The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 2


Taken in 1945 after a B-29 bombing attack on Tokyo. There is little left of the city and many, many families were without food and homes. Sadly, there were thousands of orphans as well, many of whom would perish.

Human dignity is as crucial to an earnest life as is air, water and food.

Aunt Michie drew upon that dignity inside her to help her family and others survive the day to day ruthlessness of life during war and ultimately, the atomic bombing.

While her dignity was larger than life, Michie would ultimately sacrifice her health and well-being to ensure her family and others would survive…and survive strongly.

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Japanese high school girls being drilled on how to use bamboo spears to ultimately repel “the invaders”. Notice the presence of the Imperial Japanese Army in the background observing.  Tokyo 1944.

By 1945, Japan had already lost the war.  While the Japanese military leaders controlled the country and its path to ultimate destruction, the civilians took the brunt of war.  Many cities had been destroyed by US bombing raids leaving millions of families homeless.  There was not enough food to go around.  Many starved to death, especially orphaned children, if not from neglect as others would shut their eyes to them.

However, Hiroshima was largely spared from aerial attack.  The US did carry out bombing raids in March and April 1945 against military targets in Hiroshima but it was not frequent…but it was frequent enough to require air raid drills  The naval port of Kure though, where the battleship Yamato was built, was essentially destroyed in June 1945 by US Army and Navy bombing attacks.

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A hand drawn map showing targets and damage to Hiroshima by US bombing raids including the atomic bombing. For a zoomable map, please copy and paste this link into your search bar: http://www.digital.archives.go.jp/DAS/meta/DGDetail_en_0000000611
Source: National Archives of Japan

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After her marriage in 1933, Michie was tasked to arduous farm labor at the Aramaki farm.  Their primary crop was rice.  She also gave birth to five children before war’s end: Masako (1933), Sadako (1936), Namie (1939), Tomiko (1942) and Masataka (1944).  Kiyoshi would follow in 1947.  She loved them unconditionally.

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A happy Aunt Michie and likely Tomiko. Tomiko would soon be adopted by another family in the actual city of Hiroshima.  Undated but perhaps 1943.

On the farm lived Mikizo, his parents and Michie.  The four of them – and eventually three of her oldest daughters (a total of seven family members) – would work the land from a little before sunrise to sunset.  It was hard, arduous labor.  Back breaking work.  They did not have John Deere tractors or combines to aid them but had an ox to plow the fields with.  This was 24/7.

After all that hard labor, nearly the entire crop was taken by the Japanese military for the war.  They were allowed to retain a small portion of the crop for their own use.  As a result, rice was even further rationed for family consumption.  They had no choice.  On top of that, there was little else to eat.  They lived a meager life per my cousins.

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As the war dragged on, Japan was descending into the abyss…and it kept getting more and more darker.

In the story “Dear Mama”, Michie’s youngest brother Suetaro (my uncle) hurriedly wrote a somber good bye letter to Grandmother Kono in his war diary.  He was being sent off to war and certain death.

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Farewell sendoff for Suetaro who was heading to certain death. Michie is to his left and holding Masataka; Mikizo to his right. It is only an educated guess but the older man to the right of Mikizo is his father.  May 3, 1944.

I wonder how she really felt, knowing that Suetaro was going to fight to his death against the country in which his two older brothers and sister were imprisoned.  They were her brothers and sister, too.  An ugly internal conflict.

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The area around Tomo was nearly barren of younger, physically capable men.  All the men up to 35 years of age were taken by the army, regardless of their family status.  Mikizo was no exception.

In late 1944, at 35 years of age, he was taken by the Imperial Japanese Army.  Suetaro foresaw that happening in his farewell letter; he warned Mikizo to fully cooperate with the officers and to do exactly as he was ordered.  This was because it was brutal even within the non-commissioned ranks of the Imperial Japanese Army; the training officers routinely beat recruits into submission.  These recruits were largely the men who were ordered to their deaths in “banzai charges” by the thousands.  They greatly outnumbered the “hard core” Japanese officers.

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Aftermath of a banzai charge.

Aunt Michie’s family who tended to the back breaking labor on the farm was now lessened by one.  As with her brother Suetaro, she foresaw never seeing Mikizo again.

To make matters worse, her mother (my Grandmother Kono) suffered a cerebral infarction the day she learned Suetaro was being sent off to war.  She became paralyzed on her left side.  To get about the now empty house, she would have to pull herself around with her right arm.

On top of everything else – tending to the crops, the house and the children – Aunt Michie now had to care for her disabled mother.

Michie’s daily life was now further strained with even more stress…  Life must have appeared darker to Aunt Michie.

Michie’s willpower and dignity will now be on trial and severely tested.

But the struggles she will endure will have purpose.

She would not let her family down.

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To be continued in Part 3….

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part I


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Uncle Yutaka and darling little Aunt Michie in Hiroshima. Circa 1918.

Life in Hiroshima was uncertain and grueling in 1945 – especially for women and children.  It is a fact that nearly all the men up to the age of 35 had been taken by the Japanese military.  For many, it was truly day to day.

Little food, clothing and medical care.  It all went to the military…and then there were the B-29’s and the bombings.  Devils associated with being on the losing side of war.

But at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945, my Aunt Michie’s already tough life would be cast into wretchedness to test her mortal soul.  She was in her farm’s field clearing old crops on that hot summer morning.  There was an intense flash of light then the atomic bomb’s shockwave traveling close to the speed of sound slammed into her.  She was catapulted and hit the ground.

At the same instant, her oldest daughter and my cousin Masako – who was eleven and in her classroom nearby – was hurled across the classroom by the same shockwave.  The schoolgirls that were standing in front of her were pierced by shards of glass and debris.

Below is an eye opening re-enactment supplemented by computer simulation of the atomic blast in 1945.  Perhaps you can put yourself into Aunt Michie’s or Masako’s shoes on that morning and experience what they did:

After years of a most grueling life, Aunt Michie and her children would now face the searing pain of surviving.

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Even while giving shaves at my Grandfather’s barbershop in Seattle, Grandma Kono was busy in her early years of marriage.  She gave birth to Yutaka (1910), Hisao (1912) then Michie in 1914.  Other children followed: Shizue (1917), Dad (1919), Suetaro (c. 1921) and Mieko (c. 1924).  A total of seven.

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(L to R) Yutaka, Dad, Suetaro, MICHIE, Shizue, Great Grandmother Kame, Mieko and Grandmother Kono. Circa 1928, Hiroshima.

All seven of the siblings were born in Seattle…  All except for Michie who was born in Hiroshima.

My cousins tell me their mother Michie told them she would wistfully ask her family, “Why couldn’t I have been born in America like everyone else?!”  Lovingly, of course.

Aunt Michie never did get a chance to visit America.

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Dad’s siblings came to Hiroshima and half of them were able to return to Seattle to continue their lives as Americans before war with America.  But Michie lived her entire life in Japan.  She was the oldest sister to the siblings and helped Grandma Kono raise them.

Michie’s father (my Grandfather Hisakichi) was a devout Buddhist.  He required the family to chant Buddhist mantras daily; it was not “praying” but a way through which a follower “energized” himself to the teachings of Buddha.  Dad’s Hiroshima home to this day has the altar in the main room where they chanted; it is unchanged in nearly a hundred years having survived the shockwave from the atomic blast.

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My father’s family home is at “A”; Aunt Michie’s home in the village of Tomo is at “B”.  About five miles separates the two homes.  The atomic bomb’s hypocenter is towards the bottom right where rivers split up.

According to well accepted family lore, a man from a village called Tomo came to the house one fateful day apparently to seek one of his daughter’s hand in marriage.  His name was Mikizo Aramaki.  He immediately went to the altar and chanted.  Grandfather Hisakichi was so impressed by his devotion to the Buddhist way of life that he immediately gave his daughter away in marriage…but apparently, Grandather gave away the wrong daughter – Aunt Michie.  It is said Mikizo had come seeking the hand of my Aunt Shiz.  (Aunt Shiz was the prize of the village according to my cousin Masako.)

Being of farming heritage, Mikizo had acreage and a home.  After Aunt Michie was told she was to marry Mikizo, she was, to say the least, not very happy.  I guess that is a slight understatement if I say so myself.  She argued – pleaded – with my Grandfather that she didn’t want to marry him and that she was not raised to be a farmer…but to no avail.

Aunt Michie was given away in marriage.  Done deal.

They wed in 1933.  She was nineteen years old.

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To be continued in Part II

Somebody Say Strawberry?


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My completed strawberry pie.

This old croaker of a former mechanic thought he could cook… again.

Will I ever learn?  Would someone padlock the kitchen please?

Actually, I had a request… for a homemade strawberry pie.

Daryl Strawberry first came to mind.

Duh.  I must have been on drugs, too.  What did I get myself into?  What was I thinking?  A strawberry pie?

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The key ingredients including the freaking huge strawberries.

So I found a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated once again.  It looked easy enough.

And there weren’t too many ingredients: sugar, cornstarch, pectin, fresh lemon juice and salt…… and strawberries.

Lots of strawberries.

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Well, Cook’s Illustrated failed me this time.

They didn’t write down what SIZE of strawberries to get – just a weight.

Blasphemy.

I thought strawberries were all about the same size.  You know.  Size doesn’t matter.

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Well, the FRESH strawberries I ended up buying were too big.  Freaking too HUGE.

Geez.

And there were LOTS of them.  And they needed to be hulled.  Heck, I knew I would eventually slice my fingers trying to hull them all with a knife so I cheated.  Mechanics love tools, right?  I bought this fancy-schmancy huller for seven bucks.

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For size comparison purposes, I took a picture of the gizmo alongside one of the freaking huge strawberries I bought. It is all Cook’s Illustrated’s fault indeed for not explaining what size strawberries to get.
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This is what it looks life after you press that green button on this fancy-schmancy gizmo made by Chef’N Corporation. You push it into the strawberry, let go of the button and twist. It worked great! But I learned it is better if you remove the sepals first (I found out that’s what the little green leaves on the top of the strawberry are called.).

What a deal.  Hulling was now a piece of cake!  (Shhh…  Quiet.  My little Cake Boss may hear.)

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The recipe called for whole strawberries.  But because the strawberries I bought were so freaking huge, they looked like bowling balls in the pie crust.  While I didn’t know if it was taboo or not but I decided to cut the strawberries in half.  I was worried that all that juice would leak out and make the crust feel like you were biting into a sponge.

(I cheated again and got pre-made crusts; it really shrunk big time after baking as you can see in the picture.  I will endeavor to make the crust from scratch next time.  Oops.  Someone stop me from trying that, please.)

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Well, aside from the glaze not becoming transparent enough and the incredible shrinking crust, the pie turned out tasting great.

I will write a scathing letter of complaint to Cook’s Illustrated.  They did not consider that old berry-brained former mechanics like me would actually try to follow their recipes.

I will also write a letter to President Obama and have him execute another Executive Order to change the law – that Cook’s Illustrated must write their recipes so that old former mechanics will understand.

But why complain.

I will just go to Marie Callendar’s next time and buy a strawberry pie for $8.99.

Our America Divided


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My feeble attempt to express my opinion…

Our United States has become less of a nation.

It is more than just split in half.  A nation cannot survive split in two.

Think of our country being not much more than local drug gangs fighting for their drug turf.

Their own street corner in their perceived territories.

Each gang with their own beliefs, their own mini-economies, their own cultures and in-fighting for control.

And killing those who invade their boundaries.

One gang is right.  The other gangs are wrong.

And they choose to ignore their neighborhood if not hold them hostage.

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To me, our nation no longer has collective major goals.

Heck, we Americans now may actually have less commonage with other Americans than ever before.

In my opinion, segregation by race fueled the beginning of disunion.

No.  I don’t condone segregation.  Of course not.  However, since the intense focus on racial segregation began – heightened by media beliefs and TV – in the 1950’s, a new mutated “segregation” has been kindled…and it is a roaring wildfire.

It’s no longer just the color of our skin.

We’re segregated by how we think and see things – in totality.

It’s about how we live and how we look upon how others live.  That’s segregation.

Religion.  Culture.  Even what language should be spoken.  Or is it languageS?  All segregation.

Look at our children’s textbooks.  Our views of their content and what is taught in the classroom varies drastically by how you think – or were raised.  Segregation.

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We can’t even talk about certain subjects with people you meet.  You have fear of setting them off.

Health insurance.  Welfare.  Guns.  Executive Orders.  Terrorism.  Foreign policy.  Even approving driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

You name it.  I think it is absurd.

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This mutated concept of segregation is inflamed by our own political leaders and on a daily basis.  And the media, unfortunately, incite the segregation amongst peoples here, American citizen or not.  There is no reason to explain why here.

Every key event is made more severe, more infinitely dismembered by the politicians and media to suit THEIR agendas.  As government grows, we everyday people strongly contract to share our own beliefs only amongst small groups.  Not as a collective community of Americans.  A type of ugly segregation actually encouraged by those who lead us and by those “reporters” who elect to report an incomplete story to benefit their revenues or popularity.

And as national and state governments grow uncontrolled, our leaders go further blind and deaf, mired in their own re-elections, partisanship and haughty view of themselves.  So much so that never since the Civil War has there been so much movement towards secession.  And if not by state, by breaking up within a state.

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The union being attacked by deadly snakes.

Is there a civil war in store?  In 1861, it is written these were likely the major causes for the Civil War:

  1. Income and social disparity between the “North” and the “South”
  2. State versus federal rights
  3. Strong disagreement between pro- and anti-slavery states
  4. The election of Abraham Lincoln as President.

Sound familiar?  Look at my illustration at the top.  I’m no artist but I hope the message is clear.

I believe we will have another Gettysburg.  No, not with cannon and Gatling guns… Besides by that time, only the criminals will have guns.  But our union will become irreparably weak in all significant aspects if something doesn’t heal our wounds.  The upcoming elections will be key, in one way or another, no matter what your beliefs are.

I think we are in deep shit.

What about you?