Skip to content

22nd June 1945

Just as my train was going to pull out of Tokyo station a railroad official came up to our crowded coach and shouted a command. A ripple of restlessness ran along the aisle and I wondered what was up until a long file of soldiers, carrying wooden boxes wrapped in white napkins, entered the coach with as much solemnity as they could muster in the press of elbow to elbow. They were bearing the ashes of the war-dead.

Slowly and irregularly, one after the other, the passengers rose to their feet. Most of the men doffed their caps. We waited while the officer in charge of the detachment looked over the seats. Many faces were concealed in reverence; other scarcely hid lines of annoyance and apprehension lest they be forced to give up their seats for which they had stood so long in line.

But when the officer finally made up his mind and pointed to a group of seats in the center of the coach, the unfortunate passengers took it with characteristic discipline and resignation. The soldiers settled down with their ghostly burdens, sitting up straight, stiff, and expressionless.

Conversation was hushed for a while but soon, as the train jerked into motion and rolled along, the passengers forgot their strange companions. Only when the train stopped briefly at the various stations en route were they reminded of their somber distinction. The crowd that stormed the doors and windows of every car for standing room, all back [illegible] when they saw the white boxes. Then they stared or bowed profoundly and ran to the next car.

The soldiers did not move or speak. They stared blankly straight ahead, engrossed in their own thoughts.