The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 7

“When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.”

– Vernon McLellan

That was Aunt Michie.  She gave all of herself and of her life strength to others because her heart knew no other way.

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At the moment Aunt Michie watched the ugly mushroom cloud rise from her field that day, her older siblings – my dad, Aunt Shiz and Uncle Yutaka – were all imprisoned in the “war relocation centers” scattered about the United States.  These were truly prisons and the popular view is that FDR imprisoned them “for their protection” because they looked like the enemy.(¹)

Life within these “camps” was “sub-standard”.  They were forced to live in small, shoddily built wooden barracks covered only with tar paper with little or no privacy.  No running water – they had to go outside to use public latrines or showers.  Food was served in mess halls on pot metal plates at specific times, just like in the military.  The food was miserable according to Dad and worse yet, they had to wait in line.  For the first month or so of imprisonment, he said all they had was liver, powdered eggs and potatoes.

But then again, he said it was food.

Aunt Michie and her family were near starving in Hiroshima while dad was imprisoned in the good ol’ US of A.

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IMG_5864
Taken at the Kanemoto home in Hiroshima, 1951 and soon after my parents wed. (L to R) Sadako, Namie, Aunt Michie holding a young Kiyoshi, Grandma Kono, Masako, mom and dad. Courtesy of Kiyoshi Aramaki.

It is assumed like for the rest of America, Dad and his older siblings heard the news of the atomic bombing but while in the camps on or about August 8th… that one enormous bomb had wiped out Hiroshima.  There must have high anxiety and anger as many of the inmates in Dad’s camp (Minidoka) were from Seattle; they had family in Hiroshima as their parents had immigrated from there.

My cousins tell me that sometime after war’s end, Michie’s “American” siblings – my dad, Uncle Yutaka and Aunt Shiz – managed to re-establish contact with Grandmother Kono and Michie.  With the Japanese infrastructure destroyed, it was a miracle.  And it was no easy task as letters to and from Japan were not only prohibited, it was impossible.  There was no telephone in the villages where Grandmother and Michie lived.

But her American siblings somehow managed to send much needed clothing to them.  When my father finally reached Hiroshima while a sergeant in the US 8th Army, he carried two duffle bags full of C-rations, candy and Spam.  They said it was a feast for them after years of hunger.

051912_0639_4.jpg
Dad in front of his Hiroshima home – April 1948

Sadako (who savored the white rice Michie made them on the day of the bomb) told me at a farewell dinner two years ago that she fondly remembered my dad taking them to a market of some kind where he bought her a little coin purse.  She remembered Dad gave her the money to buy the little purse and was told she could keep the change.  She remembers then handing the change – which was a LOT of money back then – to Michie who humbly accepted it.  Sadako said she cherished that little coin purse for years.

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EPILOGUE

From exhaustive laboring on her farm… to taking precious sashimi to her brother Suetaro… to walking ten miles with children in tow to care for Grandmother Kono after her stroke… to the pain of learning of her brother being killed in action… to being thrown onto the ground and watching a huge mushroom cloud rise over a small hill… to pulling a wooden cart over a hill…  to tirelessly aiding the victims… and most of all, sacrificing her own health for the sake of others…

She never gave up in those thirty years.  Would you have? I don’t believe I would have had the fortitude.

But because her soul would not quit, she got everyone to tomorrow… but in doing so, her own tomorrows dwindled.

Michie is still here.  The fruit of her sacrifices can be seen today in her six children, all of whom have lived – and are still living – full, joyous lives.

Soubetsukai Picture
Four of Michie’s children with my son and I. The four at the left front were at Aunt Michie’s farmhouse after the atomic bomb; Hitoshi was there as a burn victim. Hiroshima – September 8, 2012
Entaijisou Meal
At breakfast – Endaijisou Hot Springs, November 2013.  Tomiko was at home when the atomic bomb went off; the house was destroyed.

They have their mother, Michie, to thank and they cherish that… and that they were all there at the farmhouse when she looked at each one of them intently one last time before leaving this world.

A most grand mother.

And yes…

They all love food to this very day.

________________________________

I wish to deeply thank my Hiroshima cousins for sharing their memories of their life with Michie with us.

Like all Hiroshima citizens I have met, they simply pray for peace.

NOTES:

(¹) There are declassified US intelligence documents which show that a small number of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were performing espionage.  Intelligence was able to determine this by intercepting and decoding secret Japanese communications. This information was given a cover name of MAGIC and these documents were typed up for FDR and a very small number of trusted officials.  However, rounding up the spies would clearly indicate to the Japanese that their code had been cracked.  These documents present another view contra to the widespread belief that FDR imprisoned the Japanese and Japanese-Americans from discrimination and war time hysteria.  In other words, FDR used that hysteria as a cover story; by doing so, he was able to remove the “spies” from the West Coast without alerting the Japanese.  FDR also stated in communications that there would be “repercussions” from such action.

47 thoughts on “The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 7”

  1. May FDR forever rot in Hell.
    I can only hope (for the sake of your family) that the C-Rations weren’t Ham and… Limas. Ham and Limas… Ham and Limas. I swear, that’s all there was in a case of C-rats. Nothing but Ham and Limas.

  2. Koji-san, you have done a masterful job on this research project. I hope you have been able to share the information with your family in Japan, and that they appreciate your efforts as much as I have. Domo arigato gosaimus.

    PS. Ham and Lima C-rations were the best food in the world, when you are really, really hungry. Not everyone agrees, however. There are some people who cry like little girls whenever they get a Ham and Lima ration. We refer to them now as “girly boys.” Back in the day, we called them slackers. They were usually the “professional” privates.

  3. Koji….amazing. Your aunt. Your family. Your writing.

    Do I think I could do this? No. But I only know me in “this” life. I suspect none of us really knows what we are capable of until put in that situation. Your aunt is amazing and I hope that MANY read this story and understand what your family lived through.

      1. Maybe we would all surprise ourselves with what we could do. You don’t know any more than I do how you/I would respond. We have had the great fortune of not having to find out. And we owe that to them.

  4. Koji, I serious doubt you would have withered. I believe you would have risen to the occasion and done whatever was necessary. Your writing always reflects the genuine care you have for others. Having said that, your aunt was obviously a great human being. –Curt

    1. Those were extraordinary times, weren’t they? Not that you didn’t experience similar hardships in your travels. It is a tough question to answer as to how we would have endured. All I know is she persevered.

  5. A saga of remarkable endurance. I recently saw an episode of Underground Cities on the History Channel that had a survivor of Hiroshima show the narrator the underground bunker that saved her life – such an impact, just as Michie’s story does! You’ve done her proud, Koji.

  6. What an awesome aunt. I love this story about your family. This is history to be remembered always. I like the old black and white pictures too.

    1. Thank you, LFFL. It was shocking to find out my grandmother and uncle in Japan not only had pictures from that period but that they survived the humid to freezing climate in Hiroshima. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comment!

  7. In all seriousness, Koji-san, your writing skills are excellent; the stories that you tell about your family and the historical information that’s given is superb. I hope that you’ll put all that you’ve written (past, present and future) in a format that will be available for generations to come.

    With that, I would like to apologize for being flippant in my comments. It’s disrespectful to you and to your ancestors whom you write about. My sophomoric attempt at humor should, and will be, saved for my blog — where it belongs.

    Keep up the awesome work, Koji-san!

    1. Mr. Gunny… There is always stress in daily life. I see your good comments as a great distraction – a positive. Nothing like seeing the two of you taking jabs at each other! I truly laugh or at least smile reading them. I never saw or felt your comments as being flippant… (unless the good Colonel commanded you to do so!) So please, carry on, Marine! And thanks for taking the time to read the (long) stories…

  8. I have really enjoyed learning so much about your aunt. She was such a remarkable woman. I honestly cannot imagine the things she endured, and I love the family photos. The smiling faces of your cousins really speaks volumes about your Aunt Michie’s sacrifices. You have every right to be very proud of your family, Koji.

  9. Beautiful tribute to Michie-san. It is one thing to rise to the challenge of caring for ones self and family, it is another to have a big enough heart to take on the care of others as well, and under such hardship. What a woman she was. Thank you again for sharing these incredible stories.

    1. Likewise, I feel your mother did the same after reading your book on her… Braved crossing the Pacific to begin life here with your father. She kept on going no matter what the hurdle was.

  10. This was a remarkable story of a remarkable woman. She indeed lives on not only in her children and grandchildren, but now through all of us – her story lives on in us and will give us strength as we face life’s uncertainties. Ironic how you stated all your aunts and uncles still love food today, that was the same for my mother. She told of eating raw eggs taken from the chickens at farm houses as they trekked back to Germany and digging up potatoes from abandoned fields. To the day she died she savored every bit of food and nothing was ever wasted. We will never truly understand what they had gone through – we pray that we will never will.

    1. Perhaps we never will, Patty, go through what those people did back then. It was pure survival… And your point is clear: it was not just my family in Japan, it was worldwide. But you know what? I routinely eat a raw egg cracked over rice. 🙂

      1. “ick”! 😉 I never did care for raw eggs. Mom and dad would put in a drink, not egg nog, I can’t remember but it made me sick.

  11. The previous comments already speak for how incredible this story is. I’m just glad you shared it with us all here. Thank you!

  12. I just came across your blog and I’ve spent the past two hours absorbed in the stories of your Aunt and cousins. These types of first hand accounts are the only way to truly learn history and are not what we get from most classrooms. I thank you for sharing your family stories in this way. I’ve recently been researching Japanese-American internment camps and the more I read, the more upsetting it is. We did learn about this in high school history class, but it was a very watered down version of events. As for what life was like for those in the vicinity of HIroshima, we learned almost nothing. I am in awe of your Aunt Michie. She was one heck of a woman for sure!

    1. Thank you, Melissa, for taking the time to read these (long) boring stories! I had started this blog to document family history but I guess it’s grown from that. Admittedly, I’ve been distracted for awhile and haven’t written much although I have the intention to.

      These stories occurred all around the world during that ugly time in our world’s history… Everybody suffered. Yes, my cousins experienced the bomb but hundreds of thousands experienced bombings in Britain, Germany if not all of Europe, too. And yes, you will not read about these things – especially in our current day history textbooks. WWII gets very little mention so blogs – free of government mandates and “PC” – becomes the best source of history now.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts about Aunt Michie…although anyone of that time period gave their all, no matter what country. If you wish to learn more about the “internment”, I can steer you in the right direction. Just let me know.

      Thank you again.

      1. The stories were anything but boring! I was completely enthralled by them! 🙂 When you mentioned anove that “everybody suffered”, it made me think of a poem that I read called To the Lady by Mitsuye Yamada. I’m generally not a big fan of poetry, but this one is short and very poignant. Here is a link to it if you are interested: http://brentmblackwell.com/courses/yamada.pdf
        I’d appreciate any good credible sites or information of internment that you might like to suggest. Thanks again for this wonderful blog! Melissa

      2. Thank you again. Toyo’s Camera is one of a trilogy produced by a Japanese director. While my close friend from childhood is Toyo’s grandson, like any film production, a director’s personal feelings are always part of it. The other two are: “MIS: Human Secret Weapon” (my dad and uncles were part of the MIS) and “442 – Live with Honor, Die with Dignity”. There are many websites on this topic but perhaps blogs may provide the best “un-influenced” facts about prison camps.

      3. ps For awhile, David Ono’s documentaries were on youtube and the like; they appear to have been taken down now. They are yes, good documentaries but only present certain facts.

  13. Thank you for these writings. Rough to get through, the content matter, not the way you presented it, but so very important to help see the horror of war and the amazing people who lived through it. Should be mandatory reading for the Hawks in all countries.

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