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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To be continued in Part 3….