9781557505446 / 1557505446

Requiem for Battleship Yamato (Bluejacket Books)


Publisher:Naval Institute Press



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About the book:

The name "Yamato" is synonymous with a cartoon space craft on television to most young Japanese today. They are blithely unaware of the huge super-battleship that sunk, along with the majority of its crew and its nation's hopes, in April 1945 under heavy American fire off Okinawa in the Pacific Ocean. Among the few survivors was Mitsuru Yoshida, ensign, assistant radar officer on the ship. His first-hand account of the battle, and the preparation of the ship's company for it, is a startling piece of literature, quite without precedent, a minor classic in Japan but here published unabridged in English for the first time. It takes the form of a log or journal, mostly in the present tense, but with a free attitude to perspective when the occasion demands. The style is elliptical, often without verb or even subject, lending an urgency to sentences which often constitute dehydrated paragraphs. Best described as a prose-poem, it is worked in a style of Japanese used for military documents, which gives the writing the air of a despatch as well as suggesting the staccato rhythm of conflict.

The narrative rolls with the lurching inevitability of classical tragedy, absorbing in its stifled, sparse tone, though at times the going can be hard for all concerned. It brings to mind Saint-Exupéry's Flight to Arras, interspersing action with contemplation, giving potted biographies of people who die before we reach the end of the sentence. Yoshida's vivid descriptions resonate with every shell as what simultaneously detonates within him is the realisation of the arbitrariness of death, something common in survivor literature, how a fraction of circumstance can make the most crucial difference, and how banal it actually is. That the task force headed by "Yamato" was kamikaze merely adds to the futility, but from such tragedy has come this curious, original account that deserves to be accorded minor classic status wherever it is read. --David Vincent

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