“Meshiage” in the freight train

Whoever belonged to the army probably remembers the fun of what we call “Meshiage.” It means picking up the meals in the kitchen to share with soldiers in one’s own internal affairs corp. This same kitchen, however, was a fairly scary place for soldiers of the lowest rank who became in charge of the cook’s duty.

Usually a veteran Sergeant assumed the role of the captain of the cook’s duty and he was called a “Cooking Sergeant.” Within this group, there were quite a few soldiers who could not even recite the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors properly or those who could not treat guns appropriately. There were others who used to work as a cook in a Japanese kitchen or a chef. Rogues were also included in this group and some had tattoos all over their body.

These soldiers of the cook’s duty had enough food and were big and muscular with the physical labor. The first year soldiers were scared and trembled their body when they were yelled by these soldiers. We used a big aluminum can called “Bakukan (can of barley)” to put rice and barley in. We nervously went to the kitchen to return the can and as soon as we try to sneakily place the can and run away, they yelled “Wait!!!”

They carefully examine the can and once they find even a grain of rice, they would throw back the can and say, “Go wash it again!” I said, “Yes, sir!” and picked up the can that was all covered with mud. I still remember how mad I felt washing it off again at the sink. Water in winter times was as cold as the hands went numb and I shed a tear in resentment. Being thrown out was even better as we got double slap in the face when the senior solider was in a bad mood. These stories are only true in army in general and different from how it worked for us on the train across Siberia. I still wanted to share it with you.

Preparing meals during transport was a serious matter. We had to cook inside the train while the train was moving. We picked up food supplies at the stations or used stuff in the food-storing car but as the train did not run as scheduled, we sometimes could not bring in the supplies to the kitchen car in time. This “kitchen car” was actually just a Boxcar where we set the rolling kitchen of the Japanese Army so that it would not move. It was not easy to cook rice and prepare dishes inside the small car. We had an awful time until we got used to it as the car moved, the boiled water spilled out of the cooker and the rice was only half cooked.

As I was the chief commission officer of the military headquarter, I naturally became in charge of the payroll duty and this made me rush to the kitchen car every time the train stopped at the stations. To distribute meals to each train car was another piece of work.

As the supply of rice and miso still continued for a while after the transportation started, we could cook Japanese meals. It was, however, difficult to distribute those among soldiers. We put the cooked rice and miso in the 19 gal (maximum of 72L) sake barrel that was hanged with wire and two soldiers carried these barrels with a log. It was not a big problem when the train stopped for a while but we had to rush when the stoppage time was short. As the train started unexpectedly, I once in a while jumped onto the train in a hurry.