me.
When our group was assembled one morning shortly after I had been drafted, Kikuchi asked me whether it was true that I had gone no further than primary school. I said yes. Nodding and saying only, "I see," he dropped the subject. On the following morning, he asked if I were sure that I had gone no further than primary school. When I said yes again, he replied, "I see."
This kind of questioning continued for a week. At first, I had thought nothing of it. Then I began to wonder if he was trying to embarrass me in front of all the others. But at the end of the week, he said, "Niwano, you are now group leader. I want you to do a good job." Possibly I let go because of the emotions I had been suppressing for a week. Suddenly I shouted, "No, I can't do it!"
In the old Japanese military, talking back to a superior was a serious affair. Disobeying an order was counted among the blackest of crimes and was accompanied by one of two punishments: a severe beating or a trip to the guardhouse. I knew that, but I could not help myself. Why did he suddenly tell me to be group leader after having embarrassed me in front of the entire group for a full week. For an instant, I had the idea that he was planning some new shame for me. "What do you mean you can't do it?" "I just can't!"
Although he looked exasperated, he said nothing more. Later I was called before the division commander. Lieutenant Tomonari asked me, "Why have you refused to serve as group leader?" "I just can't do it," I answered.
"Why?" he barked. Even the lieutenant was beginning to run out of patience with my stubbornness. "This could get you into serious trouble, you know !" When, after a moment, his usual warmth and calm returned, he went on, "Niwano, you must have some reason. Tell me about it." I told him frankly what was on my mind, and he laughed.
"So that's it. Well, you'll have to forgive us. The truth is that your record's been so good since you came here that we couldn't believe you had no more than a primary-school education. We just wanted to make sure. Some guys think the others will tease them if they've been to higher schools, so they hide their educations. You see what I mean? Now, how about accepting the job of group leader?" I surrendered unconditionally and gladly accepted the job.
Everyone in our group except a man named Nobuyoshi Ono and I had gone to some higher school. As group leader, I could not afford to be slack or I would call down real disgrace on my head. The first thing I resolved to do was to assume all the hardest tasks myself.
It was winter. The cold winds from Siberia and the Sea of Japan pounded the shores of Maizuru. Snow fell often. To me, born in cold Niigata Prefecture, this was nothing. But the people in our group who came from warmer climates suffered. I did all their work for them. Sometimes I had to do the labor of two or three people.
Latrine-cleaning detail was assigned on a rotating basis. We were training-group number three. When our turn came, the stone trough of the urinal was stained dark. I had considered it filthy for a long time. With determination to remedy the situation, I took off my shoes and socks and, hopping into the urinal, started giving it a good scrubbing with a stiff brush. The other men in the group pitched in, and we got the stone so clean that the urinal looked like new.
When the adjutant came around on inspection, he suddenly called out, "What's happened to the urinal?" "We cleaned it, sir, " I replied. "But the color's different!" "Yes, sir. That's the real color of the stone."
With a laugh, the adjutant said, "Is that so? Well, group three doesn't have to clean the latrine for the next six months."
Of course, we were happy about this. Though we pitied groups one, two, and four, who continued to get latrine detail, we considered ourselves fortunate.
At first some of the men looked down on me for my lack of education and envied me. But they soon came to see that I meant well. The whole group cooperated, and our record was the best in the division. I kept myself very busy. I did more than my share of the work. As leader, I had to look after the needs of the group. I practiced judo regularly. And so as not to fall behind the people who had more schooling, I studied like a demon, even in my spare time. It was a hard grind, but somehow I made it.
The training course lasted six months, but there was an achievement examination at the three-month mark. With an average of eighty-five points in all subjects, group three had the highest score in the division. At graduation, I was number-one man in the division and earned special praise for excellence. I must admit that I was very glad.
Throughout school in our village, I had never exerted any effort to do better and was always number-two man in a class of fifteen people. But in basic training, after making an effort, I was both number one and ahead of others with better educations. But it was not first place itself that caused me the greatest pleasure; it was discovering how to develop my own potential and learning that I could do well if I tried. I wrote a letter to my father at once, and the news made him very happy.
After graduating from the Maizuru training course and receiving a promotion to the rank of seaman third class, I returned to the Yokosuka Naval Station, where I was assigned to the battleship Nagato. Launched in 1920, this ship was the pride of the Japanese navy. She was the largest battleship in the world at the time: 201 meters long and 29 meters broad, with a nominal displacement of 33,800 tons (she was said to have an actual displacement of 41,000 tons).
Although the job usually went to a seaman first class who had finished gunnery-training school, on assignment to the Nagato, I was made third gunner in the number two turret of the second gun crew. I imagine that my excellent grades in training school influenced the people making this selection.
Head of the second gun crew and chief gunner was Jin'ichi Kusaka. Under him was Chief Warrant Officer Hidetaka Nakano, who liked me and gave me much valuable guidance. The Nagato was armed with 8 40-centimeter guns, 20 14-centimeter secondary guns, and a total of 15 high-angle guns, machine guns, and torpedoes. The second turret, to which I had been assigned, housed one of the main guns; and my appointment caused a great deal of talk among my seniors.
When our superiors came to inspect the turret, they often left everyone else alone and concentrated on asking me questions, as if they were testing me. I am sure that it was curiosity and not maliciousness that made them do this, but it was hard on me. After all, it was the first time I had ever been assigned to a battleship. In a job that was of utmost importance in time of actual combat, I had to use my head to an extent much greater than in basic training.
Once again, I was studying like mad, borrowing and reading all the reference books I could get my hands on. Mathematics is more important than almost anything else in gunnery. Fortunately, I am good at mathematics. In primary school, my overall grades had never been as good as those of Sotaro Takahashi, but I far outdid him in arithmetic. In fact, when I was in the fifth grade I used to help the leader of the sixth grade, who sat next to me, with his arithmetic.
But the mathematics needed in gunnery is far more complicated than arithmetic and involves algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. At first, I was nearly swamped. Though I did my best in class, it was all very difficult; I deeply regretted not having studied these subjects earlier. In school, I never really liked studying and aside from arithmetic, for which I had a natural talent, and subjects like calligraphy, for which no preparation is needed, I did not care much for schoolwork.
In the navy, however, I gradually mastered the basics of mathematics. Then, continuing to work hard, I slowly reached the stage where, as had been true in primary school, it was my favorite subject. What I learned at that time has often come in handy in later life. For instance, when we are designing and erecting buildings for Rissho Kosei-kai, in bed in the morning, I work out some of the pertinent problems in my head. Once when we were working on a school that was to have a circular floor plan, I figured out that if the diameter of the circle was thirteen meters we could get four classrooms on a floor; but if the diameter was increased to seventeen meters, we would be able to get six. I later discussed the matter with the architect, who, surprised at my ability, agreed with me. I have even discovered mistakes in architectural blueprints. Once again, lying in bed in the morning and recalling a blueprint I had seen the day before, I made mental calculations about something that had struck me as odd. When I brought the point to the attention of the designer, he scratched his head and admitted his error.
Talking about nothing but studies and grades, I must give the impression that I was overly serious as a young man. Serious I certainly was, but not overly. For one thing, I kept up my judo. One of the great pleasures of coming into port was the chance to practice judo in a real training hall, or dojo. It was a great treat to have a chance to pit our skills against--and try to get the best of - judo men from other ships and from the naval station. I have already described the mishap that resulted from our overeagerness in this kind of competition.
I started practicing judo when I came to Tokyo the second time and found a job at Mr. Ishihara's charcoal shop. I worked hard and had a certain amount of confidence about my job; but as a hick fresh from the sticks, I thought city people all knew more than I and were able to get around better and do more things. I was convinced that I was behind them in everything. I told myself that I was just as good as they because I worked hard, but mental assurance of this kind is not enough to eliminate a feeling of inferiority.
At about that time, I learned that there was a judo training hall nearby and decided to give training there a try. This decision gave me a chance to experience a good taste of a feeling of inferiority.
I was tall, but thin (weighing only fifty-five kilograms). I had inherited my mother's weak stomach, and the kind of work I did made my body tight and stiff. Time and time again in judo training younger and smaller people threw me. I began to wonder if there was any hope and on several occasions came very close to giving the whole thing up.
But I did not. I continued training every evening after work. It was physically exhausting, but I never missed a day. After a while, I stopped losing as shamefully as I had at first. And before long, I came to the conclusion that I was not totally worthless. From that stage, I developed self-confidence in other things and finally lost my feeling of being inferior to city people. It may seem that my way of overcoming the feeling was not the best. Since the problem was mental, it might be argued that I should have solved it in a mental way. This would appear to be the basic approach. But it is not always necessary to use only the basic approach. It is possible to develop the body first and the mind and spirit later, for in the final analysis, the body and the spirit are inseparable. The idea expressed in the words "the form determines the content" is the reason for the salutary effect of sports on mental development.
One of the sources of fun for us on the ship was amateur entertainment. I had become what could be called a judo athlete, but in that field I was only a seaman recruit. In the amateur entertainment field, however, I was an admiral. Whenever we had an evening of songs and dances, I would get excited. Someone would invariably drag me out to go through my repertory, which consisted of the dances I used to perform at shrine festivals at home plus some currently popular songs and dances. Each year, for the big autumn show, I was selected entertainment chairman. Working with some friends who were interested in the same kind of thing, I wrote and directed the skits and comic scenes that we used to fill out the program of songs and dances. Sometimes I even acted in the skits. If I do say so myself, I was the entertainment star of the ship.
A full naval review was scheduled to be held in Tokyo Bay in November, 1928, and the battle cruiser Haruna had been selected as the imperial flagship. In preparation for the review, outstanding seamen were selected from the rest of the fleet for service on the Haruna. I was one of fifteen selected for that duty from the crew of the Nagato. I felt very fortunate, but the news greatly upset Chief Warrant Officer Nakano. He said to me, "Niwano, as long as you're here, you're popular with everybody. You can lead an easy life with us. Now, I'm happy too that you've been given the honor of being chosen for duty on the flagship. But remember, in a new place of duty you're going to have to face some hardships. Why don't you just say no and stay here? How about it?"
He called me to his cabin a number of times to ask me the same thing. Each time he met me, he inquired whether I had decided to stay. Of course, it made me happy to know that he wanted me to remain behind that badly. But I was still young. And his affection and trust in me could not match the attraction of serving on the imperial flagship. I continued to request his approval for the transfer, and finally he granted it.
On the day of my departure from the Nagato, with my sea bag on my shoulder, I had just started to the gangplank when I met Chief Warrant Officer Nakano. I saluted him and was about to bid him farewell when he said, "So you're really leaving!" There were tears in his eyes. There were tears in my eyes too when I replied, "Mr. Nakano, please don't hold this against me." Giving me a firm handshake, he replied, "I guess there's nothing I can do about it. Take care of yourself." All the way down the gangplank and throughout the trip on the ferry, I never stopped crying.
It has been forty-odd years since I saw those two fine men, Chief Warrant Officer Nakano and Lieutenant Tomonari. Even now, though the Imperial Navy no longer exists, their humanity and kindness are deeply fixed in my heart. Later I learned that both of them were killed in the fighting in Asia during World War II. I gave them posthumous Buddhist names and have held daily services in their memories. As if to demonstrate how miraculous are the connections among human beings, to my surprise, Tomonari's widow has become a member of the Chuo Church of Rissho Kosei-kai.
One of the greatest harvests from my military experience was the reinforcement of my philosophy of nonviolence. I applied this philosophy to everything I did in the navy. In those days corporal punishment was permitted in the Japanese navy. People thought they were lucky to get off with a slap in the face because they knew the effects of the so-called spirit-stick, which was about the size of a baseball bat. One blow with it knocked a man's wind out; a serious beating with it left him half-dead, half-alive. Corporal punishment was an everyday affair, but in my entire military career I never struck anyone subordinate to me.
Once, I was ordered to conduct a training course. Many of my twenty-three students were slow to learn or stupid. I was as patient as possible. I repeated lessons, called on as many illustrations and models as I could, and demonstrated how to do things; but I never struck anyone. On the other hand, when one of the new men trained by me made a small mistake, deck officers smacked me in the face and said that the trainees were ignorant because I would not beat sense into them. Secretly I was proud that I never resorted to violence and put up with the blows dealt to me in the place of twenty-three other men. I continued to persevere in my private policy of nonviolence.
Another important result of my military training was learning thrift, not only for myself, but for everyone concerned. The water, food, and fuel on a ship are limited and must be made to last until the next port. Waste is forbidden. Water rationing was especially strict. We were allowed approximately nine-tenths of a liter for washing, gargling, and tooth-brushing in the morning. All our laundry had to be done in very small amounts of water. Most of our clothing was white, and it is a wonder to me today that we were able to keep it white on such a meager water ration. From my navy days to the present, I have cherished the habit of wasting nothing.
In the navy, I became enlightened to the universal worth of human sentiment, even under conditions in which discipline and order have the last word. At all times and in all places, the beauty of sentiment is a treasure of the highest worth. I have already mentioned the relations between me and Lieutenant Tomonari and Chief Warrant Officer Nakano (my superiors on the Nagato) and the way our friendships cut across rank. Another important emotional experience for me was my relationship with the housemother at a dormitory where many sailors stayed when we were granted shore leave at Yokosuka.
On the Nagato there were about fifteen hundred men, all busy with strictly disciplined military training and duties. In their spare time, these men sewed, embroidered, and knitted; I was pretty good at knitting myself and made several stomach warmers and pairs of socks. This plain, monotonous way of life continued for dozens of days or even months. When we returned to land, it was to Yokosuka (our home port), Kure (in the west), or Sasebo (on Kyushu). Few of us lived close to any of these cities. Even when we were granted shore leave, we could not go to our homes. Customarily, a number of us would pool our funds and rent rooms in private homes. In these places there was always a housemother who was kind and who rushed out to greet us on our return, welcomed us, and immediately heated the bath. After three months or so on water rationing, to relax in a tub overflowing with pure, hot water, then to smack our lips over lovingly cooked food, and to lie carelessly about on the tatami floor talking at random gave us all the feeling of being at home.
Chiyomi Suzuki, the housemother at the place where I usually stayed in Yokosuka, was more than kind and considerate. There was something truly wonderful about her. She had graduated from a women's higher school in Fukushima Prefecture. After her marriage, she had come to live in Yokosuka, where she had taken a license as a midwife. When I first met her, she was thirty, tall, fair, and beautiful in an unmistakably intelligent way. Nor was her intelligence confined to her countenance: she read books, magazines, and newspapers constantly and explained much of the recent news to us. She was especially well-informed on political matters; thanks to talks with her, I always made one hundred on the current-events tests we were given in class on the ship.
Although, as I later learned, she was constantly worried and unhappy because she and her husband did not get along well, she never let us see her troubles and was always warm and cheerful. Many sailors were fond of her, and some who had already taken lodgings elsewhere would gather at our place. I brought several who finally joined us on a regular basis. I came to regard her place as more or less my own. As soon as I would come to this home away from home on leave, I would change clothes and begin such chores as cleaning the garden or preparing the bath. I played with her children and carved wooden spinning tops for them. I was proud of the way I could carve a top with nothing but a single knife and make the center absolutely true.
I had grown up always wanting an elder sister. My mother had died when I was still comparatively young. Chiyomi Suzuki filled both these roles for me. But she did more: she became a symbol of purity. I felt for her something that I might have felt for the Virgin Mary or Kannon, the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World. For an emotional young man just slightly over twenty, this gave me a sense of fullness. The beauty of that feeling will never fade, but will remain to nourish and enrich my life. I believe myself extremely fortunate to have had two virtually holy women in my life: my teacher Miss Ota, when I was in primary school, and Mrs. Suzuki, when I was a young sailor.
After I was married and had started a pickles business, Mrs. Suzuki visited us. We talked over old times late into the night while my wife and I made preparations for the next day. We were too poor at the time to own an extra set of bedding. My wife and Mrs. Suzuki slept in our only set, and I sat on the floor and nodded until dawn. They were still asleep when I pulled the pickles wagon away for the day's work.
Immediately after the formation of Rissho Kosei-kai, in March, 1938, I called on Mrs. Suzuki to tell her about it. I gave her a blue-bound copy of excerpts from the Lotus Sutra and said, "I want you to be the first person to have one of these." Overjoyed, she looked at me with a wondering expression as she thanked me.
For a long while, we lost contact with each other. Then, once when I visited the Ofuna Church of Rissho Kosei-kai, I asked Mr. Ito, minister of the church, to look for her. He found the place in Yokosuka where she lived at the time. I immediately wrote to her, and she visited our home in Asagaya two or three times. She even spent the night with us. She died a few years ago, and I still feel her loss.
I was assigned as fourth gunner in the second turret of the cruiser and imperial flagship Haruna, which, though roughly the same size, had a displacement of about five thousand tons less than the Nagato. Her main guns were thirty-six centimeters in diameter. As soon as I reached my post, I saw that the words of warning given me by Chief Warrant Officer Nakano had been correct. I was a greenhorn, and the officers gave me a very hard time. I could only interpret this as retribution for my having refused to listen to good counsel.
I am a congenital optimist. I had experience in putting up with trying situations and was confident of my ability to do so again. Silently, I went about my work, doing not only my own tasks but also those that other people did not want to do. Gradually, the officers stopped harassing me, and my subordinates put their trust in me. Before too long, I was able to work in the same mood of good will that I had enjoyed on the Nagato.
Because the Haruna had just been put back on the line after refitting, I joined the crew just at the right moment to have a rare experience. In those days, cannon shells were very expensive - one shot cost about 100,000 Japanese yen in today's money. Consequently, each big cannon fired only nine live shots a year. Just after I boarded her, the Haruna fired the big guns for the first time since refitting - each gun firing all nine shells in one series.
At that time, Prince Takamatsu, a brother of the present emperor, was serving as an ensign in the eighth division aboard the Haruna. Shiro Abe, a friend and a fellow judo trainee, was also in the eighth division, with whom my division shared quarters. It seems that the prince heard about me from Abe. At any rate, he often spoke to me, instructed me, and asked me questions. Rumors were all over the ship about his imminent marriage. But to us, he was always simply a gallant young officer.
Twenty-five years later, on September 8, 1953, I had an opportunity to meet the prince again. On an inspection of social work, he visited Kosei Nursery School, in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. While he was resting in a conference room, I recalled the times we had shared on the Haruna.
"Yes, yes! Seaman First Class Niwano. So you're that Niwano!" He was surprised at the coincidence, but immediately we began reminiscing. I suspect he remembered me because, unlike all the other officers and seamen on board the ship, who were awed by his imperial station, I talked freely and openly with the prince, always maintaining proper respect for an officer, of course.
In about 1965, I had a chance to meet another old friend from the navy. I had flown to Osaka when a Rissho Kosei-kai member, bearing a card from the minister of the Shizuoka Church, called at the headquarters, announced himself as Shutaro Mochizuki (his surname had been Unno), and asked for me. He said that reading the earlier version of my autobiography, Travel to Infinity, had awakened so many old memories that he felt he had to see me. When I returned, I was delighted to hear that he had called but sorry that I had missed him. I wrote him a letter saying so and expressing my hope that we could meet again soon.
The chance came on January 28, 1968, when I visited Shizuoka. We had not met in forty years, but I could still see in this man traces of the Seaman Third Class Unno I had known.
Of the twenty-three new men assigned simultaneously to the Nagato, Unno was put in the ammunition depot, and I in the gunnery division. Our places of work were different, but we shared much in daily life. For instance, in the mess hall, where such things as table assignments are very important, we both sat at number twenty-two. As new crew members we were responsible for sterilizing the eating utensils, carrying food, and washing up. I cannot say how many times in one year he and I used cleaning powder to scour the lavatory and laundry basins of our superiors.
But we were both surprised to learn that we had been together at the training camp at Maizuru and on the Haruna, as well. We had no chance to become acquainted at Maizuru because he was in the twenty-third division and I was in the twenty-fifth. Later, on the Haruna, he was in the third division and I in the second. The third division was quartered aft, and we were forward. On a ship with a crew of fifteen hundred people, it is completely possible that we could go a long time without meeting. Nonetheless, the relation that had connected our lives throughout military service and then later as members of the same religious organization and that had led to a reunion after forty years amazed us both.
The full review of the fleet held in November, 1928, was a sight none of us will ever forget. There were two hundred large and small craft in Tokyo Bay, all with full crews and all in the finest trim. The present emperor, who was still a young man then, came aboard the Haruna for the review. As the band played the Navy March and as the imperial salute boomed, the Haruna sailed smoothly past the ships waiting in review. Setting aside all thought of militarism and war, I still enjoy the recollection of that magnificent pageant, the likes of which will never be seen in Japan again.
In 1929, shortly after the full review, I took part in a cruise around the Japanese islands, in fleet training, and in coast-guard duties. Then, on November 30, of that same year, I completed my naval service and was discharged. I like the sea and ships and had cherished the hope of making a voyage to distant places. But neither my fondness for the sea nor my desire for travel was sufficient to tempt me to a lifetime in the navy. And it was with no regrets that I returned to life on dry land.
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