“Let me tell you why I am here today,” Yosuke Matsuzaki said before the whiskey part of the Blackened Canteen Ceremony.
Yosuke Matsuzaki is the son of Lt. Mitsuo Matsuzaki, a pilot in the Imperial Japanese Navy who flew Cdr. Fuchida up around and above Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Cdr. Fuchida was the attack coordinator, and directed the lieutenant to transmit the famous, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (Interesting note: ‘tora’ is a Japanese acronym for torpedo attack). Lt. Matsuzaki—with Cdr. Fuchida in tow—was one of the attacking bombers in the fight that sank the USS Arizona. Lt. Matsuzaki returned from that battle, but later went MIA during an air raid elsewhere, widowing his pregnant wife and unborn Yosuke.
“I should never forget the happiness I have enjoyed came at a cost,” Yosuke Matsuzaki said, expressing his desire to pray for the repose of the souls entombed in the Arizona, and his father as well.
As for the attack of Pearl Harbor, he quoted Jesus from Luke 23:34—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Matsuzaki said Cdr. Fuchida—the Pearl Harbor attack coordinator—believed that and became a Christian missionary and ambassador for peace. (Interesting note: Fuchida wrote “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary“…Dad, guess what you’re getting for Christmas!) This year is the first time Matsuzaki attended the Blackened Canteen Ceremony. But what the heck is the Blackened Canteen Ceremony?? Thanks for asking!
The twisted and burned canteen was pulled from the wreckage of two American bombers that collided during the nighttime raid June 20, 1945, in Shizuoka, Japan. Shizuoka includes the Izu Peninsula and the southern slope of Mt. Fuji, and it shares a border with Kanagawa, the prefecture where we lived in Atsugi.
The crash added the 23 B-29 crewmen to the more than 2,000 Shizuoka citizens killed in the raid. Local farmer Fukumatzu Itoh pulled two fatally injured airmen alive from the crash. He also recovered the canteen, which seems to bear a partial hand print of its previous owner. He gave the men a respectful burial alongside local Japanese killed in the raid. Other Japanese did not like this. But Itoh continued, year after year, to pour whiskey onto the crash site memorial as an offering to the spirits of the fallen and pray for the dead, Japanese and American.
A young Hiroya Sugano survived the raid and saw the crash site. Before Itoh died, the now Dr. Sugano took responsibility to continue the ceremonial prayers and whiskey offering from the WWII-blackened canteen. Dr. Sugano poured whiskey into the quiet green waters of the Arizona Memorial as well. The first Blackened Canteen Ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
On December 6, 2017, Dr. Sugano joined hands with several others—WWII veterans, National Park officials, Matsuzaki, among others—to again pour the whiskey offering from the blackened canteen to the calm green water, an offering of peace for the repose of the souls of those entombed below.
“I hope this ceremony will move us a step closer to world peace,” Dr. Sugano said.
Here is a well done one-minute video of the Blackened Canteen Ceremony by Navy public affairs.
I registered to attend this event months ago because I was intrigued by a ceremony where a Japanese man would offer American whiskey to the souls of WWII veterans killed in action. This was also my first visit to the USS Arizona Memorial (NOT for lack of trying—it’s always booked solid for the times we can come). I found the solemnity and sincerity of the ceremony very touching. I arrived before dawn, and as daylight lightened the sky over Pearl Harbor, I thought about how, 76 years ago, this day was the last day of life for all the people killed in the Pearl Harbor attack. Everyone learns about WWII in high school, but I’m always surprised when I realize what a huge impact WWII continues to have on every day aspects of regular life, even my life married to someone in the military: what we do, where we live, where our kids are born. If Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor that day, would Isaac have been born in Japan? There’s a rabbit hole.
And as the current geopolitical situation seems to spiral more wildly out of control on a daily basis, it’s hard not to think of these historic events playing out in a modern world war and, selfishly, what that would look like for our family. So I took a flower, and prayed for peace, and cast it into the water below.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:7).