Category Archives: Hiroshima

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part I


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Uncle Yutaka and darling little Aunt Michie in Hiroshima. Circa 1918.

Life in Hiroshima was uncertain and grueling in 1945 – especially for women and children.  It is a fact that nearly all the men up to the age of 35 had been taken by the Japanese military.  For many, it was truly day to day.

Little food, clothing and medical care.  It all went to the military…and then there were the B-29’s and the bombings.  Devils associated with being on the losing side of war.

But at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945, my Aunt Michie’s already tough life would be cast into wretchedness to test her mortal soul.  She was in her farm’s field clearing old crops on that hot summer morning.  There was an intense flash of light then the atomic bomb’s shockwave traveling close to the speed of sound slammed into her.  She was catapulted and hit the ground.

At the same instant, her oldest daughter and my cousin Masako – who was eleven and in her classroom nearby – was hurled across the classroom by the same shockwave.  The schoolgirls that were standing in front of her were pierced by shards of glass and debris.

Below is an eye opening re-enactment supplemented by computer simulation of the atomic blast in 1945.  Perhaps you can put yourself into Aunt Michie’s or Masako’s shoes on that morning and experience what they did:

After years of a most grueling life, Aunt Michie and her children would now face the searing pain of surviving.

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Even while giving shaves at my Grandfather’s barbershop in Seattle, Grandma Kono was busy in her early years of marriage.  She gave birth to Yutaka (1910), Hisao (1912) then Michie in 1914.  Other children followed: Shizue (1917), Dad (1919), Suetaro (c. 1921) and Mieko (c. 1924).  A total of seven.

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(L to R) Yutaka, Dad, Suetaro, MICHIE, Shizue, Great Grandmother Kame, Mieko and Grandmother Kono. Circa 1928, Hiroshima.

All seven of the siblings were born in Seattle…  All except for Michie who was born in Hiroshima.

My cousins tell me their mother Michie told them she would wistfully ask her family, “Why couldn’t I have been born in America like everyone else?!”  Lovingly, of course.

Aunt Michie never did get a chance to visit America.

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Dad’s siblings came to Hiroshima and half of them were able to return to Seattle to continue their lives as Americans before war with America.  But Michie lived her entire life in Japan.  She was the oldest sister to the siblings and helped Grandma Kono raise them.

Michie’s father (my Grandfather Hisakichi) was a devout Buddhist.  He required the family to chant Buddhist mantras daily; it was not “praying” but a way through which a follower “energized” himself to the teachings of Buddha.  Dad’s Hiroshima home to this day has the altar in the main room where they chanted; it is unchanged in nearly a hundred years having survived the shockwave from the atomic blast.

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My father’s family home is at “A”; Aunt Michie’s home in the village of Tomo is at “B”.  About five miles separates the two homes.  The atomic bomb’s hypocenter is towards the bottom right where rivers split up.

According to well accepted family lore, a man from a village called Tomo came to the house one fateful day apparently to seek one of his daughter’s hand in marriage.  His name was Mikizo Aramaki.  He immediately went to the altar and chanted.  Grandfather Hisakichi was so impressed by his devotion to the Buddhist way of life that he immediately gave his daughter away in marriage…but apparently, Grandather gave away the wrong daughter – Aunt Michie.  It is said Mikizo had come seeking the hand of my Aunt Shiz.  (Aunt Shiz was the prize of the village according to my cousin Masako.)

Being of farming heritage, Mikizo had acreage and a home.  After Aunt Michie was told she was to marry Mikizo, she was, to say the least, not very happy.  I guess that is a slight understatement if I say so myself.  She argued – pleaded – with my Grandfather that she didn’t want to marry him and that she was not raised to be a farmer…but to no avail.

Aunt Michie was given away in marriage.  Done deal.

They wed in 1933.  She was nineteen years old.

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To be continued in Part II

Graciousness, Gratefulness and Grandeur


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From http://www.entaijisou.com

My girl friend Linda fretted for a couple of weeks before going to Japan with me.

She fretted about the (we-know-they’re-coming) typhoons.

She fretted about the (we-don’t-know-they’re-coming) earthquakes.

But what did she fret about the most?  She fretted about getting butt-naked in front of my cousins for a Japanese-style bath at a hot spring in Japan.

Silly lady…  All Japanese do that.

Oops.  I forgot.  She is Irish with blue eyes.

Well, I guess if I were her and experiencing a panic attack, I’d just put a brown paper bag over my mouth… and drink all the scotch inside.

That would help.  After all, she is Irish.

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The hot spring inn, “Entaijisou” or 延対寺荘.

During our ten-day visit to Japan in November, my cousin Kiyoshi (Masako‘s youngest brother) treated us to a most wonderful journey to Toyama Prefecture, just inland from the Sea of Japan.  One such destination was famous for its hot springs and a beautiful gorge. We stayed at the inn called “Entaijiso (延対寺荘)” near “Unazuki Hot Springs (宇奈月温泉).”  Started in 1900, the hot spring’s water is naturally heated to a most perfect temperature and has an open-air spa area called a “rotenburo (露天風呂)”.  Literally, you are soaking outside under the heavens.  Butt-naked.

Of course, I was unable to take photos inside the bathing area for obvious reasons but here are other photos from their website to give you a taste of the relaxation that can be had.

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Yes, my Irish lady did go in with my (female) cousins!  In a form of endearment, my cousin Masako even washed her back.  Butt naked.  After relaxing in the water for a while then dry off, you notice your skin is just ultra silky smooth.  My cousins did say the geothermically heated ground water has therapeutic powers…  That there is some kind of magical healing power bubbling up.  I kind of doubted it.  But there IS something in the water. 🙂

Their dining area was spectacular; just outside is the river and magnificent mosaic-colored hillsides – a post card panorama.

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Kiyoshi’s gracious treat continued on the Kurobe Gorge Tram (黒部峡谷トロッコ).  It is a a sightseeing train running on a very narrow track originally built to aid the construction of the Kurobe Dam.  It follows a winding path along the river – something like 20 kilometers from the base station of Unazuki to the end.  We we there unbelievably at their peak of the autumn color change.  It is important to note we hiked a bit after getting off the tram at Kanetsuri Station – and my cousins below LED the way.  While Masako has difficulty going DOWN stairs, she was a jack rabbit going up.  Amazing.  At 80 years of age.

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My cousins (L to R): Tomiko (71), Masako (80), Namie (74) and Kiyoshi (65).

I will let the photos show you the grandeur we were so fortunate to experience.  (Please note many of these were taken from the moving tram.)

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AND A “I SPY WITH MY LITTLE EYE”…  Can you spot it?  There is a wild red faced monkey below.

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Prior to getting into the hot spring and public bath, I tried to relieve her anxiety.

I said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

She replied, “They sinned.”

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I was proud of my blue-eyed Irish lady friend.  She got into the public bath and hot springs butt naked.

And even got her back scrubbed by Masako, a survivor of an atomic blast.

Imagine that.

From a Japanese hot spring, I have learned that spreading peace for the world starts as a power that emanates from within one person.

Ten Beautiful Days


Embarking on a ten day vacation to a land far, far away needs a lot of one’s time to prepare… one reason for my recent absence from WordPress.  Not that anyone would notice, of course.

For now, just some colorful images of nature taken during the journey to Japan I immensely enjoyed… which would not have been possible without the unqualified help from my Hiroshima cousin Masako – after whom this blog is named – and her extended family.  Hopefully, time will permit sharing more of this glorious journey – and enlightening in ways I could never have imagined.

So for now… Japan in autumn.

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Dear Mama – A Farewell Letter


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Uncle Suetaro (L) and my dad (R). Taken from the Hiroshima house with Mt. Suzugamine in background. Circa 1929

During my visit to my father’s childhood home in Hiroshima last summer, I was entrusted with hundreds of vintage family photos and mementos.  I brought them back here stateside, promising my Hiroshima family I would “restore” them.

Well, after a good start, I developed a painful case “tennis elbow” from using the mouse so much during the retouching process.  Sadly, it came to a screeching halt sometime in November last year.

But one very, very special item was entrusted with me – my Uncle Suetaro’s war diary.

Although born an American citizen in Seattle with the rest of his siblings, he was writing this war diary as a sergeant in the Japanese Imperial Army.

The last entry was a farewell letter to his Mother.

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The photo above had been secreted away behind another photo that was in Uncle Suetaro’s album.  He meticulously kept the album up to the time of war.  His oldest brother, my Uncle Yutaka, had conscientiously sent him family photos they had taken in Chicago and Los Angeles before imprisonment.  Suetaro complimented the photos with his beautiful Japanese calligraphy, written in a silver, whitish ink.

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The photo of Uncle Suetaro and my dad shown at the beginning was so very tiny – but there was something Uncle Suetaro loved about it to keep it.  I wish I knew what it was.

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Actual size

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Uncle Suetaro was killed as a sergeant major of the Japanese Imperial Army on Leyte apparently near a town called “Villaba”.  Below is an actual page from a “war diary”, an official report written and published by the US Army.  Villaba is located on the western shore of Leyte but not far from Ormoc Bay, which was a killing field for Japanese ships by US aircraft.

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Source: US Army 81st Infantry Division Headquarters / Report of Operations

His remains were never recovered.  In the family grave are his tiny pieces of his fingernails and a lock of hair.  It was custom at that time to leave parts of your earthly body with your family as returning was unlikely.

Not much to bury… but it was better than not returning at all.

In a spiritualistic way, he had never left.

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This is his farewell letter to his Mother (my Grandmother).

It is clear it was very hurriedly written.

With the help of my cousin Kiyoshi in Hiroshima and my dad, we’ve typed up Uncle Suetaro’s farewell letter – complete with old Japanese characters and translated as best possible into English.  When reading this, please remember these are the words as written as a soldier going off to fight the Americans – but he was once a young American boy born in Seattle, WA.

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Cover. His name is at the bottom.
金本 末太郎
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ママ様
Dear Mama,
御無沙汰致しました。
I am sorry for not writing for a while.
お元気ですか。 自分も相変わらず元気旺盛御奉公致しております故、何卒ご放念く
ださい。
How are you? As usual, I am full of life fulfilling my duty to my country so please feel at ease.
(元気で国のために力を尽くしてるので心配しないでください)
愈(いよいよ)自分も日本男子としてこの世に生を受け、初陣に臨むことを喜んでいます.
More and more, as I realize I was born into this world as a Japanese male, I am overjoyed to be going into my first combat.
勿論(もちろん)生還を期してはいません(生きて帰ることは思ってはいません)。
Of course, I do not expect to come back alive.
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併せ(しかしながら)自分に何事があっても決して驚かないように、また決して力を
落とさないよう平素より力強く暮らしてください。
And for you, Mother, whatever happens, do not be taken by surprise and please fight back with even more energy than you normally would.
24年の長いあいだスネかじりにて非常にご心配をかけ誠にすいませんでした。
I deeply apologize for these 24 years of worry and concern I have caused you.
お赦し下さい(おゆるし下さい)。
Please forgive me.
今の時局は日本が起つか亡びるかの境です。
At this time, Japan is at the boundary of either winning or perishing.
どうしてもやり抜かねばいけないのです。
We must persevere.
兄さん達を救い出すことも夢見てます。
I still dream that we can free our older brothers (from forced imprisonment in America by FDR – Ed.).
自分のことは決して心配せずお体をくれぐれも気をつけて無理をしないよう長生きを
してください。
Please do not worry about me but instead, please take it easy on yourself and live a long life.

(Note: Green indicates an edit inserted for clarification purposes.)

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何事あっても荒槇、小林の方に相談して下さい。
If something comes up, please discuss it with the Kobayashis or Aramakis.
金本家は絶対に倒してはいけないのです。
No matter what, do not allow the Kanemoto name be extinguished.
伴の兄さんもお召の日が必ずあることと思います。
Mikizou-san will also be drafted.
(荒槇幹造さんも必ず徴兵されることと思う)
歳はとっていても軍隊に入れば初年兵です。一年生です。
Although he is much older in age, he will be treated like any other draftee. As a young recruit.
絶対服従を旨とするようよく言って下さい。
Implore upon him to obey every command without question.
近所の皆さん、河野,倉本、白井、武田、永井、正覚寺、梶田、山城、山根、杉本、
辻、河野…、橋本,西本、松本繁人、小林、中本、新宅、武蔵、水入、土井、堀田、住岡、見崎、長尾、加藤、三好、内藤、島本、(Writing continues next page from here) 宮本先生、谷口先生、慶雲寺などの人によろしくよろしくお伝えください。
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ではこれにて失礼します。
With that, I will say farewell.
何時までも何時までもお達者のほどお祈り致しております。
I pray for all eternity for your good health and prosperity.
南無阿弥陀仏の御6文字と共に行きます。
I go blessed with the six realms of Namu Amida Butsu.
サヨウナラ
Sayonara
昭和19年5月3日
May 3, 1944
末太郎より   ママ様へ
From Suetaro To Mama-san

His farewell send-off is pictured below.  Masako-san believes Suetaro wrote the letter around this time.  It was at gatherings such as this when a Japanese soldier was given a “good luck” battle flag – the ones that many WWII combat veterans “removed from the battlefield” as souvenirs.  There are many cases now where their sons and daughters – or grandchildren – are making efforts to return such flags to the Japanese families.

One of the treasures found during our journey to the family home in Hiroshima this month. Uncle Suetaro is going to war and his death.
Uncle Suetaro (center) is pictured just before going off to war and his death.  You will notice my grandmother is missing from the photo; that is because she suffered her first stroke knowing her last son was going to his death.

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Bertrand Russell wrote, “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”

He is correct.

On a much smaller scale, though, Grandmother Kono was all who was left in that house when war’s end came.  Her precious son Suetaro – who she kept from returning to America for the purpose of keeping the Kanemoto name going – was dead.  She was now alone.  I wonder how she felt.

A mother’s anguished solitude.

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Grandma and four youngest children at the corner of King and Maynard in Seattle, circa 1926. From clockwise right-front: Suetaro, dad, Mieko, Grandmother Kono and Shizue.

(For other related stories:

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude, Part I

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude, Part II

Were Japanese Soldier’s Frightened?

Eighty Years Later…


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Eighty years or so after he posed for a photo, my Grandfather Hisakichi is in an American book.

Standing “Marine-esque” in his Seattle barbershop.

Incredible to me.

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I had come to know Rob Ketcherside from flickr.  We had helped each other out looking at some old photos he had of Seattle – where all my aunts and uncles were born (except one).  He had some fascinating tidbits on some of my Grandmother’s photos.

Well, it turned out he was an author.  He had been doing a ton of research into “lost Seattle” – skylines and communities now long gone.  With his fascination for “what was” (me, too!), those sights are now basking in sunlight once again through this mesmerizing book.

It was boosting to me when he asked if he could use one of the family’s vintage photos in his book; specifically, the photo of my grandfather’s barbershop.  It is on loan to me from my cousin Masako (yes, the Masako after whom my blog is named) who luckily kept these family treasures all these years.  It is more wonderful in that the home in which the photos were in survived the atomic blast – as did my family.

I hope Rob (and his publisher) don’t mind a couple of pages of his book are shown herein…and I’ll be picking up a few more copies to take back to Hiroshima in a few weeks.

In the description below, Rob also mentions Masahiro Furuya and his business.  As it turns out, both my dad’s oldest brother Yutaka and his best friend John Tanaka worked for Furuya…  And yes, that is the same John Tanaka my Aunt Shiz married.  Small world, yes?  Actually, Uncle Yutaka was the matchmaker.

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A close up of his photo caption from above:

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Grandfather is standing at the right-rear of his barbershop.  And the photo is a full pager in Rob’s book!  Cool!  Grandfather should be pleased.  In the original print, you can see the brand names of the hair tonics popular at that time.  The gal in the middle was quite a cutie, too.   I wonder what happened to her.  If she was still there in Seattle when war broke out, it is likely she went to the same prison camp my dad and uncle were incarcerated in.

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On an interesting note, the consensus is the calendar shows January 9, 1930.

In concert with Rob’s massive research effort, gone is my father’s precious Hotel Fujii and my grandfather’s pride and joy barber shop.  It was demolished to make room for “Hing Hay Park” taking its place.

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Grandfather Hisakichi holding Aunt Shiz in front of the barbershop. Circa 1918.
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Dad on right with his youngest brother Suetaro in front of the barbershop (circa 1922).  They are likely standing where the label “Hing Hay Park” is on the map above. As readers know, Uncle Suetaro was killed as a Japanese soldier by the US Army on Leyte on July 15, 1945.  Dad was imprisoned in Minidoka, ID at the time of his death.

Eighty years later.

My gosh.

And like the barbershop and Hotel Fujii, my dad is the last one standing out of seven siblings and two courageous grandparents.

Thanks, Masako-san and Rob.

I kinda wish my grandparents could have seen this.

Spunk


Spunk.  It’s not a word per Merriam-Webster.

But since English is my second language, I can use it out of naivete.

And I feel it means “internal spirit” or “internal push to do something”…

Like “Man, it took a lot of spunk to work like that.”

Of course, I understand it can refer to something else… You know, foreigners learn bad words first.

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So why bring up this word?  Are you afraid of getting spunked?

Well, America now has 478 million people that need to be spunkified.  That’s 478,000,000, folks.

Why?

All of these 478 million people are on food stamps.  That’s a lot of missing spunk.

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Original food stamps.

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I don’t know how many of them are citizens or have green cards or are “undocumented”.

Of course, there’s a number of the 478,000,000 folks just down on their luck…  But for the most part, the remainder have no spunk.

That’s how they live day to day.  On food stamps.  That the people WITH spunk for the most part are paying for.

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Did you think 478 million was a big number?  Well, how about 78 billion…  That’s in dollars.  $78,000,000,000.  Three more zeros than 478,000,000.

That’s how much this food stamp program is costing us.

That’s how much of us “with spunk” are losing out of our paychecks.

Would you like to hear something more sickening?

$3,000,000,000 – three BILLION dollars – of that $78,000,000,000 is spent on ADMINISTRATION.  To me, that is plain sick.  Stupidity.  Unnecessary staff to meet stupid legalities.

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Obama said at the beginning that he believes food stamps is an economic stimulant.

Bull pucky.

The food stamp program started in 1939.  We were in the Depression.  People were hungry and crops and food stuffs were stockpiling on the farmlands.

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One of the original food stamps poster. Circa 1939

So FDR came to a startling and brilliant idea – let’s give out free money to those that are hungry.  It’s free to them as working people had taxes taken from their pay.  Then the hungry can then buy the food stuffs stockpiling on our farms!  Win-Win-(Lose)!

Well, thank goodness, World War II began.  The Depression ended with the American will power to… work.  The food stamp program – which was experimental – officially ended in 1943.  About 4 million Americans received assistance in those four years.

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Well…  Guess what JFK did in his first day in office in 1960.

Yup.  He signed an Executive Order.  (The same type of directive that put my father into those prison camps during WWII.  I hate those suckers.)

This Executive Order reinstated the food stamp program.  After, it was one of his campaign promises.

…And that’s all she wrote.  Now, one out of seven six Americans are on food stamps (called the SNAP program now).

1 out of 76.

And you know what?  It is true.  You can live a better life with food stamps and NOT working.  You even get free health benefits!

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To some, this post will cause irritation if not anger.  For others, they are irritated or angry.  They are angry because the country’s majority has voted for this, in one way, shape or form… This minority of voters didn’t believe in an endless entitlement mentality…nor want it.

Indeed, a heckuva a people need to get spunkified.

Face it.  Our country is clearly headed in the wrong direction.  We are even furloughing our military.

Damn the lawyers and damn the minority rights activists.  It has moved too far towards the extreme in the past six years.

Make it hard to get free food.  Make them work for it.

This needs to be stopped…

(ps  This is just an opinion.  There is no right or wrong.  There is no intent to rile anybody and all constructive comments will be appreciated.)