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[From Pen to Sword―70th Years Since Departure of Students for the Front―] Exhibition poster

[From Pen to Sword―70th Years Since Departure of Students for the Front―] Exhibition

Masashi Mochizuki
Waseda University Archives

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the departure of students for the front.

In October 1943, when signs of defeat in the Pacific War began to show, the temporary exemption from military service permissible for students was halted. With this, 90,000 students, some estimates have it at 130,000, from around country joined the military and naval forces, with more than 4,500 students from Waseda University leaving for battle. Advance graduations had already been taking place since 1941, and with the conscription age being lowered the following year in 1944, the second student battalion was sent to war.

This exhibition covers five students who entered the army and navy during their studies and died on the battlefield ―Takao Takagi, Kiichiro Yanagida, Tomoo Yoshimura, Kiyoshi Kondo, and Yasuo Ichijima―. How did their intelligence face and grapple with an era of war? By following their tracks, the figure of war is raised again and I would like to renew pledges renouncing war.

Students departing for the front―From the school gate to the barracks gate―

On September 21, 1943, the Hideki Tojo Cabinet, in connection with its complete mobilization of civilians, decided to rescind the temporary exemption from military service of students, and with an Imperial order promulgated on October 2, it was decided that students who had reached 20 years of age would undergo physical examinations for conscription and join the military or naval forces as early as December. In Waseda’s case, excluding the School of Science and Engineering where conscription was postponed, more than 4,500 students, close to 70% coming from the four humanities faculties, were eligible.

Takao Takagi was a third year student at the School of Political Science and Economics. As well as getting stuck into his studies, he enjoyed Kendo, swimming and ice-skating, spending his student days as both a student and athlete. When it was decided that he would go to war, Takagi told his father, who believed a divine wind would blow, that the war couldn’t be won, regardless of who was sent.

On October 15, a send-off rally was held at the Totsuka Gymnasium (now Center for Scholarly Information) for students from Waseda going to battle. Standing in front of the lined-up students, President Hozumi Tanaka said to them, “The time has now come when you must discard your pens and take up swords.” After the send-off rally, the conscripted students made for the patriotic monument in their respective faculties, with a further 1000 students heading for Yasukuni Shrine and the Imperial Palace, pledging to defeat the enemy.

Send-off rally for Waseda students going to the frontline October 15, 1943 Waseda University Archives Collection

The next day, on the 16th, a Waseda-Keio send-off baseball match, in other words the final Waseda-Keio match, was held. The holding of the match was in doubt right up until the game, but the Totsuka Gymnasium was filled to capacity with students from Waseda and Keio. Kiyoshi Kondo, who came from Gifu Municipal Commercial School and experienced winning the national junior-high school baseball tournament, played in left field and batted in the third slot, putting in a grand effort with two hits and two runs from three at-bats. In 1943, even though the Tokyo University Baseball Federation was forced to disband, Kondo, based on his spirit of following a “baseball path”, put everything into practicing every day. And when Eizo Matsui, his respected and loved senior from Gifu Commercial School onwards, died in battle, he wrote a letter to his Gifu benefactor saying, “I will get revenge.”

Commemorative photograph of the “final Waseda-Keio match” at Totsuka Gymnasium October 16, 1943 Kiyoshi Kondo is seventh from the right in the front row Waseda University Archives Collection

On October 21 a send-off rally for student soldiers, hosted by the Ministry of Education School Patriotism Organization, was held at the outer garden of the Meiji-Jingu Shrine Stadium, bringing together an estimated 25,000 conscripted students from Tokyo and neighbouring prefectures. Approximately 65,000 students saw them off from the stands, and Prime Minister Tojo delivered a send-off message. After the ceremony, “Miyako no Seihoku (Northwest of City) broke out from the Waseda troops and female students rushing into formation could be seen from the stands.

A third year student Yasuo Ichijima at the School of Commerce, didn’t attend this send-off rally. He wrote the reason to a friend. “Why could only the send-off rally of the students be so sensational? People of the same age are already gone, and men with wives and children continue to go. It’s inevitable that we must go now. Are we being pitiable? Then the men with wives and children are even more so. Is this the reason behind hope being put on the students? Then why have we been subjected to unwarranted pressure until now and met with unkind stares? Why did everything change completely?”

With physical examinations for conscription approaching on October 25, the students returned to their hometowns. Tomoo Yoshimura, a second year student at the Department of Japanese literature, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, wrote the following letter to his sister on the train back to Nagoya on the Tokaido Line. It was a play on words of having no mandarin (mikan) sales despite having a great view of Mount Fuji. “What’s the story here? I have a great view of immortality (fushi-read here as fuji) but there is no sign of return (mikan). I hope you understand how I feel.”

Amidst the hurried days that passed with the announcement of students being sent to war, the most senior students received provisional graduation certificates dated November 30th, and the students entered their respective army and navy battalions together.

Military training

Takagi, Yanagida and Yoshimura, who were consigned to the army, were enlisted on December 1, with Takagi joining the Eastern Army 6th Squadron, Yanagida the Eastern Army 63rd Squadron, and Yoshimura the Central Army 4th Squadron. The following February 1944, the three recruits were assigned as military cadets, with Takagi and Yanagida entering the Maebashi Yobishikan Gakko, and Yoshimura the Central Army Training Unit in Fukuchiyama, in May.

On the other hand, Kondo and Ichijima, who went to the navy, were enlisted in the Japanese Navy on December 10, 1943, and on the following February 1 1944, joined the Tsuchiura Naval Aviation as the fourteenth group of aviation specialist preliminary students. On May 25, Ichijima was transferred to naval aviation in Yatabe, and Kondo to Izumi.

The war situation had worsened to another level. In July 1944, the Japanese Army died with honor in the Battle of Saipan. The region of absolute national defense had been broken and the Japanese Army concentrated their troop strength to the Philippines. If the Philippines were taken by the Americans, Japan would be isolated by sea from resources in the south, and Japan’s war potential would be lost. In Maebashi, Takagi and Yanagida didn’t wait to graduate and were transferred to the Japanese 14th Area Army Training Unit with 550 colleagues. Yoshimura was also sent south and they were all thrown into the Philippines Campaign.

The battlefield

Students from Maebashi Yobishikan Gakko just before their departure to the south Taken in Fukuoka late September 1944 Donated by Teru Shintani Waseda University Archives Collection
Kiichiro Yanagida is on the far left and Takao Takagi is 3rd from the left. Both Yanagida and Takagi sent this photograph to their families in Tokyo. It is the last known photograph taken of both Yanagida and Takagi before their deaths.

On October 18, 1944 to the west of the Philippines, the transport vessel which was carrying Yoshimura was sunk by an American torpedo attack. This was two days before the US Army started its landing on the island of Leyte. There have been no clues into learning the final moments of Yoshimura as he sank to the bottom of the ocean.

On the other hand, Takagi and Yanagida sailed into Manila on November 11, but after the defeat in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese Navy’s combined fleet was already decimated and facing difficulties in transporting food and ammunitions.

In January 1945, as the American troops landed on Lingayen, the Japanese forces began to shift their course to the northern part of Luzon. The troops gathered in the mountainous region to take up a battle of attrition. The Japanese 14th Area Army Training Unit also started moving to the northern region. In February, when the Americans advanced, on the occasion of graduating from the training unit, Takagi was transferred to the 19th Division and Yanagida to the 103rd Division.

Takagi was heading for the 19th Division. However, there was no map showing the way to the division which had set up camp in the mountains and almost no food. When he made it to Kiangan, Takagi was caught in machine-gun fire from American fighter planes. This was on March 30.

A fierce battle in the Salacsac Pass awaited Yanagida. The raging fight with the Americans continued. As a machine-gun platoon leader, Yanagida fought while relying on a single compass in a ravine of a densely forested region which was dark during the day. In the midst of fighting on April 10, a bullet pierced through Yanagida’s head.

At the end of March 1945, the American task force had launched a huge offensive on the Okinawa islands and landed on the main Island of Okinawa on April 1. On April 5, Operation Kikushui was implemented, involving kamikaze attacks on the American forces by the air force. Kondo, who was part of the Nagoya Aviation Corps sent to 2nd Kokubu Base, wrote a farewell note to his sister just before he went on his mission. Then, on April 28, he made his sortie to Okinawa.

On this day, Operation Kikushui leader, Japanese Fifth Air Fleet Commander Matome Ugaki, wrote the following in his diary.

“It will be the same, even if the kamikaze attacks show results.”

Yasuo Ichijima flew out of the Kanoya Base on the 29th. Words from the bible were written at the end of Ichijima’s diary on the day he flew his mission.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

There were just over 100 days left before the defeat.

We don’t know how Kiichiro Yanagida spent his student days. The only possession remaining today is an album from his days at Maebashi Yobishikan Gakko. At the end of that album the following is written in bold, beautiful handwriting.

“To the southern islands of dreams Holding beautiful dreams Leaving my homeland of nostalgia Farewell my parents Farewell my friends May fortune be with you”

As of March 2013, the number of fallen soldiers from Waseda University stands at 4,736. Of those students, it is estimated that the number of students who died after the student mobilization exceeds 500. And approximately 70% of the total war dead actually perished from 1944 onwards.

2013 Spring Exhibition

[From Pen to Sword―70th Years Since Departure of Students for the Front―]
Dates: March 25 (Mon) - April 27 (Sat) 2013
※Closed Sundays
Venue: Waseda Campus Building No.2 1F Aizu Museum Exhibition Room

Masashi Mochizuki
Waseda University Archives

Contract worker at the Waseda University Archives. Part-time instructor at the Waseda University School of Education. Completed the Doctoral Program at the Waseda University Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Co-edited the works "The Diary of Akira Kazami-Related Materials" (Misuzu Shobo), and "The Diary of Takayuki Sasaki" (Hokusensha). Co-authored works such as "Research on the Privy Council" (Yoshikawa Kobunkan).