“Dear Courageous Sailor” – a Letter from 1943

Marines escort Saipan civilians. It was estimated that 22,000 civilians died, most by suicide. It was traumatic for our young Marines to witness, too.

There is personal pain in a full-fledged war that only those who were fully involved can feel.  Those feelings will differ by how that person was involved.

We somewhat understand through survivors that a soldier, airman, sailor or Marine near or on the front lines will have an intimate kinship with instantaneous fear.  They know combat is immediate, unfair, cruel, and barbaric.  But hopefully, they know their families and country are behind them – perhaps giving them the edge to overcome their fears and survive.

And this is true for the enemy as well.  As I become more knowledgeable on the Pacific Theater during WWII, I have learned the young Japanese combatants had the same fears (please see “There’s No Toilet Paper in the Jungle of Burma“).  But unlike the Allied forces who had millions of tons of war materiel, food and medical care backing them, the Japanese military fell way short.

But what about the Japanese home front?  Have you paused to ponder that?  Were their countrymen any different from us in their ways of supporting their young men dying by the hundreds of thousands?

I never did myself until recently.


I met Rob on the internet through his facebook page, “WWII U.S. Capture Photos“.  He focuses on the spoils of war, bringing back to the forefront the war souvenirs seized by military personnel.

He acquired a letter from a now elderly Marine who was fighting on Saipan in mid-1944. He had told Rob that he removed it from a Japanese corpse.

The now tattered envelope is anonymously addressed to”海軍の勇士様” or “Dear Courageous Sailor”.

Apparently, this letter had ended up to haunt the Marine who was at time very young and fighting for his life on Saipan.  The once young Marine is pictured in the center of this photo:

Marine Saipan
The young Marine who seized this letter is pictured in the middle. For an original image, please click on the picture.

Rob asked if my father could read the letter and translate it.

The letter was haunting Rob, too.


My friend and I went to see Dad in October 2013.  Below, Dad is reading the letter taken by the then young Marine from Saipan in 1944.


The backside of the envelope is below showing the sender’s name and return address.  The image was enhanced to bring out the writing.  The Marine had written “Japanese letter picked up on Saipan”.

The letter was anonymously addressed and sent by a young girl named “Kazuko Arai (荒井和子)”.  The return address shows she was a student of a girl’s economics school in Tokyo, Nakano City, town of Honcho (東京都中野区本町通六丁目女子経済専門学校 – 附属高女).  While I believe the school may have been at least damaged by the fire bombings, I may have located the successor school. It is called “Nitobe Bunka Gakuen” with its current address as 東京都中野区本町6-38-1.  (While I did send a blind email of inquiry to them in my far from perfect Japanese, there has been no response.  I doubt that there will be given the Japanese culture.)


While the scans were of low resolution, the two pages of the letter are as follows:


Because my father  will be 95 next month, it was difficult to keep him on course.  In spite of reminding him to just read the letter in Japanese (I would understand most of it), he continually tried to translate its sentences into English.  Perhaps somewhere in his buried conscious, he is doing as he was trained by the US Army’s Military Intelligence Service.  Admittedly, there were about a half-dozen characters that were just tough to make out due to creases and lack of clarity.  And he wasn’t able to figure out one paragraph in particular…but I did!  Got one on my old man.

I also sought out help from my good Hiroshima cousin, Kiyoshi, and he filled in the blanks.

Kazuko wrote:

As summer passes and turns into autumn, the war situation is getting more severe and now we must physically and mentally dedicate ourselves for our country.

As a courageous sailor out at sea, I know your unwavering fighting spirit continues.

Per our (radio) broadcasts, we hear that the intensity of battle and such has increased for both sides at all the front lines in the Far East Asia theater of war.

A radio broadcast announced that Lt. General Yasuyo Yamasaki and 2,000 of his  garrison died honorably defending an island in the North Sea.  All we could do was bow our heads (in honor) and swallow our  grief (voices).

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

[ NOTE: In researching this report, I discovered that Lt. General Yamasaki was assigned to defend the island of Attu.  He was killed with his remaining garrison in a banzai charge on May 29, 1943.  Please click on the following for more information:
My cousin Kiyoshi also found an extensive accounting of the Battle of Attu in Japanese with English translations for those who are interested.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

(Letter continues)

Now, with the daily war situation, we strongly feel as if we are in the midst of the battle and realize (winning) will not be easy.

Soon, it will be time for the autumn (military) athletic meet; I will train hard to strengthen my physique.

We resolve to not lose against the American and English women.

So please, courageous sailor, sincerely take good care of yourself and fight hard.  I pray for your fighting spirit.

Good bye.


So now we realize that Japan also had a “home front”.

Perhaps they did not have a “Rosie the Riveter” like we did.

But the Japanese homeland did endure pain, fear and sorrow as we did…and depression.  They were not the inhuman creatures depicted on war posters and in propaganda of that time.  And thanks to Rob and the young Marine, we see a letter written in Tokyo by a high school girl named Kazuko Arai in the autumn of 1943 and simply addressed to an anonymous sailor.  Kiyoshi also believes that the watermarked stationery was of high quality and issued out of military stock for this purpose.

Sadly, we do not know the name of the sailor from whose corpse the letter was removed from, nor do we know if Ms. Arai survived the war and raised a family.

Picture taken at Kazuko’s school pre-war.

Things like this sort aren’t evident in our (current) history textbooks.  Now, WWII has pretty much been erased from school textbooks altogether, replaced by “politically correct” topics…that there was simply a war between Japan and America.  A disgrace to those who endured or died.

In closing, there is a diary written by a young Japanese doctor up to the time of the final banzai charge on Attu.  He was one of the attackers who was killed.  As mentioned in my other posts about the Military Intelligence Service, Japanese military forces were allowed to write diaries.  When these diaries were taken from the battlefield, the Japanese-Americans (Nisei) soldiers were able to read then extract valuable intel on the enemy – both for their battle front and their homeland.  In his last entry, the young doctor writes a goodbye to his wife and two small children back home.

Young Japanese doctor’s war diary

21 thoughts on ““Dear Courageous Sailor” – a Letter from 1943”

  1. Always a lesson to be learned Koji. You have been very good about showing multiple sides and impacts of war. I appreciate your efforts in educating us. By the way, the image of Mr. Yamasaki does not show an image.

  2. Excellent information and touching commentary, as usual. It is this kind of emotion that I prefer to use when I teach. Although I suspect/anticipate the theme of your response, I still would like to ask: What IS the “culture of Japan” that would not respond to your inquiry about this school and this scenario? Again, though I can predict your answer, what IS the trending Japanese opinion, information, and feeling about the war? I spoke once with some colleagues who traveled to Japan and questioned history museum workers about the war, and I have some idea of how people think, but I am still curious. I also ponder the extent to which this young girl believed “winning” the war was a true possibility by the late summer of 1944 or to what degree her words were merely encouragement for a soldier/sailor caught up in a whirlwind of doom and the fear that she may have also been experiencing. Surely a victim, to some degree, of propaganda or lack of accurate information, I wonder if these are her honest thoughts. Of course we can only guess, but I value you opinions.

    1. Patrick, good to hear from you as always. What I meant by the culture of Japan is one of avoiding being a nuisance to others. That is one of their foundations. In this case, although I believe the school read my email, they do not want to cause any ruckus to the family of Kazuko…by perhaps stirring up buried memories from the past. One other aspect is privacy. Japan has shut down the centuries old practice of allowing the public to view family records at the local police station. Therefore, the school may not want to open their records to inquiry, especially by foreigners. My opinions, of course, Patrick.

      As for the war… The vast majority by far is distanced from it, I feel. However, there is a minority – perhaps just like us here? – that want to know. Even so, just as our teachers, textbooks and propaganda infused us, some may feel that the US interfered with their business of conquering Asia for raw materials. Remember, this thinking is from that time period, not today.

      Recently, Japan released a movie, “The Eternal Zero”, a novel of a Zero pilot. I have no idea what its content is but is has become quite popular. My cousin Masako saw it and it endeared her to “not forget the people from that time”.

      As to what that girl believed… My aunt and mother were in their teens. I’ve never asked them myself but I do know it stirs up memories of starving and fear from aerial attacks. I’m sure they felt deep inside Japan had lost the war by late 1944 if not early 1945 when the LeMay offensive began.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. There is no winner in war, only a victor and the cost of victory is often, for so many, too much to bear. It is no wonder our veterans “lock it out” of their memories. One response, testily spoken to a persistent family member who wanted to know about war, was, “What would you have me tell you that would not make you retch?”

    I believe the “sailor” was a member of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces—their equivalent of Marine (Kaigun Tokubetsu Rikusentai). Few people today realize how much the Japanese people suffered during, and after the war. I have read accounts of literally hundreds of people dying every night in subway shelters (1945-1947). They literally starved to death, or died from the cold.

    1. Sir, thank you for your good thoughts and observations of our returning veterans. Your response to a family member is well understood.

      Thank you for your information on their equivalent of our Marines (Well, not quite as no one is better than our Marines, right sir?)… And yes, thousands died in subways and the like from starvation, illness or exposure – even children and teens. There was a famous animation called “Grave of the Fireflies” released in the late ’80’s which tried to depict the awfulness and coldness of post-war Japan. Of course, the producer put his own feelings into it but the gist was there.

      Thank you again, Mustang.

  4. A powerful and emotional post, Koji. I was surprised to read that the news of 2,000 of their men dying was broadcast; I thought they were hidden from any sort of depressing news such as that. And they may not have had Rosie the Riveter on a poster, but I know the Japanese women did as much as they could to help, including braiding the belts for the kamikaze pilots. (And quit teasing your dad!LOL)

    1. LOL about dad, gpcox. Man, it was difficult to keep him on track! I, too, was surprised at the news was broadcast. Like you, I felt the Japanese war ministry handled bad news like Hitler’s staff did.

  5. Koji – Sometimes, we complacent and victorious Americans seem to forget that the pain, fear and uncertainty of war was just as prevalent on the home front in Germany, Japan, Russia, and every other country. Some countries fared better than others, but everyone, alive during that time around the world and their families and descendants suffered in ways that we can only imagine.
    Thank you for this small glimpse of one teenager’s thoughts which give us a more complete picture.
    What a blessing to have your father’s help.

    1. When I grew up here, I remember my teacher at that time received a note from the front office. I remember her crying and that’s when I first heard of MacArthur’s name. Now, I guess someone in her family owed something to MacArthur or the like to have her cry like that. The point here is I learned what my teachers and textbooks taught me about WWII. It was but 20 years after it ended and took it all in. But now I realize it was from our (the US) perspective…and it pretty much left out global suffering.

  6. Great detective work and a very moving account. My father (a Far East POW) never doubted that, although culturally different and under pressures that were alien to their prisoners, his captors were no less human (in good and bad ways) than the men they guarded. Members of the family have married Japanese women.

    1. Yes, your father was a GREAT man to have endured horrendous treatment…and even greater to have the heart to analyze the hellacious environment all people had to survive under back then, then accept and forgive. War is barbaric.

      Hat’s tip to him, Hilary.

  7. Civilians are the lost casualities of war. As I read that letter I wonder if she ever learned what happened to her brave soldier.

    1. I would assume she never did learn of even who received that letter. It is so sad… but in a memoir of a Japanese girl who grew up in this period, this girl did send a “CARE” package to a random Japanese soldier in Manchuria. In the end, the soldier returned from war and ended up marrying this letter girl’s sister. If you wish, please click on http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/30792914/ There are good things that come out of war after all. Thanks for reading, Patty!

      1. :/ I’m still for taking all the politicians out and, well – 2nd Amendment them. It’s time for a new world order: one without politicians & war. I’m thinking the internet would make it possible, but getting citizens involved . . . well, there we go with the politicians again. That said, I’d like to get back to the subject: you are doing us all a favor. All too often all we hear are the victor’s stories (often glossy lies). I’m glad we have people like you who are revealing what went on on the other side – despite (or because of?) the tragedy that affected your families’ lives.

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