The aftermath of the bombing was no different from hell. Not that I’ve seen hell nor that I would want to…
But Aunt Michie and my very young cousins saw it.
They visited hell.
Nearly all doctors and nurses within the city had been killed or seriously wounded on August 6, 1945. If they survived the blast, they were likely to fall ill from radiation poisoning and they themselves would die within days. All remaining medical supplies – which had been nearly non-existent due to the war – had been destroyed as well. Most food – even unpicked fruits or vegetables – were contaminated with radiation as was water(¹). Thousands of corpses plugged the rivers as they would go in to soothe their burns but would soon perish.
It is important to note that food rationing in Japan was much more extreme than what was imposed on the American public. While the rationing in America began in May 1942, it started with just coffee and sugar. In Japan, rationing of a far more extensive reach began in 1939 if not earlier. It extended to nearly all first quality food stuffs. Rice, barley, seafood, meat, soy bean paste and soy sauce, vegetables, fruit, seafood, etc. Groups called “tonari-gumi” were established in villages and the like; they monitored and rationed food to the Japanese families based on what work they were doing, e.g., war production, number of family members along with their age and sex. The rationing was so severe that when one family member died, the family did not report it. The average caloric daily intake was cut down to less than 2,000 a day by 1945.
The Japanese civilians were starving, so to speak, and were without question malnourished.
Aunt Michie was no different. She was hungry like everyone else and likely tired easily due to low nutritional intake and daily physical and emotional demands upon her. It is important to have an understanding of her condition at this crucial moment in history.
After the shock and black rain subsided, Aunt Michie’s thoughts immediately went to her treasured family. According to my cousins, she went into her priceless family rice reserves and cooked real rice for the children. Sadako, the second oldest, remembers to this day how she savored that bowl of rice, a definite luxury at that time. While but a child of ten years and filled with anxiety about eating such a fine meal, she saw at that moment her mother’s love and affection for them was unconditional.
Aunt Michie’s thoughts went to the Aramaki family (aunt and uncle’s family) who lived in Hiroshima. She had no way of knowing that day but they had become direct victims of the atomic bombing. They had been burned over most of their bodies and had even been trapped under their destroyed house. They managed to struggle with their searing injuries to Aunt Michie’s house to seek refuge and care. They had realized that only strong family support would allow them to live.
Grotesquely, the path going over the 300 meter high hill which the relatives traveled became littered with scores of dead people. Masako said they were unrecognizable lumps of flesh and died where they crumpled. Many had their clothes burned away. While thousands were killed instantly, other thousands suffered for days before dying from intense burns, radioactive poisoning and other injuries. As radiation poisoning was unheard of amongst them, some were told they had dysentery and the like. Many before dying oozed pus from their ears and blood ran from their noses. You will not read this in any Western textbook. In fact, the gruesome information about the days, months and years after August 6th was suppressed for a couple of decades by both governments.
While the dazed and immensely pained adults struggled to Michie’s farm, there were young children of the family unaccounted for(²). Without hesitation and unbelievably, Aunt Michie – in her weakened state – pulled a two wheel cart over the hill to Hiroshima to look for them.
Over a hill.
Miraculously and while the details are lost, she found some of them and hauled them back to the farm on the cart, now laden with the additional weight of the children… on the same road that was further littered with dead and dying people. Think of the mental anguish Michie had to endure when dying people came up to her and asked for her help… It would be difficult to not look at them. It was more difficult to ignore them, I’m sure.
According to my cousins, a total of 23 people got refuge and care at Aunt Michie’s farm. I understand many were relatives from the Aramaki side of the family.
There were more hurdles for Michie and her children immediately ahead – caring for the injured and dying.
The preceding photographs may show what Michie and the children were faced with. And the children were just that – children.
How old are your children, by the way?
The older cousins recall that they, Michie, Mikizo’s parents and the less injured relatives took on a 24 hour a day field hospital of sorts to treat the injured. It was stifling hot and humid; yet, they had to be given constant attention and there were so many of them. I cannot imagine how exhausting this task could have been, especially when you are hungry and malnourished yourself.
The common injury were burns. Severe burns…and they had no medicine whatsoever.(³) No Bactine. No Motrin. No aloe. All Michie could do was to coat the burns with a type of cooking oil and bandage them with pieces of cloth. She must have endured unlimited anguish in knowing she could not measurably lessen their pain and suffering. There must have been constant crying and unbearable moans of pain.
And on their hands, blood from human beings.
Six year old Namie could never forget what she had to do. Flies were swarming having sensed dying flesh. Namie was tasked with shooing them away with a fan but they wouldn’t stay away. And worse yet – time and time again, she had to remove the maggots that were feeding on dead flesh…with chopsticks. I do not know if I could have done that…but Namie did.
The turmoil that must have stormed inside Aunt Michie to tell her daughters to do what they had to do for the sake of survival…and then to be stern with them and tell them to continue when they wavered or cried… must have been punishing to her as a loving mother. She must have wanted to cry.
Aunt Michie was the point woman.
And she fulfilled that role.
Her goal was to get everyone to tomorrow.
To be continued in Part 5….
(1) Per my 2012 meeting with Mr. Tsukamoto in Hiroshima, water is the main theme of the Cenotaph at the Peace Park. Survivors clamored for water. Where there was well water, many survivors were suffocated as dozens more pressed against them for the precious liquid. Please see “A 1937 Yearbook, the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima” for further information and links to their personal story.
(2) The number of unaccounted for children is unclear.
(3) Mr. Tsukamoto recounted how they had to constantly mash yams and place them over their burns to temporarily lessen the pain. They did that for over a month, he says.