Sunday, April 25, 2010

Third Time to Japan - An ANZAC Day Rememberance

23rd December, 2004 - International marriages can have many different characteristics than typical ones - not least the travel. One of the promises that I had made T-chan was that wherever possible, we would return to Japan once a year. An audacious (some might say fool-hardy) promise made with the vigor of youth; and the freedom of someone without a mortgage at the time. ?;`)

As 2004 came to a close, we set out on our third trip to Japan. Again T-chan had returned to Japan earlier; to spend some quality time with her parents - without having to worry about baby-sitting her new husband.

The flight from Adelaide to Sapporo has a number of different paths - and it used to be that you could fly in the morning or evening. The first leg of the journey is to Sydney via domestic airline (approx 1.5 hours), then a 9-9.5 hour flight to Tokyo (Narita airport - the International hub into Japan).

I am writing this on Anzac Day (25th April) - a day synonymous with reflection on Australia's war-history; commemorating as it does the ill-fated 1915 Gallipoli Landings in Turkey by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). For this reason, it is perhaps fitting to reflect on the events of more than 65 years ago looking out the airplane window...

As the plane leaves the Australian continent, my thoughts turn to Darwin - the Northern gateway to Australia. Darwin was the site of one of the few direct attacks (bombing raids) on mainland Australian soil by Japanese soldiers during WWII... The first such raid occurred on 19th February, 1942 - and whilst this was the most devastating (resulting in approximately 250 dead), there were more than 60 further air raids over the course of the war.

After Darwin, we fly over only one other major land-mass on our way to Japan... Papua New Guinea... Back in the 1940's this part of PNG was actually an Australian territory - and would be yet another battle ground between Australian and Japanese forces. Operations around PNG had commenced at the beginning of 1942, however the mainland engagement commenced in July as the Japanese had starting pushing south towards Port Moresby. In response, the mostly Australian forces undertook the historic Kokoda Trail campaign (over the Owen Stanley Ranges) to repel the Japanese advance - this was perhaps the first time that Imperial Japanese Army had suffered a defeat on land.  Below you can see the township of Lae, which was the location of a huge airbase once it was taken over by the Allied forces in 16 September, 1943.

As the morning turns towards evening, the plane flies almost silently across the Pacific - Guam passes below, hardly looking like a tropical paradise. In July-Aug, 1944 this remote island (some 50x15 km in size) was  the scene of some chilling battles between Japanese and Allied troops. Surrender was not something the Japanese allowed amongst their forces - yet, there are strange stories coming out of wars - such as the story of Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi who was discovered in 1972, after having hidden out in the jungle for approximately 27 years - by himself.

The storm clouds had settled all over the Pacific throughout WWII... how did the world come to this point? It's hard to believe that whilst we now travel backwards and forwards to Japan, not that long ago we were bitterest of enemies - and Pacific ocean was awash with the blood and tears of millions of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Lest we forget.

Evening draws in...

The rising moon above the rising sun...

The flight time to Japan leaves you plenty of time to ponder these things - but the world has luckily changed a lot for the better since then. Life moves on.

If you catch a day-time flight from Australia you arrive into Tokyo late in the evening - too late to catch a connecting flight to Sapporo. The connecting flight would inevitably be out of Haneda Airport - which means you need to catch the limousine bus  for the 1+ hour (3,000 yen) trip to Haneda Airport. It turns out if you catch the night-flight, you can generally schedule a flight directly to Sapporo from Narita in the morning. This trip I had to catch the bus to Haneda airport...

In the distance Fuji sits silently; one of the symbols of Japan. It reminds me that I'm in finally back in Japan, and that whilst somethings may change over the decades, thankfully other things remain almost timelessly constant.

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