Life in the Tent at Kraskino

We walked a long distance in the snow to arrive at a wilderness called Kraskino where we could only spot some low shrubs here and there. We set up a lot of tents by driving the stakes into the hard ground that was dark brown. The size of the tent was big enough to accommodate as many as thirty commissioned officers of the military headquarter.

Pot belly stoves were installed inside the tents. These stoves originally belonged to the Japanese Army but were later seized by the Soviets. The scarcity of fuel turned out to be a problem. While peat was distributed, it was rather like a sample of how coal looks like in the process of being formed. It was cut to the size of a brick and almost like dark mud or plants being altered to clay. Although the peat did not burn with the intensity of coal, it was good enough to keep us warm. The supply was so scarce, however, that we set out to pick up firewood.

We used the low shrubs around the tents as firewood. As it was difficult to pull out these shrubs by hand, although they were withered, we often used sabres that we still wore at our side. While wielding the sword, we almost sneered at ourselves by saying, “who would have imagined using this for such an act?” Sabres get damaged easily. As there is an ancient expression that says “the sword is the soul of a Samurai,” we all cherished and treasured these sabres. It almost brought me to tears to use such a sword as a froe but it was probably what defeat in the war meant after all.

We carried the cut shrubs on our back to the tents. Pot belly stoves consumed considerable amount of firewood every day and turned it into ashes. As we used up the shrubs found around the tents, the distance on our way to pick up firewood started to lengthen. By the time it took more than an hour to reach the spot, we could not call it “exercise” anymore. It became rather a burden while the weather in Siberia started to get bitterly cold day by day.

I started to understand the characteristics and behaviors of the Soviet Army by the time we had spent more than a couple of months with them. Their discipline showed in actions such as giving a salute or standing at attention, they seemed to be inferior to the Japanese soldier. At the same time, it is also true that the Japanese Army, especially the inland troops, liked to enforce this kind of discipline a little too much. While such superficial discipline still matters, troops that focus too much on attire or a salute are more suitable for a military parade, I felt, and would not likely survive on battle fields.

As I was raised in Yokohama, I often went to the port to see foreign warships when I was a junior high school student. Most of them were American warships. At certain times, I was allowed to get inside; at other times I could not see inside. The overall atmosphere, however, was free and unrestrained, and arms seemed to be not so meticulously maintained. A rusty above-water torpedo tube on a destroyer, for instance, seemed to be simply covered with grease. I doubted their readiness at wartime and never expected that the Japanese Navy would be ever defeated by such an navy.

I also set off to see a German battleship, “Deutschland.” As I had great admiration for the ship, it looked swift and strong even with its rather small size, and the crew also seemed to be well trained. Although I later learned the hard way that the victory or defeat of a battle cannot be determined by these superficial factors, this was simply my impression at that time.