The Sun Also Rises

Upon picking up Yamamoto, the Mie Maru reversed its course, heading back through the Tacoma Narrows, through Puget Sound, and out through the Straits of Juan de Fuca. A Coast Guard escorted leads and followed the Mie Maru. The federal government took little chances that Yamamoto might somehow escape and not leave the United States. As the Mie Maru passed Blaine, the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, the Coast Guard escorts allowed the Mie Maru to pass into the open ocean of the Pacific, and they returned back towards Seattle, presumably enroute back to Bremerton, their home station. The Mie Maru was on its way to Japan, with Yamamoto on board.

Yamamoto was happy to see his was family, relieved to be out of McNeil Island, and relaxed in the confines of his cabin on the Mie Maru. The Japanese Naval attaché paid a quick visit to Yamamoto’s cabin. As lower ranking officers, they were respectful and courteous to Yamamoto and his family. They debriefed him on the journey home and of his official “transfer” to Japan. After they leave, Yamamoto settled into a comfortable sitting chair and breathed a sigh of relief. His wife brought the suitcase she has been carefully keeping watch since receiving it from the Japanese Consulate.

Helen presented it to her husband as an offering of utmost importance. Kanekichi, however, was quite casual upon receiving it. It was apparent that he knew of its contents and barely concerned over what it was. He flipped open the brass latches with his thumbs and lifted the lid of the suitcase. A few bills fluttered out of the suitcase from the small wind and vacuum created from the opening of the suitcase. Inside, “bricks” of hundred dollar bills were carefully arranged, with smatterings of $1,000 bills and gold certificates (whether they were mostly $1,000 or $10,000 certificates, it was not clear), seemingly carelessly arranged and stuffed into the nondescript suitcase. Yamamoto took a quick glance but he was surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly) disinterested. He closed it nonchalantly and asks his wife to take it away for safe-keeping. Maybe there was a $1 million or maybe it was $10 million.

His family left him alone to contemplate. As with his previous ocean crossings, he has much time to mull over where he has been, where he was going, and, this time, where he was returning. Life has moved quite quickly over the past twenty years since he first arrived in America. It was a fantastic and nearly unbelievable journey. As the famous Lao Tzu goes,

“The journey of thousand miles begins with one step.”

After that first step into Elliott Bay in 1918, Yamamoto had taken many more.
Crossing the Proverbial Rubicon

That said, perhaps there were still many more steps to be taken on this journey. However, perhaps it was no longer just his journey, but a journey larger than his own. A journey that was not yet completed, and a journey that was not Yamamoto’s to complete. From the eyes of the outside world, perhaps the journey – Japan’s journey – was just beginning.

When Japan invaded Northern China in 1937, it had crossed the proverbial Rubicon. By 1939, Japan had conquered all of Manchuria and most of coastal China. America who had previously largely appeased Japanese aggression in Asia was now firmly committed to defending the integrity of China. America was still more concerned by Germany’s assault on Europe, but when Japan formed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940, Japan had to be confronted as the enemy.
The Rest Is History

The Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It has largely been characterized as a “sneak attack” on America. Conspiracy theorists often claim President Roosevelt knew and “allowed” Japan to attack the Hawaiian Island on that fateful Sunday morning – as though the United States needed an excuse to engage Japan in the Pacific. Somehow, popular American history elides over the build up from the nineteenth century with Perry’s opening on Japan to Japan’s invasion of China in the late 1930’s. Further, following the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan attacked the Philippines on December 8, 1941 (actually, only 8 hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, since the Philippines is on the opposite side of the International dateline from Hawaii). Incredibly, Japan also launched an attack on Thailand on December 8, 1941. It was a multi-point assault across the Pacific. In the light of this evidence, it’s hard to concluded that this was a secret attack on America.

The Japanese Army had largely taken control of Japan. General Hideki Tojo had become Prime Minister and wielded much power. Brutal military victories in China and Asia in general fomented growing Nationalism and confidence, allowing Tojo to consolidate much power, usurping even that of Prime Minister Hirohito. The Army was clearly in charge.

What of Kanekichi Yamamoto? He continued to maintain strong personal relationships with the Japanese Imperial Navy. However, now returned to Japan as just a citizen, he had little power or control as he had in the United States, both as a feared mobster or leader of Japanese espionage in America. It appeared that he had settled into a much smaller life and “footprint.” I’m sure he asked himself, “What else could he achieve?” But, he probably concluded that nothing near the scale of his past life.

That said, many years ago in the 1980’s my father once casually mentioned the one last effort my grandfather made, perhaps in the 1940’s. He said he led a group of prisoners to Thailand to build military runways for Japanese aircraft – basically makeshift airports in the dirt. I’ve later come to surmise that “prisoners” probably meant Koreans and Chinese that were subjugated during Japan’s brutal occupations. Japan probably never used these landing strips, as it never was able to get a stronghold in Thailand. When my father told me this story, we were watching on television a rerun of the 1957 epic movie, “The Bridge over River Kwai.” To this day, I still wonder whether this fictional story was somehow based on a kernel of truth about my grandfather.

What followed from Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor is well documented. I won’t go into any of the details of that here. The United States internment of Japanese in America followed shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. The “Battle of Midway” (as documented in the movie “Midway”) is largely viewed as the turning point of the war. And finally, the war comes to an abrupt end after the United States drops two atomic bombs on Japan on August 8, 1945.

Japan was left in shambles. For better or worse, Kanekichi Yamamoto’s work was done.

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