The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 4

You can hardly tell this is a young girl anymore. As Masako and Mr. Tsukamoto told me, they were walking dead. Flesh literally melted off their bodies and dangled. Grotesque forms which were once human beings.

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.

_____________________________

a-bomb1
Atomic bomb survivors. Perhaps this is what Aunt Michie and her cousins saw in their search for relatives on the other side of the hill. If you notice the flask the young girl is holding to her lips.  It was likely filled with radioactive water.

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.

homeless_orphan_in_postwar_tokyo
Homeless orphan in Tokyo. He would have to be determined if he was to survive.

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.

________________________________

2-sadako1
Sadako – taken in early 1948 by my father while on furlough. She would marry a distant cousin (common cultural practice at that time) who was also badly burned in the atomic explosion.  She is wearing clothing my father bought for her at the Tokyo PX.

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.

大八車
I believe this to be the type of cart Aunt Michie pulled to Hiroshima to look for the unaccounted for children of the family. Kiyoshi called it a 大八車, or large two wheeled wooden cart.

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.

_____________________________

526
You can tell which way this woman was facing when the bomb went off. Her left side is burned. Photo was likely taken after August 6, 1945.
Caring for Victim of Hiroshima Bombing
A mother looks after her child. This photo was also likely taken after August 6, 1945.
Victim of Hiroshima Bombing
An elderly woman lies dying on the floor covered with flies. Perhaps this is just one of the sickening sights Michie and her children have buried in their conscious.

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.

pattern
Taken sometime after August 6, 1945. The side of her you see is what had faced the atomic explosion. The patterns are from her clothing she wore that day. It was where the dark patterns of her clothing had been in contact with her skin. Masako recalls vividly this type of pattern among the burn victims and that the maggots followed that pattern.

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.

3-namie1
Namie – taken in early 1948 by my father while on furlough.

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….

Notes:

(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.

26 thoughts on “The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 4”

    1. Well, there aren’t any good words, are there… But my goal is not just to tell the story of my aunt but that it is the civilians who take the brunt of the horror when their leaders fail… Thanks for your comment!

    1. Thank you once again for visiting… and I’m hoping the message here becomes more than just the “bomb”. Chemical weapons are just has horrible… and we regular people have absolutely no idea how close the world came to blasting ourselves out of existence.

      1. It certainly is about more than just the ‘bomb’. Agent Orange and the recent uses of chemical weapons in Syria prove that we are no more enlightened but let us hope that nuclear weapons are never used again.

  1. You’re right Koji, most of us don’t “know” this information. And what a well placed question “how old are your children?” If there is anyone who reads this series and cannot feel the terror (I can’t imagine how anyone couldn’t….) they need to substitute their children and siblings and family in the story.

      1. Sorry I should have got back to you. J J Steeden is indeed my father James John. Oddly, my mother worked in Kew at the self same records office fir years – certainly prior to all records being computerized. We only lived a mile or so away so the papers containing his details were sitting there the whole time! My thanks to you.

  2. I am really very deeply moved, Koji. The photos are hard to look at…but important to see nonetheless. I so admire your precious aunt. I love what you said about her goal: To get everyone to tomorrow. What a strong, and dedicated woman she was to even believe there could be a tomorrow. This is powerful stuff, my friend.

    1. Thank you, Debra. I am behind again! Your kind words mean a lot to me indeed. The photos are “mild”, so to speak. While there WEREN’T many taken the day of the bombing nor of the days following, these are the primary ones left. Most were taken by one man who also soon thereafter died from radiation poisoning.

  3. What terrible pictures, and what tragic personal stories that need to be told to the world. After the war, my Japanese-American friend and her little family, who had been interned in a US camp, went to Hiroshima where her husband had to take care of family business (MacArthur wanted their land to redistribute). Three months after the war, they arrived to see the bomb survivors still wandering like walking dead pleading for water, skin peeling and hanging from their bodies like rags. My friend would give them water if she had any with her, but it was never enough. She starved to the point she could only crawl, but her body somehow managed to keep nursing her baby enough that he lived.

    I am reading The Coldest Winter, about the Korean War, and discovered the US seriously thought of using atomic bombs in Korea. Fortunately they decided it would probably be bad for public relations. Thank you for posting these stories.

    1. LInda, thank you for your comments which add to the points in the article.. But it was MacArthur was the leader of the pack on nuking them. I believe Truman relieved him not too long after?

  4. I just want to cry over each person who endured that. How can humans destroy each other either through the atomic bomb, in the death camps of Germany and even the massacres of the American Indian Nations?

    1. Indeed, Patty, indeed. It continues today. Syria, Afghanistan and other places. Such truth is well hidden, unfortunately, driven by political agendas and the like. Events are also similarly exaggerated; our own “Boston Massacre” was made to be much worse than what it was by none other than… Paul Revere.

      1. You are correct – I can never say it enough that is why we need to keep these stories alive – and one day hopefully we won’t repeat our destructive behavior.

  5. This is downright painful to read, but so important. War is easier to accept when we don’t see the pictures and hear the stories of those affected. When we do, it’s hard to believe we can do such things to our fellow human beings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s