In the aftermath of the outbreak of the Pacific War, the college students
of the last grade all over Japan were forced to move their graduation forward
from March the next year to December, 1941 (Showa 16) and to serve in the
military. Suga was one of the students.
Suga's grade at Tokyo Commercial College (TCC, presently Hitotsubashi University)
was 352 students, and 35 among them were killed on the battlefields.
After the war, the same graduates of TCC gathered together as the members of "December Club," which with Goroji Suga as a core has been lasting until now.
The year 2001 was the 60th anniversary of their graduation. All of them
were just over 80 years old.
Celebrating the year, they planned to start the website "December
Club" in an attempt to introduce the huge collection of their compositions
during and after the war since their forced graduation.
Ryohei Tsubune, their junior of 30 years or more, decided to join in the
plan at the request of a person involved who knew Tsubune was familiar
with website-making. It was early spring, three years before, when he met
Goroji Suga for the first time.
Tsubune himself had time to spare because he just left most of the managing
business early at the age of 50 to his junior staff. He was, in fact, seeking
a new life after getting a slight brain infarction several years ago.
He browsed through their composition works and was fascinated by the seniors'
The idea of the December Club members, at first, was that the website woud
be just the introduction of the contents with some summaries and would
lead the interested people to the huge documents in the library of Josui-kaikan
Hall. However, Tsubune insisted to open every document on the website,
and then devoted himself to the work for completion.
At the commemorative general meeting at Josui-kaikan Hall on December 12,
2001, he showed their December Club website on the screen proudly.
This event led Suga close to Tsubune of his 30-year junior.
To begin with, he invited Tsubune to the New Year's Celebration of Josuikai
(Alumni Association of Hitotsubashi University), saying "Bring with
you the business cards as many as possible."
Suga was aggressive and did not mind the hesitation of Tsubune who was
the first time to attend such a meeting.
"He is Ryohei Tsubune. He opened the website of December Club for
us really devotedly."
Suga introduced Tsubune to anyone and everyone, and made him exchange business
cards with them.
Goroji Suga is too busy to care about his age. Various important posts
and offices have been lasting still now, so he goes all the way to Josui-kaikan
Hall at Takebashi of Tokyo-Chiyoda Ward from Ofuna of Kanagawa Prefecture
several times a month.
He came to invite Tsubune to certain meetings, most of which were of the
..... In spite of the elderly senior's precious favor, it was painful to
Tsubune. He really lacks sociability. Most of the attendants in any meeting
had opinions of their own, which made Tsubune feel left out.
His alma mater is one part of his background all right, but it is not in
his memory of attachment, since he did neither study much nor was concerned
with any extracurricular activities during his university days. It was
natural for him not to follow their topics.
However the friends around Suga were always cheerful and open-hearted,
which, not knowingly, came to make Tsubune feel somewhat at ease with them.
Suga gets on the platform at every meeting. His speech starts with talk
like the beginning of rakugo, Japanese comic storytelling, and is humorous
through his speech, which has a peculiar charm to attract all those present
"Such a senior is just before me!"
Suga was the only person to make Tsubune feel the faraway alma mater close to him.
He was drawn to such an atmosphere around Suga, and came to accept the
senior's invitations, even feeling lazy.
Goroji Suga is an influential figure in Josuikai (the alumni association
of Hitotsubashi University).
He is small and skinny, but his broad personality is well known. He considers
his organizing role the most impotant thing to him. He is young at heart
so as for everybody to forget his age.
He is bald-headed, which is a gadget of his story. He is proud of the Tyrolean
Suga used to be a well-known cox of boat races in his college days. The
role of a cox is a coxswain during a regatta as a playmaker, but it is
a part of the job. Most of the job is the management of the crew's everyday
life. There was not a day that he let his guard down.
He reminisces about those days, saying "The boat was the starting
point of my life. I learned everything there."
"Nutritional management has to control the exit as well as the entrance," his thorough way of control was known to those in the know, from selecting foodstuffs to checking excreta.
Calories, nutrition, the grace of seasonal, land and sea, ....., he walked
around the market looking for any more delicious foods with a dormitory
For him, a rest room was not just the place to ease nature.
"I'm no match for Goro-chan," every crew fought shy of him. But
reliability to him was more than that. (Goro-chan was Suga's nickname.)
His efforts, devoted himself to the work behind the scenes, probably became
something among the substantial supports. Tokyo Commercial College (TCC)
was none of the best in the regatta world, whichever it is, with universities
or business organizations.
During his college days from Showa 11 (1936) to 16 (1941), his college
won the national championship for four times. This period has been handed
down as the 2nd golden age in the school history.
"Wouldn't you have had a hard time in the boat club as it was so strict?"
For Tsubune's question, elderly Suga' s answer was beyond expectation.
"Our password was 'What is a regatta? It is to play rowing a boat.
To play is to play pleasantly.' We celebrated the joy of youth."
The boat club members of TCC sweat a lot in Sumida River and were in a
spree every night at Asakusa downtown.
It was the days 60 years ago. But whenever remembered, he took his junior
"This is .....," his talk became passionate at the places remaining
those days. In fact, there are such nostalgic places considerably. They
walked around the alleys in Suga's memory.
While walking, Suga talked about the history of their alma mater to his
junior. His talk had no end with so many various anecdotes of his own.
He emphasized the importance of study and sport. He, in particular, spoke
passionately about his activity in the boat club.
The 1940 Tokyo Olympics disappeared like an illusion due to the outbreak
of the European War. But if it had been realized, the regatta would have
held at the pool course of Toda in Saitama Prefecture and Suga would have
joined the competition there with his crew of TCC.
Truly in the same year, TCC won the Japan Cup held firstly at the Toda
Suga is proud of the episode on the pool construction at Toda.
In the year Showa 12 (1937), three years before the illusory Tokyo Olympics,
the Japanese Government judged that Sumida River was not suitable for the
coming Olympic games, and decided to build newly the artificial course
at Toda area along Arakawa River. It was the extraordinary decision for
the sake of national prestige in those days.
At first the joint business of major costruction companies proceeded the
large-scale works, but regrettably it was the days without such modern
heavy machinery. The plan would, no doubt, have been late for the Olympics.
The government had no choice but to make the bold decision to mobilize
prisoners and students.
The hodgepodge of over 1,000 prisoners and students in total tried to build
a pool by hand with pickaxes and shovels, while prisoners expected a pardon
and students dreamed of the participation in the Olympics.....
"Does the hodgepodge really work? If anything like bloodshed would
It was such a threatening beginning.
One day after the war, a small young guy just demobilized from overseas
stands on the bank along Arakawa River, looking forever at the Toda pool
burned to the neglected ground overrun with weeds.
It is still in the daytime. Japanese pampas grass ears are sparklingly
swaying in the wind.
Such memories are coming to his mind as the days of working as a member
of the hodgepodge, the regatta among colleges in the pool full of water
from Arakawa River, the joy of the consecutive victories in the unrealized
Olympic year and the next year, .....
The regatta pool for the illusory Olympics is now the huge puddle with
no traces of those days, which students including him and prisoners built
"You are a student then, aren't you?"
Standing behind is a bearded man with cheekbones. He seems to have been
seeing the pool, too.
The man with shabby military cap and clothes looks poorer than the young
guy. But his voice is lively and friendly.
Though unfamiliar to the man, the then student saluted him with nostalgia.
He understood in a moment that the man had been one of the hodgepodge shared
a hard time.
"You wanted to come here all the way, too, didn't you?"
Saying so, the man turns his eyes to the puddle again, which reflects the
"I remembered our working days even overthere at the battle field."
Murmuring so, the man gazes at the puddle again.
How long did the time go by? The sunlight has already been weakened.
"Why don't you drink with me?", said the man.
Still before sunset, several people are in the small stand-up pub. At the
dark corner, an old woman staff bows down low and is flapping a broken
fan for the konro (stove of charcoal fire). The smell carried by the smoke
stimulates their empty stomachs.
The man drinks a glass of kasutori (strong cheap sake) in one gulp and
requests another glass. The tattoo of a traditional arabesque design is
seen off and on from his thick upper arm.
The young guy does not dislike the peculiar smell of this cheap sake, but
is not a strong drinker. He gets excited by the taste of barbecued offal.
The man talked to the guy in a low and grim voice, patting him on the shoulder.
It showed they were now close friends like those days.
"Even I myself broke out in sweat. You students were glib talkers all right, but worst workers. You students did not even know how to use pickaxes, ....., and gangled weakly with straw mats on the shoulders, ..... but, you all came to do fairly well day by day. You were truly clever students. ..... I was disappointed when the authorities said the construction was over. ..... Didn't you expect to join a regatta in the Olympic games then?"
The man gulped down kasutori again and kept fixing his eyes to the younger
"Now the days are for youth. I wish you will rebuild Japan with your
resources, won't you?"
The man paid everything and went away, giving his name to the guy.
The Toda pool completed by their hand powers was: 60 meters wide, 2.5 meters
deep and 2,400 meters long, filled with water from Arakawa River. It was
surely ready for the official regatta if only boats were floated on it.
The oarsmen selected from all over the world would have competed here in
the Olympics once four years. .....