A photographic introduction to items from the collection

Materials Related to the Sakura Regiment Waiting for Their Turn

The Permanent Exhibits Gallery 6 "Contemporary History" which was opened in March this year deals with the issues of wars from Meiji to Showa in the first half section "War and Peace." Among them, the issues of the army and the front (battlefield) are explained by taking the Sakura Regiment, which existed in the Museum's location, as a specific example. This gallery is also a succession and development of the Special Program "The Sakura Regiments and the Age of War" which was held four years ago. Although a lot of the materials in this gallery are from the past exhibition, there are also many materials newly collected since the special program. However, we could not display all the collected materials this time. Here, I would like to introduce just a small portion of the many materials which could not be displayed in the newly opened Gallery 6 but are waiting for their turn as candidate materials for future exhibits.

Architectural Drawing of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Headquarters

This architectural drawing was donated by an individual in Chiba Prefecture whose ancestor was a carpenter. Gallery 6 currently exhibits a model of the barracks of the 2nd Infantry Regiment stationed in Sakura Castle Park in 1874 (Meiji 7), a lithograph bird's-eye view, an excavated roof tile of the barracks, etc. to explain the Sakura Regiment, and then the formation and the structure of the Japanese military. However, we could not display this architectural drawing in the gallery because it is not a drawing of the regiment itself but that of the brigade which was an organization superior to the regiment, which makes the explanation difficult.

The brigade was an organization unit of the army positioned between the division and the regiment. As it was called infantry brigade, trooper brigade, and artillery brigade, the brigade was the largest unit of the single branch of the service. The headquarters which existed in Sakura were those of the 2nd Infantry Brigade under which there were the 2nd Infantry Regiment (Sakura) and the 3rd Infantry Regiment (Tokyo). This material is the drawing of the building which was newly built in 1885 (Meiji 18). The building is located in a corner of the drill ground at a distance from the barracks of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, and drawn in a separate frame in the bird's-eye view lithograph "Sakura Barracks and Brigade Headquarters" made in 1889 (Meiji 22). We learn from this plan that the building had the entrance, officers’ dining room, night-duty room, accounting department, library, warehouse, etc. on the first floor, and the rooms of the brigade commander and the staff officer, second reserve military headquarters, meeting room, etc. on the second floor. Because its function was only for the undertaking of office work, not so many people would have worked here. The brigade headquarters existed in Sakura for a short time, and moved to Tokyo at the time of the Sino-Japanese War. After that, this building was used as Sakura Regiment Ward Headquarters (organization in charge of military draft totally different from the regiment), but destroyed by fire on March 25, 1930 (Showa 5).

Sectional view of Sakura Brigade Headquarters Side view of Sakura Infantry Brigade Headquarters inside Barracks
Sectional view of Sakura Brigade Headquarters Side view of Sakura Infantry Brigade Headquarters inside Barracks

Photos of Sakura Barracks Just Before the End of War

We had various responses from local people who visited our Special Program four years ago, and were given many valuable materials from them. The photos introduced here are some of those materials and copies of their originals.

Gallery 6 depicts the figures of soldiers of the period from the Manchurian Incident to the Pacific War by following the steps of the 57th Infantry Regiment (regiment that established barracks in Sakura after the 2nd Infantry Regiment) which was transferred to Manchuria in 1936 (Showa 11) and destroyed in Leyte Island in the Philippines in 1944 (Showa 19). However, the barracks in Sakura continued to exist even after the 57th Infantry Regiment left Sakura. New military units were organized and sent to the front from there. Especially at a late stage of the war, military units were organized in haste one after another, and the place did not lose its function as barracks.

These are the photos of the inside of the Sakura barracks taken around 1945 (Showa 20), and unique photos which offer a glimpse of life in the barracks. However, although these photos with a peaceful impression naturally give us a true image of the time, the image is only a fragment or one moment of the time.

Floor plan of Sakura Brigade Headquarters Route of hostile aircrafts to attack the Greater East Asia War Eastern 64th Unit
Floor plan of Sakura Brigade Headquarters Route of hostile aircrafts to attack the Greater East Asia War Eastern 64th Unit

Illustration Describing Air-Raid against Sakura Barracks

In addition to the photos, there is an illustration ("Route of hostile aircrafts to attack the Greater East Asia War Eastern 64th Unit") describing air-raids by the US forces as a record by a soldier in the Sakura barracks at a late stage of the war. It is drawn on the inside of the front cover of a notebook with a pen. Although the illustration is amateurish, it tells us that small-scale air-raids against the barracks were frequent at the time with significant signs of defeat, as shown in the texts as follows: "On February 12, one of about 500 bombardments by B29s hit and set fire to the hospital but the fire was extinguished;" "At 1:30 pm on July 21, this aircraft attacked the unit, but the damage was small with just a scratch to the building;" "On August 9, there was one death in the battle, one apprentice officer was killed in the battle," etc.

Here, I would like to introduce a text by a former soldier who stayed in Sakura barracks. This text came to us not as a certain material but as a record of experience. Until now there was no opportunity to introduce it, but the mood of the barracks of the time just before the end of the war will be brought back to life by reading it together with the photos and the illustration mentioned above.

I joined the Sakura Regiment (the Eastern 64th Unit, the Tokyo District 5th Reserve) on June 5 in 1945 (Showa 20) when I graduated from Maebashi Military Academy for Reserve Army and became an apprentice officer on the previous day. I arrived in Tokyo (Shibuya) by a special overnight train early in the morning. About 2,000 people were sorted out at the D.H.Q. in the former First Senior High School, and I was assigned to the 5th Reserve. About 400 people were together in Sakura, and I settled in the 5th Company with 22 people. Ten apprentice officers like us from other education units were already there. A total of 33 people gathered to receive the instructions of the Company Commander the next day, and I was assigned as a defense officer of the Company. Every time an air-raid warning was announced, I had to climb up the observation post built on the roof of the barracks and announce the status of hostile aircrafts to the ground with a megaphone. We were targeted by carrier-borne aircrafts and strafed with machine gun fire several times. I was lucky not to be hit by the bullets, but it was regrettable that some soldiers who jumped into the barracks and stayed there were killed or injured. The observation post overlooked the whole Kanto area. From there, I could see carrier-borne aircrafts appearing over Lake Kasumigaura one after another from Kashima Nada, ascending to the height of about 10,000 meters in the Tsuchiura area, descending near Mount Tsukuba to a height of about 3,000 meters, then scattering and flying to the designated area.

When I studied the route of those aircrafts carefully, I saw some smoke spots of explosion of anti-aircraft guns at the height from which the bullets did not reach the carrier-borne aircrafts. I found that the carrier-borne aircrafts were very familiar with the possible range of the anti-aircraft fire of the Japanese army. I understood that the guns were useless because even the bullets of the anti-aircraft guns with the highest performance in the Tsuchiura area reached only up to 9,000 meters. Moreover, I could not see even the mast of the mother ship which should have been off Kashima Nada from the observation post. The Japanese army could do nothing, and I hardly saw Japanese fighter aircrafts. Only once I saw three Japanese aircrafts flying low together inconspicuously to the west just after an alarm sounded.

In the regiment, I carried on my duty as a member of the Reserve by providing people called to duty with equipment as soldiers, and assigning apprentice officers to each small unit and sending them to the field. When I was there, we could not provide sufficient equipment, not to mention weapons which were scarce. Soldiers formed ranks and went out empty-handed from the barrack gate. As members of the army corps, division, separate battalion, etc., they headed mostly for the neighborhood of Tokyo, but some of them organized separate battalions in Izu Peninsula. Weapons were likely to be supplied in the field. [Extract of the record of experience "In the Sakura Regiment" written by Arinobu Ebara]

According to the survey on air-raid victims in Chiba Prefecture as of October 1945, 34 people were killed and 44 people were injured under the control of Sakura Police Station. We are not sure if the figures include the victims in the barracks mentioned in the above record of experience.

Takehiko Higuchi (Japanese Modern History, Research Department)