Cooking Red Beans with Dynamite

At around in early November in 1945, we were put on a dirty cargo ship. Although I do not remember its actual size and the number of people on the ship, it was probably a ship weighing about 3,000 tons. As we were all packed in the cargo hold that had a nasty smell of the ship, there was no way we could stretch our body to lie down. I looked at the dim light of a small naked bulb hanging like a traffic sign and listened to the dull engine sound. There, over the Sea of Japan, I was lonely feeling as if we were being shipped and traded to a foreign county.

The biggest concerns on the ship were how to cook and eat, and how to excrete. As I was the chief commission officer of the military headquarter, I became in charge of preparing for the food. I set off to cook rice with the help of others such as Captain Ushio, who was the chief officer for the provision section in the accounting department. It was, however, enormously difficult to cook rice or soup at the deck of the ship that kept pitching and rolling. The cooker was designed for the use at battle fields and had wheels on it.

First of all, it was difficult enough to lock the wheels. We tried hammering a 6-inch-long nail into the deck to hook a rope around to secure the cooker, but the rope got loose as the ship rocked. Although we had enough firewood, it was a challenge to ignite the fire with all the wind and rain. Even when we were lucky enough to light the fire, the water and rice in the cooker got spilled on the swaying ship.

I felt miserable to cook meals wearing heavy black raincoat. After all our efforts of cooking rice, the only dish we could pass out was something like dried seasoned cod roe. It was no easy to clean up after the meals either. On our way back to the hold where we could barely see each other’s faces, we had to balance our body to the swaying ship and only found ourselves feeling sick with the saturating smell of the crowd.

While we loaded enough food at the port of Xingnan, we could not expect much. We usually had rice, miso soup and dried seasoned cod roe. This seasoned cod roe was so dry but we could just eat it as it was or it tasted even better when we fried and seasoned them with salt.

As we had lots of red beans, I thought of an idea to cook them with dynamite. Nitroglycerin, which is the main component of dynamite, is liquid when it is kept at room temperature. We can substitute dynamite for sugar as Nitroglycerin tastes sweet when we lick it. We made sweet red-bean soup by cooking red beans and adding Nitroglycerin for the taste. There was a huge plant of Nihon Chisso (Japan Nitrogenous Fertilizer Company) at Xingnan and they were fixing Nitrogen in the atmosphere by using platinum as a catalyst. This plant was supposedly the main supplier for Nitroglycerin.

As we heard Russians say, “Domoi Tokyo (going home for Japan) “when we boarded on the ship, we naturally expected we were heading for Japan. However, the second day, we began to notice something was wrong: on the Big Dipper which was originally spotted above or to the port side of the ship was now seen on the starboard side of the ship.

“This is strange! Something is wrong!” People started to yell. When we asked Soviet soldiers carrying Mandolin guns on the ship, they simply repeated, “Domoy Tokyo.” We questioned them more precisely by saying if we were heading to Japan, we should be moving east, and it was not logical to see the ship actually heading west with the Big Dipper shining on the right side. Only after this inquiry did they talk about their plan to drop by at a port in Soviet to get some more fuel and then go back to Japan. We were half in doubt, but still we wanted to believe in their words.

On the third day, we found countless Soviet warships hovering about the port that we could barely see in the light of the morning sun. “Domoi”was a lie after all. Although we were going to see more of this falseness of the Soviet army later on, looking back, these Soviet soldiers on this ship probably did not mean to lie to us but they were also tricked by the people above. While we could attribute these behaviors of not telling the truth to socialism and communist countries, Japanese government during the war was not particularly honest either and supposedly twisted the facts for the people in the name of totalitarianism.

The mere sight of this Pochette naval port covered with white snow was enough to demolish our hope. We finally dragged our feet to land at the port that was already freezing cold in early November, only to find ourselves march in a long procession in the falling fine snow. We trudged along the shore of the dark lake that we did not even know the name of, carrying heavy backpacks as the north wind blew on us relentlessly.

Although some of us were chattering a little in the beginning, we all soon became silent just to look down and kept walking, huddling against the strong wind. Mantles and winter boots were yet to be distributed. The land of Siberia that I set foot on was frozen stiff and as dark as black in color.

One after another, we started to discard our belongings on the way. First went heavy books and other documents, next went other small miscellaneous items and finally, the clothes. Almost nobody cared to pick them up later on. One of the commissioned officers who served as an adjutant general of a troop even left official documents once cherished so much such as directories and military certificates of achievement. The sight of confetti soaring through the gray sky of Siberia hinted the end of the Imperial Army. Even nowadays, I still cannot get the sight out of my mind.