A Cauldron and War’s End


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My aunt’s second cousins are on the left, Mr. and Mrs. Nakano. I took this while were were on the way to their field to harvest yams. They harvested yams from the same field during the waning days of the war. August 1974, Fukui, Japan.

We must realize that those who endured World War II – as combatants or as civilians – are leaving this world daily.

Of those who survived and remain with us today, it is not enough to have seen it as a small child.  Of course, I am not implying there was no damaging effect on their souls.  If you were such a child and witnessed a bomb blast, that will be in your mind forevermore.

But those who were young adults back then have the most intimate, most detailed recollections.  Unfortunately, they would by now at the least be in their late 80s or early 90s – like my parents and Aunt Eiko.

Even so, the mental faculties of these aging survivors have diminished with age.  For some, dementia has taken over or of course, many just do not wish to recall it.  My dad is that way on both counts even though he did not endure combat.  For instance, he still refuses to recall what he first felt getting off that train at the obliterated remains of the Hiroshima train station in 1947 as a US Army sergeant.  I’m positive he also went to see the ruins of his beloved high school where he ran track.

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Some of my Aunt Eiko’s poignant notes about the last weeks of war.

As described in my series on the firebombing of Tokyo (link is here), my aunt, mother and grandmother fled Tokyo around July 1, 1945 via train.  They were headed for Fukui, a town alongside the Japan Sea, and the farm of Mr. Shinkichi Mitani (He is my second great uncle so you can figure that one out.) My guess is grandfather believed the farmlands to be a very safe refuge. My grandfather accompanied them on their journey to safety but he would be returning to Tokyo after they reached their destination.  To this day, my aunt does not know why he went back to Tokyo, a most dangerous and desperate city to live in.

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Fukui is marked by the red marker. Tokyo is directly east along the bay.

As the railroad system in Japan was devastated, it always perplexes me as to how my grandfather managed to get tickets on a rare operating train let alone get seats…but he did.  The train ride is even more incredible given the Allies ruled the skies by then; during daylight, American P-51 Mustangs strafed targets of opportunity at will: trains, boats and factories.  It appears they traveled at night.

My aunt firmly recalls the train being overfilled with civilians trying to escape extermination in Tokyo.  But with my grandfather’s connections (and likely a bribe or two while spouting he was of samurai heritage), they were fortunate to get seats in an uncrowded private rail car. You see, the car was only for Japanese military officers; the military still ruled Japan.  She remembers many of them were in white uniforms¹, all with “katana”, or their ceremonial “samurai swords” as the Allied military forces called them.  She said she didn’t say a word. She felt the solemnness heavily amongst them in the stuffy humidity.

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My dad’s youngest brother, Uncle Suetaro, is sporting a “katana”, or samurai sword for a ceremony of some kind. Although born in Seattle, he was unable to leave Hiroshima and became drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army. He was KIA on Leyte by US forces. Circa 1944.

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The Mitani farm was about 2-1/2 miles NW of Awara Station in a village called Namimatsu; the beach was about a ten minute walk away.

She said they arrived at the Awara Station (芦原) at night.  Humidity was a constant during that time as it was the rainy season (梅雨, or “Tsuyu”); nothing could dry out and mildew would proliferate.  They walked roughly 2-1/2 miles (一里) in total darkness on a hilly dirt trail looking for the farm of Mr. Mitani.  Being of an aristocratic family, I’m sure their trek was quite the challenge emotionally and physically. No, they did not have a Craftsman flashlight. No street lights either. The only thing that possibly glowed was my grandfather’s cigarette.

The challenge would escalate.  While living conditions in Tokyo were wretched, they had been aristocrats. She was unprepared for farm life. Indeed, she had become a Japanese Zsa Zsa Gabor in a real life “Green Acres”.

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When I visited the Mitani farm in 1974. Although the Mitanis had passed away, Mitani’s daughter is at the center with the blue headband.  Her husband is at the far right with my mom standing next to him in “American” clothing. I am at the far left, toting my Canon F-1 camera of back then.

Aunt Eiko described the farmhouse and its associated living conditions as essential beyond belief.  She was greeted by a 土間 (doma), or a living area with a dirt floor², as she entered.  Immediately inside the doorway was a relatively exposed お風呂, or traditional Japanese bath tub.  Her biggest surprise was the toilet – or rather, the absence of one.  It was indeed a hole in the ground outside.  (I know.  I used it when I visited in 1974…but it had toilet paper when I went.)

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During the day, they helped farm the yams Mr. Mitani was growing.  They also ate a lot of those yams because it was available.  There wasn’t much else.

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My second cousin Toshio on the left, mom pulling some yams, Mr. Nakano at right when we were visiting Fukui in 1974.  It was the first time back for mom and Aunt Eiko since the war.

Although my grandfather moved them to Fukui as a safe refuge, he was mistaken.

Shortly after arrival, Aunt Eiko said the terror of being on the losing end of war struck again.  US warships began to shell the farming areas in the Namimatsu village.³  Mrs. Mitani immediately screamed, “Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!”  She vividly remembers Mrs. Mitani and all the other villagers strap their “nabekama” (鍋釜), or cast iron cooking cauldrons, onto their backs and whatever foodstuff they could grab and carry.  You see, life had become primal for the farmers and villagers.  Food and water was their wealth.  Everything else had become expendable by then.

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A traditional cooking cauldron, or “鍋釜 (nabekama)” hangs above a firepit towards the bottom left in the picture above.

They all did run to the hills as the shelling continued, she said.  I do not know how long the barrage lasted nor how far away those hills were or if anyone she had met there was injured or killed.  Surely, the damage must have been quite measurable on the essential crops or already dilapidated farmhouses if they were hit.  For some, it may have become the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The years of war would have taken its toll.

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The Japan Sea was on the “backside” of the farm, she said (see map above); it was close by.  One poignant memory she has is one of watching young Japanese soldiers by the coastal sea cliffs several times.

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My Uncle Suetaro is at the bottom left at a beach; he and many of his fellow soldiers are in their typical loincloths. I am confident my Aunt Eiko saw very similarly dressed young soldiers like these by the sea cliffs at Fukui.

She writes:

表がすぐ日本海であったのでその海崖にいつも若い日本兵がフンドシ一つで泳いでいた。学徒出陣の青年達だった。この青年達も皆戦死したであろうと思うととても気持ちはいたい。

She says that as the Japan Sea was on the other side of the farm, she watched young Japanese soldiers joyously swimming by the sea cliffs in their loincloths (フンドシ or fundoshi). They were Army recruits and so very young.  Aunt Eiko says her heart is pained to this day knowing that all those young boys she saw swimming in the Japan Sea certainly perished.

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Preceded by my mom, Aunt Eiko and grandmother returned to Tokyo about a month after war’s end. The Mitani’s had taken them into their already burdened life, provided shelter and shared whatever meager provisions they had. While they have all passed on, she is grateful  to them to this day.

As she wrote, the sight of Mrs. Mitani strapping on their cauldron remains etched in her mind to this day.

To Aunt Eiko, the simple cast iron cauldron had helped stew the essence of survival.

Notes:

1. Being the summer months, the white uniforms were likely worn by Imperial Japanese Navy officers.

2. For a visual on what a dirt floor house may have looked like, please click on this link.

3. While TF 37 and 38 were operating around Japan attacking targets, I was successful in only locating one battle record of Fukui being attacked when Aunt Eiko was there.   It belongs to the US 20th Air Force; in Mission 277 flown on July 19th, 1945, 127 B-29s carpet bombed Fukui’s urban area.  Military records state that Fukui was deemed an important military target, producing aircraft parts, electrical equipment, machine motors, various metal products and textiles.  It was also reportedly an important railroad center.  Per Wikipedia, the attack was meant to destroy industries, disrupt rail communications, and decrease Japan’s recuperative potential. Of the city’s 1.9 sq. miles at the time, 84.8% of Fukui was destroyed that day.  I am under the assumption that having witnessed B-29 attacks in Tokyo that she definitely would have heard the ominous drone of the B-29s.  As such, she maintains it was a naval barrage.

She’s Killing Me #3


She’s killing me, I tell ya.  My little Cake Boss.

She is never, NEVER ready on time.  Have I said never yet?

This morning was no different.  I plead with her to be ready at 8:45 am, five minutes earlier because it is pouring outside.  Raindrops the size of watermelons.  And that means the world’s supply of crazed mothers and grandparents in their M1A1 battle tanks in desert camouflage will be assaulting the three or four dropoff places at school – all at 8:55 am.  Our Marines should be embarrassed these mothers can assault the beach head on time – every time.  But unlike the Marines, its every mom for herself.  Damn the others. 🙂

As usual, my son is ready.  He is always ready.  Sometimes he forgets things like his homework – but he is always ready.

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Jack is always ready – this morning at 8:45 am as I asked… The lunch box and water bottle belong to the child who always keeps us waiting…til PAST the last minute. Notice the girl shoes with the feet missing from them?

Then I begin to yell at her.  “Brooke!  What are you doing??  Get in the car!”

Then she procrastinates even more…  She’ll do the exact opposite – like my ex does even today.  She’ll run to the bathroom or decide to wear a different pair of socks or whatever. I yell at her even more as I will have to drive like a NASCAR driver just to get near the school that is a bazillion miles away.  Tokyo’s closer.

It’s 8:48 am and Jack is waiting in the car as usual…for his sister.  Reluctantly, I haul her 100 ton backpack to the car.  It must be filled with Walmart’s entire inventory of nail polish.  Well, there are books in there at least.

She finally runs to the car – in her bare feet – in the rainwater left by the watermelon-sized raindrops –  while holding her socks, shoes and… hairbrush.

We get to the school as the bell rings.  Jack jumps out…but not Brooke.  Of course not.

Brooke suddenly remembers her mama didn’t sign an assignment sheet that was due yesterday.  Crazed Marines (aka as mothers) are honking at me…while my Little Cake Boss struggles to put her Converse on while searching for that paper.  I sign it.  She finally jumps out but her shoes are still not completely on. Criminy.

I get home.

I see something pink and white on the back seat under her hair brush she carried into the car instead of her backpack I lugged for her.

It’s the Text Princess’ iPhone.

iphoneSo I go back…to take the Text Princess her phone.

They page her.  I wait in the hallway.  She comes.  I hand her the phone.  “Papa! You didn’t have to bring it-aaah…” in her trade-mark Valley-girl way of talking… but she knows she’d have a heart attack without it.  It’s like the little notes girls used to pass around in class when I was her age.

Watch this…  The first thing she’s gonna do is lecture me when she gets picked up…after she’s the last one to leave the school, of course, texting as she walks.

About Ferguson – Things I Told My Sons


So very eloquently written…

Life In The Gym

*Warning – This is another off topic post but something that has been on my mind.  Actually, I do a lot of thinking while doing cardio so I suppose it’s related, albeit distantly, to my workouts.

Racism exists in this world. That’s an indisputable fact. America has waged a long and reasonably successful struggle against institutional racism but if you look you will be able to find instances where you can rightly point to someone who has been treated badly solely because of their race. If those cases come to your attention, you can throw your energy behind peaceful efforts to see that the wrongs are righted and to help prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

That’s correct action. That’s working in the right direction and it’s doing what our Christian faith asks of us. We are to be defenders of innocents who can’t defend themselves.

Michael Brown…

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A Volcanic Week


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The Little Cake Boss doing her dance thing out in the middle of nowhere. Notice her iPhone? The Texting Princess was not too keen about having no signal.

It indeed turned out to be a volcanic week.  The end began the night before on Saturday at 10:30 pm when my son asked, “Papa, can we go to the Mojave Road tomorrow?”

Mojave Road??  In the morning??  Egads.

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The week was already in shambles… full of surprises.

My 13 year old son requested one of my apples pies so I baked one on Tuesday night…from scratch.  Crust included – never mind it looked like a clone of Shaq’s head. The pie turned out pretty darned good if you ask him.  Can you hear it sizzling as it came out of the oven?:

My 11 year old daughter has multiple dance classes every week night except Friday plus 2-1/2 hours on Saturday – right in the middle of the day.  On Thursdays, although she has a two hour window in between two classes, she chooses to stay to chat up a storm with her friends…except last week.  As I take her to her 4:30 pm class on the 4th (late again as she is never ready on time), she asks me to pick her up at 5:30 instead!  Plus, as she exits the car, she manipulatively says, “…and today’s National Cookie Day, Papa.  Can we bake some chocolate chip cookies later tonight?”  Geez.  Rushed across the street to Ralph’s to pick up more brown sugar and some walnuts then headed home…

As I was pre-mixing the dry ingredients for her cookies, Jack rushes into the kitchen at 5:15 pm all excited.  He said, “Papaaa…  I forgot to tell you but there’s an orientation night at the high school.”

“Oh…OK.  When?” I ask.

“Toooo-night…” in a shy voice…

Holy crap!!  I never got a notification of the orientation but it turns out he had taken something home to his mama; of course, she didn’t bother sharing that with me!  Then double crap!  (There’s a triple crap coming.)  I had to pick up my daughter in 15 minutes but the orientation started at 6:00!  Arrgghh!

Throw some snacks into a bag, load my son hurriedly into the car, then zip off to her dance studio.  I was a few minutes late and she was waiting outside.  I am NEVER late when it comes to the kids and especially with my little girl.  As I hand her the snacks, I tell her she has to stay because…..  😦  Boy, did she get upset at my son…from a distance!

We get to the auditorium in the nick of time.

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We transitioned to a classroom later listening to the IT department head give his presentation when… the triple darn hits.  My phone starts vibrating…  It’s 6:45 pm…  It’s my little girl calling from the dance studio.  She forgot a piece of her dance clothes for her 7:30 class.  Geez.

I couldn’t leave Jack alone so I had to pull him out of the orientation and rush back to the dance school.  I picked her up to take her home as I have NO idea what “thing” she needs.  I take her back by 7:20 only to have to pick her up at 8:30.

With all the excitement, I had forgotten how many 1/4 cups of brown sugar I had put into the cookie mix.  Criminy.  Anyways, four batches of toll house cookies emerged… And the Little Cake Boss – she’s the one who wanted to bake the cookies for National Cookie Day – didn’t help…  She said she was too tired…  Arrgghh.

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Yielded about 40 cookies.

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Ah, the volcanoes…

I had been asking Jack where he would like to go on a Sunday especially since the last two months have been Brooke’s dance, dance, dance for competitions and dance “conventions” every weekend.  Saturdays and Sundays. Get up by 5:30 am.  Criminy.  I felt bad leaving him home but I had no other choice.

So at 10:30 pm on Saturday, he brings up the Mojave Road.  He would like to go there.  I looked it up.  It was a dirt road that makes the Baja 500 look like skateboarding on a sidewalk.  Sadly, I said we couldn’t go because it’s 4 x 4 terrain; plus, the rainstorms had made some sections really rough going.

Then he says, “Papa, isn’t the Subaru 4WD?”  Gadzooks.  I had to show him photos of the road damaged by flooding and how raised monster off-road vehicles even get stuck.  Besides, the car only has cheap two-ply street tires.  He was disappointed.  I asked him to pick somewhere else…after I had said to pick a place.  He decided on “Hole-in-the-Wall” in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve.  It’s roughly 240 miles from home… One way.  Man, you should have heard my daughter moan and groan while chomping on the toll house cookies her PAPA baked for HER.  She did NOT want to go!

“Jack!!  What are you going to do when we get there! Duh!” she asked, then stormed to her room.  Oh, man.  I feel sorry for her future boy friend.  Did I write that?  Where’s the backspace…

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Believe me, I’d rather fight Godzilla rather than getting the Little Cake Boss out of bed early on a Sunday.  Braving an apocalypse, I cracked open her door at 7:30 am; I escaped with just one black eye and a broken arm.  But we all managed to get into the car by 8 am.  Drove like crazy as it gets awfully cold and DARK real quick out in the desert.  We got there a little after noon.

Hole-in-the-Wall is an area where volcanoes spewed lava over millions of years.  Geologists theorize that uneven cooling of the layers of lava aided in creating pockets of trapped gasses within.  Through the eons, time had eroded away the lava layers, exposing these “holes”.  The plateaus surrounding the area were what remains of the tops of the original lava flows millions of years ago. It has also been rumored to have been a hideout for outlaws in the days of the Wild West.  Their saddles must have had built-in GPS to have been able to come back to this forsaken place.  If it weren’t for Sparklett’s making door-to-door deliveries, they wouldn’t have had water, either.

As this story is getting too long, some snaps by my son and I from Hole-in-the-Wall:

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Avoiding cacti and other thorny stuff… as well as tarantulas that wouldn’t fit in a dog cage.
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Some petroglyphs.

I encouraged Jack to take photos as there is an art show at his school early next year:

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Me bending down is out of the question so I encouraged Jack to take a photo of this dead plant.

This is his result:

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Jack’s photograph. Pretty darn cool!

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A billion cacti meant a gadzillion thorns.
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On the three mile desert hike that nearly killed me.
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Canon, baby.
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Another one of my son’s photos.
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There must be a zillion people smarter than me as we didn’t see a single car for over 20 minutes… but then we were trying avoid potholes the size of the Meteor Crater. Taken by Jack.
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Natural cotton gin.

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A last one from my son.

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