By SEINOSUKE IWASAKI/ Staff Writer
Seventy-seven years after its sinking, the mighty Imperial Japanese Navy Musashi battleship is being brought back to life through rare oral interviews with former crew members and others.
A writer who has written a book and produced a documentary about the famed Musashi is posting the audio recordings and transcripts of the interviews for those projects on the internet.
Between 1990 and 2003, Masami Tezuka, 74, interviewed former Musashi crew members and surviving family members. He has preserved the recordings of 71 individuals.
“As memories of the war fade, I wanted to leave behind their testimonies for future generations,” Tezuka said. “I want people to think about what the youth of that time saw and felt through their own telling of their experiences.”
The Musashi was commissioned in August 1942 as one of Japan’s two behemoth battleships, alongside the Yamato.
The U.S. military sunk the Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea off the central Philippines on Oct. 24, 1944. About 1,000 of her 2,399 crew members perished.
The remains of the Musashi were found on the ocean floor in March 2015 by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen.
Tezuka has written a book titled “Gunkan Musashi” (Warship Musashi) as well as produced a 1992 documentary movie with the same title. Tezuka also serves as an adviser to the veteran’s group made up of former Musashi crew members.
He began providing the audio recordings from June at a website related to the crew members’ group. The website can be accessed at https://gunkanmusashiarchive.stores.jp/.
So far the testimonies of eight individuals have been posted and Tezuka plans to release recordings of two individuals every month. Transcripts of the interviews he conducted are also available at the website.
One of the former crew members whose testimony has been released is Takayuki Nishioka, who was in charge of a high-angle gun on the Musashi.
He talks about being thrown into the water after the ship sank.
“The waves would come, and I thought about putting my head above the waves, but I couldn’t do it. That meant I was forced to swallow water that was mixed with heavy fuel oil,” Nishioka can be heard saying.
The recordings can be purchased for prices between 100 yen and 800 yen ($0.90 and $7), depending on the length.
A Musashi crew member that Tezuka cannot forget is Rokuro Yamada, who manned a machine gun.
Yamada agreed to the interview with Tezuka even as he battled cancer. Yamada talked about seeing a shipmate get his head blown off by a bomb blast as well as life on the ship before it sank. In the end, his testimony transcript came out to more than 100 pages.
Yamada’s wife and daughter sat next to him as he spoke with Tezuka, who recalls them saying with tears in their eyes, “This is the first time we have heard him talk about such experiences.”
Yamada died soon after the interview was completed.
Many war veterans groups have been forced to disband as members advance in age. The group for the former Musashi crew had held memorial services every October, but it was canceled last year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It is uncertain if a ceremony will be held this year. An official with the group’s secretariat said there were only a few members healthy enough now to participate in any such ceremony.