A Cauldron and War’s End

fukui-10-2
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.

——————————————–

nabekama story-10
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.

Screenshot (15)-10
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.

fukui-10-5
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.

_________________________________

namimatsu1
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”.

fukui-10-4
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.)

__________________________________

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.

fukui-10-3
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.

鍋釜
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.

_________________________________

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.

fukui-10-6
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.

____________________________________

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.

47 thoughts on “A Cauldron and War’s End”

  1. Good reading. Thank you.
    Not many years are left before I become one of those who “are leaving this world daily.” The memories from the war are so clear on my mind but are, at the same time, so painful to keep. I take my share of remembering and handing them to new generations so that they may not be repeated in pursuit of happiness. But in reality they are fading away from my own heart and from society as a whole. I hear the news of killings and destruction from other parts of the world every day, and it is sad to say we are likely to be getting closer to joining in them again. Is it unavoidable by nature? I wonder.

    1. I am sorry to hear of your anguish about the war, AshiAkira-san. Such memories are a horrible reminder for you yet they offer a treasure to the world – a contributor to peace. If more people read and understand what you are enduring, another message will be available for people to read and get educated.

      Indeed, the horrors from the other parts of the world is painful. Killing of civilians are immoral. Yet, we never seem to learn from history and personal experiences.

      Thank you visiting, sir.

  2. Riveting, incredible first person narratives. My uncle who was shot down and a POW during WWII, just died. He only started speaking of his experience in the last year of his life. He died at 93. It is so important to get these narratives~

    1. Cindy, I am so sorry to hear of that great man’s passing. The vile memories he must have had for the last 70 years should be gone by now and that I hope he is at peace.

      I hope you will write about what he may have shared with you…

      Thank you for visiting, Cindy.

  3. This series of yours continues to move me. We truly need to preserve all of these memories in all of their poignancy and their horror. I fear we have not heeded lessons from the past. The world seems to be on the brink of explosion, but few listen and continue on their life of hate and aggression.

    1. I agree, we are on the brink of explosion – or here in the US, implosion. Our own citizens spout words of anger and hate towards other groups of citizens instead of realizing their own contributing faults.

  4. Thank you for sharing these important family memories of a tragic time in history. I am riveted by every word you share with us. Blessings to you.

    1. Gee, Shar, thank you so much for taking the interest in these stories. I will certain people here will read this, too, and say, “Hey, we need to stop accusing and work together.”

  5. You are an amazing voice among war writers–keep at it. I don’t think anyone else is doing what you are doing, and these memories need to be kept like the treasures they are. Thank you for sharing them.

    1. You kind words are humbling, kocart. Memories ARE treasures and also function as a road block against war – especially when civilians are the ones who suffer most – men, women and children.

  6. You honor us with these stories, Koji. It is truly a wonderful treasure that you have them to post – to be remembered forever.
    [question - the katana in the picture, would the hilt of the sheath be red and gold?]

    1. I don’t know, gpcox. It was a faded B&W photo that I restored. I do know it was military issue, i.e., machine produced. Officers would have silk wound around the hilt at least. Also, many took their ancestral swords into battle. Think of it this way: Smitty would have carried a .45 issued by the Army. Patton would have carried his pearl handle revolvers. Thank you always for your kind comments.

      1. It’s just that I’ve seen that sword, one of the swords my father brought home. (unfortunately destroyed when my house burned down in ’78)

  7. Koji your family’s history is so valuable. I am drawn to your history. I am so saddened by what your family endured. I wish everyone would do what you are doing, get these family histories out. War is not about politics and nations. It is about people like your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Please keep writing.

    1. Always very kind and encouraging, Chatter Master. Let us remember nearly every family in the world was affected – down to natives who were living on those “stinkin’ islands”. I would like to publish but even need direction. Publish an anthology of these non-fiction stories or (try to) write a novel…? So confused.

      1. I hope you do Koji. Keep writing. And start exploring. Too bad we don’t live closer we could explore together and drive poor PO batty with the process! I think your family’s story is extremely well documented and you are doing a wonderful job of narrating it. Just because you don’t know how to do it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. 🙂 Keep writing!!!!!

  8. I’ve been meaning to say thank you for some time now. I’ve been trying to discover and piece together my family’s history (spanning multiple continents, countries, centuries) which is quite a complex undertaking and many a time I’d just hit a brick wall. Your writings have been a source of inspiratoin to keep going 🙂

    1. Thank you for coming back to this blog all the time. I will admit I have a difficult time reading your site but it appears you are multilingual?

      Researching your family history can be involved but very rewarding. There are many life lessons to discover along the way. I do hope you continue. If you are of American background, I know there is quite a bit on the internet; even more if you are of European descent. Keep going! Remember websites in other languages!

  9. An incredible story, from the “other” side of the people involved in that war. Haven’t heard the Japanese accounts of what it was like there…until now. Wonderful and very well-written, too.

  10. Once again, Koji, I appreciate your insights. So often the civilians suffer as much or more from war than the warriors. The US is ever so lucky that it hasn’t had that experience since the Civil War.

    I’ve been researching and blogging about Peggy’s dad’s experiences as a Hump pilot flying across the Himalayan Mountains during World War II. It has been quite an eye opener for me, and for the family. –Curt

      1. The second blog went up today. 🙂 I’ve used Fold3 on doing research for my Revolutionary War ancestors but not for John. I was recently fortunate to obtain the military’s 14 page post accident report, however. The amount of detail, up to the crash was incredible. –Curt

  11. I am SO SORRY. I left quite a long, admiring comment here and it’s not here! Please know I read and loved this piece and so admire all you’re doing here at your blog.

    And that I wish you the VERY BEST of New Years…to you and the kids!
    XXXZZ

    1. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, Linda… As these sacrifices are now pretty much deleted from our kids’ history books, I feel its important for folks to know and understand what their grandparents went through. All the best to you for 2015, Linda!

  12. The Navy in July 1945 was definitely operating surface battle groups of battleships and heavy cruisers against the home islands. In, there was a force of them operating the week of July 19th. But, not in the Sea of Japan. It was considered to risky to send large surface ships through between Korea & Japan or through the northern Islands approaches to enter the SoJ. No room to maneuver for those enormous sized carrier and battleship task forces. And, without carriers coming along, the battleships would have been wide open to mass air strikes from Japan. Upwards of 10,000 aircraft already been assembled for home defence. Both, Kamikaze units and conventional naval strike.

    1. Understood about the TFs. That is what is so perplexing about the “shelling” i.e., bombing of Fukui. Aunt Eiko knows fully well what the B-29 drone is but is insistent on it being a shelling from the Navy. I’ve also looked into British records just in case but nothing separate was found.

      1. The Royal Navy was virtually non-existent in the Pacific after Singapore fell in 42. Toward the end, they sent a couple of their newer carriers to operate with ours. But, no Allied surface ships entered the SoJ until the surrender and Operation Olympic was carried out as an occupation operation.

  13. Beautiful i love reading all your posts even though i hated history subject in school haha. My grandfather is a ww2 survivor, he’s now 92 but his gun shot wound on his leg still has a vivid mark until today. I can tell he had thru a lot of hell when i ask him about it… too bad he does not have any photos of that time.

    1. I recall well your comment a while back about your grandfather. War leaves ugly marks – both physical and mental – on all those who participated, willingly or unwillingly. I am sorry your grandfather still endures nightmares…

  14. I read this post from my phone and wanted to come back and leave a comment – enjoyed it so much – and I love how you encourage others to get these stories logged and preserved – and the never saw a dirt floor house before – and I love yams so little things like the yam field was cool too…
    also – read in your comment about how we “never seem to learn from history/experience” and sad but true –

    1. That was very kind of you to come back, Yvette. Farm and country homes were usually dirt floors as you entered. You would remove your sandals then step up to a raised floor area. My dad’s Hiroshima home also had a “doma”. From my aunt’s point of view as a young aristocrat, it was just disbelief; plus, it was a relative’s.

  15. Fukui was attacked (bombed) twice in WWII by B-29s. The first time was on 19 July 1945 (as you state above). This was Mission No. 277 by the 58th Bomb Wing from Tinian. In total 127 B-29s bombed that night.

    The second attack was on 1 Aug 1945, by the 313th Bomb Wing, also from Tinian. This was only by one B-29, who apparently bombed Fukui as just a TO (target of opportunity)., either the B-29 missed forming up with the rest of the group, or navigation error.

    1. That’s interesting, S. It may have been perhaps this single Fort although my aunt swears it was naval. But the sound if a singke B-29 may have been missed; she definitely woukd have heard the planes on 7/19. It also can be tgat after 70+ years and PTSD, she may be commingling the two attacks.

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