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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obaachan
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.

HiroshimaBombingMap
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.

Michie image1
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.

Farewell
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.

banzai killed
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….

27 thoughts on “The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 2”

  1. One (of many) things I admire about the Japanese, as a people, is their sense of obligation. I mention with not just a little regret that these things are changing now in Japan, as young people crave western lifestyle and adopt non-traditional behaviors. When I lived in Japan, you seldom (if ever) heard anyone complaining about having a tough life. Lots of people have a tough life, and if you are honorable, you deal with it. No one asked for handouts. No one whined to the press.

    It used to be that way here in America, too.

    As you know, I follow the Japanese news stories and I have to say that recent events flabbergast me. For example, more than 1,000 people have filed a lawsuit against the Fukushima power facility —as if they had anyway of controlling a 9.1 undersea earthquake, or the 140-foot waves that engulfed the coastal areas. All of us are heartbroken by the cost of human suffering, but I think it is very “un” Japanese to respond the way these people have.

    So I honor your Aunt … as she faced many trials and tribulations, and dealt with them while raising her family. And this is a wonderfully written history, Koji-san.

    1. Sir, I thank you for your kind comments and thoughts with this belated reply… But the world is changing indeed and I don’t know if it is for the better. Here, when a lady can sue a hamburger chain that she scalded her thighs with the hot coffee she placed between them and win, that is not a good sign. But the Japan that I knew – and that my relatives grew up in – is disappearing as you so eloquently write.

      Thank you for honoring my aunt and for your undeserved kind comments about my writing ability.

  2. Although what you write of is heartbreaking, you do paint the picture beautifully. Survival during that war was desperate in some countries but Japan did have a very rough time. A testament to the strength of them all.

      1. It endured dreadful times but nothing compares to an atomic bombing. The black rain and contaminated food and water combined to reduce the chances for the ‘survivors’ yet further.

    1. Yes, physical…but mentally and emotionally too. Our soldiers come back traumatized but it should not have to happen to civilians no matter what country they reside in.

  3. Not much incentive to farm when the military was taking most of what they produced. I wonder if they did it willingly out of a sense of loyalty or were forced. And I wonder if they were give quotas to meet? –Curt

    1. It was forced, Curt. Sure, there was a sense of loyalty to the Emperor (he was still looked upon as a deity) but it could only go so far, I believe. As for quotas, the military took all of the crops except for a certain amount for personal consumption. They used a type of “mugi” as the primary “rice” while mixing in the precious white rice in small proportions… That’s what my grandmother who was in Tokyo said, at least.

  4. Your aunt was a really strong and amazing woman, Koji. That is clear! This story is really almost too big to be contained in a series of blog posts. I am quite sure you could write a book about your family. There is just so much. Thank you for sharing your family with us.

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