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Camp Commandant Lt. Col. Shigeo Emoto (1888-1966)

This is a revised version of the biography that I wrote and first published on this web site in 2013. The revisions are not extensive, but they do correct the start date I had for the Lt. Col.'s tenure as Camp Commandant of the Hakodate Group of POW Camps. Also, they add several extracts from the second of my father Dan Brown's three FEPOW diaries, that covers the period January 1944 and August 1945 and thus encompasses the Emoto period.

In making these revisions I have become increasingly convinced of the benign and overwhelmingly positive - even life-saving - influence of Lt. Col. Emoto. This does not detract from my conclusion that he was something of a lone voice amidst the generalised cruelty and criminality of the Imperial Japanese Army, but the revised version does give an even fuller picture of his legacy.

I am particularly drawn to the humanity of Emoto's commissioning of a truck load of beer for the ex-POWs in the final days before they were evacuated from the camp, but also of course, to his civilised - and controversial - approach to commanding the camp. To quote my father's own words, on 24 August 1945, "Col. Emoto has now taken over control of our welfare during the rest of our stay in Japan. I think and it is the general opinion of us all that we could have no better Japanese official and that when we move to Hakodate he will do all in his power to give us a good time. A speech this evening by the old Commandant, another ¼ bottle of beer for a toast."

Lt. Col. Shigeo Emoto
Lieutenant Colonel Emoto Photograph published in Yokohama University History Journal March 2017

The first Hakodate Camp Group commander was Colonel Toshio Hatakeyama, the second was Lieutenant Colonel Shigeo Emoto, and the third was Colonel Atsuo Hosoi.

Shigeo Emoto, a graduate of the Shikangzakko-Military Academy, had pre-War military service in the Japanese Army. Shortly after his graduation he was chosen to study English at Hong Kong after a brilliant showing in the Tokyo School of Foreign language and was a teacher of English language for army officers. Emoto became Senior Professor of English in Yokohama College, the predecessor of Kanagawa University in Yokohama.

In the book 'Teaching English As a Foreign Language, 1936-1961: Foundations of ELT', Volume 5, edited by Richard C. Smith, Emoto's teaching method was singled out for great praise. It says: "Now, it is possible even in the upper level for teachers to obtain excellent results in oral work, in spite of the terrible handicaps brought out by a wrong kind of teaching in the secondary school. I know a former Japanese colonel, Shigeo Emoto, who obtained amazing results in a technical college, whose English Department he headed." This was the same Shigeo Emoto who in 1934 translated into English from the original Japanese a manual of war entitled "Battle Principles".

Prisoners in 
Java
Battle Principles

Emoto was recalled to the service in 1941, serving first in the rail transport section. Then in March 1944 he was assigned as Commandant of Prisoner of War Camps in Hakodate, a move to better the treatment of prisoners by Major General Hamada. In his wartime diary my father Dan Brown notes: "A new commandant took over control of the area this month. Lt. Col. Emoto is well up in the English language, both in grammar and general figures of speech. He has also studied the ways of living in England. He introduced himself soon after his arrival in a speech to the camp, when he explained his interest in the English-speaking peoples and told us that as far as was in his power he would make this camp of ours the best in Japan. He said of course that he would need the co-operation of everyone in the camp, but as this intention of his was to benefit our own lives and comfort he felt sure we would give him our full co-operation.

"From that day we noticed various improvements in the camp. The guards are more friendly towards us, at least there are no more “beatings up”. The same with the Japanese at work. Needless to say this is a big thing to be able to go about the camp and at work without the fear of a possible “bashing” the next minute. The Colonel commences to interview the personnel of the camp commencing with the N.C.O.s and officers. A lot of requests made at these interviews are fulfilled and where it is impossible a suitable explanation is given. The office is also open to anyone who wishes to see the Colonel over any matter however trivial it may seem."

Only 3 months after Colonel Emoto took command my father notes the beneficial impact that he brought about: "The changes in the camp from what it was last year are fairly evident if one takes the trouble to look back and compare things. Life is made much easier and pleasanter for us these days and although the work is just as hard and the hours as long as was the health condition of the men all making it more bearable." On 27 September another small but important improvement was noted: "We are now allowed to write home four cards a month each of 100 words." On 3 October Dan remarks that a Lt. Wyndes arrives in the camp from Miroran; apparently he came to work on a book by the Commandant. The book is not mentioned later, but this project is worthy of further research.

On 25 December 1944, my father notes that in the evening at 8 o/c a show was put on, "given in honour of the Colonel's birthday". Then, in reflective mood, he sums up the year in the following terms: "Taking things all round this has been a good year. It has had its ups and downs but the morale of the lads has been very good. Mail and Red Cross supplies have been mostly responsible for this although the Prison Authorities under Colonel Emoto have been very helpful towards us. "

However, all good things come to an end and on 27 May 1945 my father notes in his diary: "Also we have had a change of Commandant. Yesterday the old Commandant gave us a farewell speech, bringing us home early [from work] in order to do so."

The Treatment of Prisoners of War by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Focusing on the Pacific War: NIDS Security Report, No. 9 (2008)

In a research paper The Treatment of Prisoners of War by the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy Focusing on the Pacific War Kyoichi Tachikawa mentions Shigeo Emoto. Tachikawa is Chief of the Military History Division, Center for Military History of the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo. He looks at examples and causes of inhumane treatment inflicted on POWs by the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy during the Pacific War.

In his conclusion, Tachikawa says "There were definitely some camp commanders who made efforts to thoroughly ban arbitrary corporal punishment. For example, Shigeo Emoto, the second camp commander of Hakodate Main Camp, gathered his prisoners and taught them about differences in customs and body language between Western countries and Japan and repeatedly showed them how to avoid being misunderstood by the guards. Every time he made inspection rounds of the branch camps he tried to assist the prisoners by giving them advice and explanations. He also gathered his prison staff to give them explicit instructions never to strike prisoners under any circumstances. Such efforts by Emoto seem to have paid off but relatively successful cases like this were extremely rare."

Hakodate c
   .1930
Hakodate: circa 1930

An Australian newspaper article by Dr. Peter V. RussoIn 1948 Russo was Staff Correspondent in Japan of The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria) reports that SCAPSupreme Commander for (or of) the Allied Powers was the title held by General Douglas MacArthur during the Occupation of Japan following World War II. In Japan, the position was generally referred to as GHQ (General Headquarters), as SCAP also referred to the offices of the occupation, including a staff of several hundred U.S. civil servants and military personnel . acclaimed Colonel Emoto as the "model camp commandant."

Dr. Russo, who had known Emoto in pre-War Tokyo, described him as "a dapper little Japanese colonel called Shige Emoto who mixed a great deal with foreigners" and remembered him for his "closely shorn head, rigid military bearing, ribbons and samurai sword". Russo also remarks on his inclination to talk at length on the virtues of Japanese chivalry and why foreigners should learn more about them.

When Emoto took charge at Hakodate, the camp was considered a notorious hell-hole even among the Japanese. Emoto's first act was to post notices around the camp forbidding guards to beat or ill treat the prisoners. Then, to improve sanitation, he installed sewerage, making Hakodate the only camp in Japan with modern health and medical equipment.

Internees who died during Emoto's command were buried with military honours, and everyone was excused from work to attend the funeral. Red Cross parcels were distributed immediately after arrival, and guards who attempted to loot them were severely punished. The commandant encouraged prisoners to bring their complaints direct to him. He stiffly proffered cigarettes and tea to the visitor, maintained his stern military demeanour, but invariably gave the complaint sympathetic consideration.

If all this sounds too good to be true, consider that there are POWs and others who have confirmed and expanded upon what Dr. Russo wrote in 1948 (and I have not found anything to the contrary in the writings of former POWs or others).

POWs Joe Dunne and Eric Cooper speak well of Emoto. Dunne relates that when Emoto took over as Hakodate Camp Commandant, the men were impressed by his flawless English and his genuine interest in the welfare of the prisoners. He came across as a man of education, travel and experience, inspiring confidence and hopes of better times ahead. Each man in the Camp was brought before Lt. Col Emoto to have their individual concerns reviewed and he asked the prisoners to write a list of requests. Many were filled immediately - there were new socks, towels, overalls, and tea cups for the men, a raise in pay of 1 Sen a day and every Sunday was to be a Rest Day, instead of one in three. A slight increase in the size of rations followed, Red Cross parcels were distributed and Guards and Work Supervisors were forbidden from striking prisoners. At the Kamiiso Dispatched Camp he moved control from the Cement Works, placing it under the administration of the Army instead.

Much of this account accords with my father's description of improvements in camp conditions that took place in the period March 1944 to May 1945.

Cooper says of Lt-Col Emoto that he was a fine professional soldier. Moreover, he relates the tale that as the War ended in August 1945, Emoto had a truck-load of bottled beer delivered and addressed the men, apologising for the awful conditions they had lived under and said if they ever returned to Japan they would be welcome at his home.

Prisoners in Java
Prisoners in Java: Accounts by Allied Prisoners of War in the Far East (1942-1945) captured in Java

There are three references to Emoto in the book Prisoners in Java compiled from accounts by POWs captured in Java. Robert Chapman tells a short story of two POWS working at Hakodate docks who were caught for a deception concerning a pair of putteesPuttees, the name adapted from the Hindi patti, a bandage or long strip of cloth, wound tightly and spirally round the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, serving both as a support and protection, first adopted as part of the uniform of foot and mounted soldiers serving in British India during the 1890s.. When Commandant Emoto asked them "Are you two friends?" and they answered in the affirmative, Emoto commented 'Birds of a flock feather together'. Chapman says they enjoyed the misquote but not the bashing. In the course of the story he describes Lieutenant Colonel Emoto as "the highly educated Japanese, supreme English scholar".

In the same book, Danny Meaghan, one of the two POWs who perpetrated the puttee scam, describes how he saved the life of a Japanese woman worker whilst working in the same first floor workshop at Hakodate Docks. She dragged a heavy wooden pattern to a trap in the floor where she hooked it on to a block and tackle to lower it to the floor below , when she lost her balance and was falling face down through the trap. Meaghan managed to get an arm around her and stop her falling, losing his own balance and having to cling onto the rope with one hand and her with the other, both of them "swinging Tarzan fashion" until they were rescued. He expected trouble for having placed his arm around her but nothing was said.

On returning to camp one day a week later he saw that a platform had been erected in front of the Jap Headquarters and on parade were British officers, the cooks, sick orderlies and all the camp staff and guards. The men were stood to attention facing the dais upon which Lt. Col. Emoto mounted, and his number 204 was shouted. Meaghan stepped out of the ranks expecting a public flogging, when to his amazement Emoto launched into a speech, saying: "It is hard for a man to show bravery when he is a prisoner of war but there is one man whose bravery shines out like a light." He went on to tell the assembled men, staff and guards the story, and when he finished he beckoned Meaghan onto the platform. Emoto saluted with a bow, which Meaghan returned, after which he was presented with a Certificate, a hundred cigarettes and a dozen razor blades.

The Prisoners in Java book quotes from the RAF Java Newsletter Vol. 1 No. 7, Oct 1944: "The conditions and state of a camp are entirely dependent upon the personality of the Japanese commandant. If he is a good man, he will help the prisoners in his charge but if he is of a military character, he will be harsh and make conditions less tolerable. A recent report from Hakodate describes the Jap commandant as 'vivacious, a former teacher of English in the Tokyo university and intent on making the camps in his charge the best in Japan'."

The Washington daily newspaper Stars and Stripes, November 3, 1946, reported that: "Shigeo Emoto, then a lieutenant colonel who took Hatakayama's place, has been singled out and praised by many former prisoners who came into contact with him. Affidavits on file with the SCAP Legal Secion testify that Emoto's appointment "brightened our lives" and that "he stood out as a beacon" among Japanese prisoner-of-war camp personnel." In the three notebooks that comprise his Diary the only member of the Imperial Japanese Army my father names is Lieutenant Colonel Emoto. This is faint praise indeed on my father's part.

Russo says that unfortunately complaints were also being made to the commandant's superiors, that he was accused of coddling the prisoners, of being pro-Allied, and of "interpreting the samurai codeIn 8th century Japan the first samurai were civilian public servants and in the 12th century the samurai-class appeared as the political ruling power in Japan. Over time, powerful samurai clans became warrior nobility and adopted aristocratic pastimes like calligraphy, poetry and music. In the late 19th century, the samurai class was abolished, and a national standing army was established. Bushido or "the way of the warrior", is similar to the concept of chivalry, allowing the violent life of the samurai to be tempered by wisdom and serenity. Bushido stresses frugality, loyalty, mastery of martial arts, and honour to the death. Samurai teachings can still be found today in both everyday life and in modern Japanese martial arts. in a manner detrimental to Japan."

In his short tenure of 14 months as prison camp commander, Emoto personally instructed his subordinates in the many and varied customs of their prisoners. However, when Hamada was sent to Thailand and relieved by Major General Tamura as head of POW War Information section, the life of the prisoners quickly returned to their former conditions. Russo confirms that Emoto was demoted and posted to duties which gave him no further contact with foreigners, and that within a few weeks of his departure Hakodate had retrieved its reputation as one of the most brutal POW camps in Japan. Emoto was transferred, evidently because of his just treatment of prisoners, an approach far from universally supported by the Japanese High Command.

"we could have no better Japanese official"

After Hakodate Emoto was transferred to the Hokkaido section of the Japanese army that handled the Koreans imported as labour battalions and he remained at that post until the cessation of hostilities. However, it seems that his demotion and transfer away from contact with prisoners was not entirely successful for he turns up again in the last days of the Bibai (formerly Hakodate) camp group. He arrived at the camp and spoke to an assembly of the men. In perfect English he apologised for the awful and degrading conditions that they had suffered, he instructed the guards (who were hardly to be seen) to treat POWs as ordinary men and concluded: "Gentlemen, I have the honour and privilege to tell you, that the War has finished." A British Officer called for three cheers for Colonel Emoto, which was deafening.

Eric Cooper says of this event: "In my mind I still have a clear and lovely picture of the Japanese Colonel - alone, but still proud - standing to attention. Then from him one last word, that whatever our Rank, whether Navy, Army or Air Force, if ever we returned to Japan, we would be welcome at his home." Eric also gives a detailed account of the beer delivery and Emoto's speech to the men announcing the end of the War, events that took place in mid- August 1945.

Similarly, on 24 August 1945 my father records in his diary: "The return of Col. Emoto. Our ex- Commandant visited the camp this morning and gave us a speech and a bottle of beer between four to drink a toast. Have had some sweetmeats issued today. Expecting butter, sugar and biscuits in near future. Port stew, new potatoes and green peas for dinner and a boiled egg for supper. Col. Emoto has now taken over control of our welfare during the rest of our stay in Japan. I think and it is the general opinion of us all that we could have no better Japanese official and that when we move to Hakodate he will do all in his power to give us a good time. A speech this evening by the old Commandant, another ¼ bottle of beer for a toast."

At the end of the war Lt. Col. Emoto was detained in custody at Sugamo prison, but was freed of charges as a war crimes suspect without coming to trial. Apparently, and this is Russo again, the regard in which Emoto was held by internees is seen in the hundreds of anxious letters sent to SCAP by former POWs, wanting to know what has happened to their former commandant and whether anything can be done for him. Thus there is a widespread shared view that Emoto was indeed something akin to a "model camp commandant". Later, he was employed as an interpreter in the First Demobilization Board. He stayed true to his declaration that any ex- POWs would be welcome at his home, and some did visit him later. He died in 1966, aged 78 years.

In conclusion, I would repeat the words of another son of a Hakodate FEPOW, that Shigeo Emoto was "a man responsible for saving hundreds of lives on Hokkaido". However, I would add that if the model commandant view of Lt. Col. Shigeo Emoto is correct - and a mass of evidence points that way - this should not be taken to mean that life was ever easy in the Hakodate camps. Far from it.

In other words, Emoto was a lone voice. His views and instructions undoubtedly had an impact on those who served under him, and were at least partially obeyed. The results were certainly recognised by the men. However, "model behaviour" was a rarity and the post-war military commissions into war crimes by Hakodate officers and soldiers are testimony to the widespread practice of inhumane treatment of prisoners.

Postscript

We know that Shigeo Emoto was as good as his word that if any POWs at Haodate ever returned to Japan they would be welcome at his home. Some took up his offer of hospitality. Moreover, his son Susumu also took a keen interest in meeting the families of POWs; sadly he died in 2016 in Tokyo. He is buried at the same cemetery in the Yamanashi Prefecture as his father.

Sources
Brown, Daniel Ralph, Far East Prisoner of War DiaryWhen my father started keeping this diary, in December 1941 as he left Liverpool Dock, he had no idea how long and tortuous the journey would be. This is a personal account of capture, hell ships, lives lost, internment, cruelty and determination to survive., published online by Nigel Brown at Diary of Dan Brown 1941-45 (2017)
Takakawa, Kyoichi, The Treatment of Prisoners of War by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, Focusing on the Pacific War, Japan National Institute for Defense Studies Security Report, No. 9 (2008).
Russo, Peter V., A Model Japanese, Staff Correspondent in Japan of The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), Friday 15th October 1948.
Java FEPOW 1942 Club (compiled), Prisoners in Java, Accounts by Allied Prisoners of War in the Far East (1942-1945)A collection of personal accounts of Prisoners of War captured in Java, written for the Java Club Journal between 1984 and 2005. These articles illustrate the horror and despair, and some humorous moments, of their 3½ years of captivity., Hamwic Publishers 2007
Cooper, Eric, Tomorrow You DieEric wrote this moving account of his experiences as a Far East Prisoner of War to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II. He describes the incidents as they ocurred, and records a piece of history that should never be forgotten. A story of triumph over degradation and adversity, he shows that the human spirit can never be defeated however terrible the circumstances., published by E.S. Cooper & Sons, Huddersfield, March 1995
Dunne, J.B. ("Joe"), J.B. Dunne ... A life well lived, published online by his granddaughter Stephanie
POW Research Network Japan, POW Camps in Japan Proper by Toru Fukubayashi, research paper about Establishment of the Camps of the Allied POWs; Daily Life of the POWs; Liberation of the POWs and the War Crimes Trial; List of the POW Camps in Japan
Visit to Hakodate: 17 & 18 October, 2013, the detailed record of the Hakodate Visit in 2013 compiled by Yuka Ibuki through the request by Mr. Masatoshi Asari, who would like to use it for educational projects he organizes. It is part of the 4th US POWs and Japanese People Friendship Program. The whole record is posted in the bilingual site US-Japan Dialogue on POWs.