正覚寺


正覚寺。

Catchy title?

In the past several years, as his dementia progresses, Dad is repeating many times how he broke his elbow as a young boy…  “Many times” like as in every four minutes.  No…every two.

I thought, “He doesn’t remember he ate like a horse ten minutes ago…  How can he remember something that happened 80+ years ago?”

Well, I just HAD to find out about his story…  and I did.

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The story (which never varies) is/was he was playing “oninga”, or tag, with the neighborhood kids.  “There was nothing else to do then,” he would tell me.  They would end up in the yard of 正覚寺 – pronounced “Shoukakuji” – the Buddhist temple which is a hop, skip and a jump from his home.  No wonder he excelled in the triple jump at Nichu.

You can see a tiled roof on the tallest structure to the right of him.  That is 正覚寺.

The tiled roof of “Shoukakuji” can be seen behind and to the right of Dad in this 1948 photo.  He is standing alongside his childhood home.

For those who like visuals:

Satellite view of home and Shoukakuji, 2012.

He would tell me (over and over) that while playing tag, “…I tried to get away so I jumped on this big round stone then leaped up to a branch on big a pine tree in front of 正覚寺.”

Now that I know he did the broad jump at Nichu, I thought this jumping thing was therefore plausible.  (Did I mention I’m a writer for “Mythbusters”?)

“Trouble is, I jumped too far so my hands couldn’t grab onto the branch.  I slipped off the branch then broke my elbow when I hit the ground”.

OK.  So now, after “An Atomic Spark From a 1937 Yearbook“, I also know he excelled in the triple jump at Nichu.  Plausible.  (See…  More proof I am a writer for “Mythbusters”.)

To this day, he cannot completely straighten out his right arm.  It’s crooked.  He now tells this story to my youngest kids, Jack and Brooke…  Every four minutes.

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On September 7, 2012, I had to know.  Off to 正覚時…  But unlike my agile father of the 1920’s, I was walking very gingerly.  There were four humongous blisters on my toes from walking in Japan and (from being tricked into) climbing Mt. Misen on Miyajima.

The sign at the entry gate, or “mon”.  Shoukakuji’s middle character is written with an old Japanese character.

Indeed, there was a Japanese pine tree, or “matsu”.  A huge one.  You couldn’t miss it as you walk through the “mon”, or gate.  It was so huge, the temple had steel braces installed to help hold these majestic branches up.

Steel posts and braces were installed to help hold up these ancient branches.

Off the to right, was the base of the tree.  A puny trunk in relation to the Goliath branches…  It was hard to believe at first this small trunk was the heart for this proud tree.

Then…  at the base…  was a large round stone.  Could it possibly be?  Plausible as we don’t know how long the stone was there…  Am I tough?

Masako and my son Takeshi stand next to the large round stone and pine tree made famous by my father some eighty-plus years ago.

But where’s the branch my father jumped for?  Myth: Busted!…  or so I thought.

Then we saw it.  Above my son Takeshi in the picture.  The base of a broken branch.  It was at the right height!  OK…  Myth: Plausible.

Here is the branch that Dad supposedly leaped for 80+ years ago…but fell and broke his elbow.

But conclusive proof was just beyond reach.  There was no evidence as to age of the tree or how long the stone was there…

Then, as if Aunt Shiz summoned him, the reverend of 正覚寺 came out…with his wife.  He was about 90 years old.  Almost as old as my dad but he still had his wits about him.  Thank goodness.

He told us he didn’t know my father personally…but that he played with Suetaro and Mieko, Dad’s youngest brother and sister!  He knew Suetaro well, he said.  He listened to Suetaro blow on his flute from the house in the evenings.

My Japanese wasn’t good enough so Masako stepped in…  She explained to the elderly reverend how my dad (her uncle) had jumped from a large round stone at the base of a pine tree here 80+ years ago and broke his elbow.

Masako is mimicking my father’s broken right elbow and his story while my son Takeshi and cousin Kiyoshi watch. Kiyoshi was pointing to the stone to supplement the story.

Unbelievably, the reverend said with pride, “The pine tree is about 400 years old…and that stone has been there for as long as I can remember.  It hasn’t been moved, either.”

Then the wife said that a number of years ago, the branch had broken off but it was very long.  Then after it broke off, “…a swarm of bees made a home inside.  We had to seal the crack unfortunately,” to account for the mortar on the branch.

Was his story a myth?  Busted?  Plausible?  Confirmed?

Myth: Confirmed.

Dad wasn’t imagining ANYTHING.  His memory is intact from that time.

Mission accomplished.

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But to end this fun story, we had my Aunt Shiz’s interment the next morning.

The reverend’s son was the officiant.  Glorious.  The circle of generations continues.  And he brought along one more piece of treasure to the interment:

The reverend’s son brought this gift for Masako and my Dad.

A photo of the majestic Japanese pine tree covered in snow.

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There are souls in this tree, too.

Oh…  I was kidding about Mythbusters.

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude – Part II


A young Grandmother Kono takes a modeling pose in front of her Seattle barbershop. She cannot possibly have foreseen what the future holds in store for her.

The most wicked risk of a mother’s love for a child is loss, and the price of loss is grief…  But the sheer passion of grief can become indescribable if a mother ponders on her decisions.

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In Part I, we left when my father returned to Seattle to stay while leaving behind in Hiroshima his two youngest siblings and his parents.  This was 1937.  Before leaving, the family took this portrait with Grandmother Kono sitting on the sakura wood at the house.  Suetaro is standing next to her:

One of the last portraits of the three siblings and my grandparents. Grandmother Kono is sitting on the sakura wood written about in “Souls of Wood“. Circa 1937

My father says that their younger sister Mieko was ill often.  Indeed, she passed away in 1939 at just 15 years of age from an apparent kidney infection.  Since my father was already in Seattle by that time, only his youngest brother Suetaro was left along with my grandparents.  Most decisively, Grandmother decided Suetaro was not to return to Seattle when he turned 18.  In “Masako and Spam Musubi,” she was very concerned over the harassment and intimidation she had received due to the threat of war against Japan.  I also “feel” that Grandmother knew Grandfather was ill by the time she made the decision.

Sure enough, the very next year (1940), Grandfather Hisakichi passed away from stomach cancer.  He was 59 years old.  After raising Mieko for 15 years and marrying Hisakichi 31 years earlier in Seattle as a picture bride, only she and Suetaro were left in their home.  War with America would start the following year.  A war in which her three oldest surviving children called America home.

One family.  One war.  Two countries…  One mother.
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An undated school portrait of Suetaro. He looks to be about 14 years old.
For reasons I have been unable to document, Suetaro became part of the Imperial Japanese Army.  All Dad will say now is being taken by the Imperial Army was “part of life” back then.  Below, he is sitting on the sofa’s arm to celebrate the young man in the center being sent to China’s Army HQs.
According to the handwritten date on the back, this photo of Suetaro below (on right manning a non-combat grade light machine gun made for training) was taken on May 10, 1939 at the “Hara Mura Training Grounds”:
Suetaro on the right. Dated May 10, 1939. I wonder what Grandmother Kono was feeling.
Here is Suetaro, perhaps in a posed photograph for PR purposes.  It is of professional quality and taken on the same day as above:
Likely a professionally taken photograph of Suetaro.  It was also taken on May 10, 1939 in Hara Mura.

I have a strong belief this was taken at the Fukuyama training grounds for his regiment, the 41st Infantry Regiment (unverified):

A proud looking Suetaro in his full Army uniform. I cannot tell if the handle on his katana, or “samurai sword”, is wrapped in silk or machine stamped. All military issued swords were numbered, by the way.

Another piece of his elusive history then emerged – but it was not from the 100 year old woodshed.

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Readers know that my Uncle Suetaro was killed in action as a Japanese soldier on Leyte.  His regiment – the 41st Infantry Regiment – was annihilated by the US Army on Leyte.  My Grandmother Kono was told he perished on July 15, 1945 – just a month before Japan surrendered.  My father’s secret US Army unit, the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), had a direct hand in the high number of Japanese casualties – and the low number of American casualties.  In other words, the MIS likely had a direct hand in the annihilation of Suetaro’s regiment.  The MIS was comprised of Americans…of Japanese descent.
Dad as part of the MIS in post-war Japan.
It is not known if Grandmother knew of this fact.  It would have been an overwhelming of her heart.
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However, this is not a story on Suetaro’s life but about his life with his mother.  In “Masako and Spam Musubi”, we know she had her second stroke after being informed by the remnants of the Japanese military of her beloved Suetaro’s death.  The last Kanemoto in the family home was now… herself.

During my trip to the family home in September, my cousin Masako, her younger brother Kiyoshi, her son Toshiro along with my son were looking at vintage photos Toshiro uncovered just a couple weeks prior in the shed.  A number were of Suetaro with my father and Grandmother.  We were all quite emotional by then.  Masako removed herself from the table; I assumed she was overcome.  I didn’t stop her from quietly leaving thinking that.

Instead, she came back a few minutes later with something in her hand.  It was a small notebook.  Aged and frayed at the bindings.  Her eyes were red.

It was Suetaro’s war diary.  We were simply stunned.  Masako had it secreted away.  For decades.  She chose to bring it out now.  For closure.  It was the right time.

Masako shocked all of us when she brought out Suetaro’s Army diary.  (L to R) Masako, Kiyoshi and Toshiro, her son.  The Kleenex box is there for my use.

It took us a few moments to realize what she had brought.  It was brittle and smelled of old books.  The paperstock was of low quality – more like newspaper stock – as paper was in very limited supply during the war years.  We handled it as gently as possible.

The first few pages were of what he did during a short period of time; Suetaro’s writing was neat and in black ink.

Then the handwriting changed.  Suddenly.  It was hurried.  Rushed.  And in pencil.

It was his farewell letter to his mother.  My dad’s mother.  My grandmother.  It was dated March 3, 1944.
Kiyoshi is holding Suetaro’s farewell letter. It starts with “Dearest Mama” on the right.
Kiyoshi tried to read it; it was difficult as it not only was in his hurried cursive but in pre-MacArthur Japanese.  Many characters are simply not used any more.  Unused since 1945.  Only a few people can read it – like my father.  Suetaro’s brother.  But we managed to read critical passages.  I will include two pages as reference.  However, these are very literal translations of a few sentences but needs be read in its entire context considering the environment was when he wrote this.  It is easy to misunderstand or misconstrue his heart and soul at that moment.
Towards the left, it states, “初陣に臨むことを喜んでいます. 勿論, 生還を期してはいません”, or literally, “I am glad to be going to war and facing my first combat. Of course, I do not expect to be coming back.”
He writes, “今の時局は日本が起つか亡びるかの境です。どうしてもやり抜かねばいけないのです。兄さん達を救い出すことも夢見てます,” or “At this time, Japan is at the point of either winning or perishing. We must persevere as I still dream that we will free our older brothers.”

I stress this abbreviated presentation can be misunderstood.  My interpretation is, “I willingly go to war for Japan as we are on the brink of winning or losing.  By winning, Japan will free my older brothers from the concentration camps in the US.”

He will fight – and die – so that Japan will win.  If Japan wins, they would take over the United States and by doing so, free my Dad and his older brother Yutaka from the concentration camp.  At the time of his writing, both were imprisoned at the camp in Minidoka, Idaho after being relocated from Tule Lake, CA.  (His nephew, Bobby, had already perished in Minidoka at the young age of six.)  His older sister, my Aunt Shiz who passed away last month, was imprisoned at Manzanar.

Man, my eyes welled up.  Everybody was in shock…even Masako once again.

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I am unable to comprehend how my Grandmother must have felt reading that letter in 1944.  Suetaro had secreted it away in the “butsudan”, or family altar.  She had decided Suetaro was not to return to Seattle to join his elder siblings.  Now, having read this letter, her regret must have been immense.  Grief.  She lost a piece of herself.  A beloved piece.

Mieko had passed away.  So did her husband in 1940.  Now her youngest son writes he does not expect to return.

Could she have foreseen this fate while she happily stood in front of her Seattle barbershop near King St. and Maynard in Seattle in the 1910’s?  I doubt it.

She would be alone.  To ponder.  To possibly regret to her last day.

A mother’s anguished solitude.

It is dated April 9th on the back with no year indicated. However, as my father took it when he was in the MIS, I will assume it is around 1948. Her face is worn.

A Mother’s Anguished Solitude – Part I


Grandmother standing near King and Maynard in Seattle with (L to R) unknown girl, Dad and her loving hand on Suetaro. Circa 1925

My Grandmother Kono could not have possibly foreseen her future pain in solitude…  But the anguish she endured seven decades ago brings our family together today along with a message to the world.

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Born on October 6, 1888 in a Hiroshima village called Furue, Grandmother Kono came into Seattle on February 4, 1909 via the Shinano Maru.  She was a picture bride for my Grandfather Hisakichi.

She gave birth to seven children; all but one was born in Seattle.  They were American citizens.

Uncle Suetaro (Soo-e-ta-rou) was #6 and born in Seattle sometime late in 1920 although I have been unable to locate his birth records on-line.  His name (末太郎) implies “last boy (or child)” but as you can see in the damaged photo above, Grandmother and Grandfather appear to have had an “oops” moment.  That’s Mieko, their youngest sister; she became truly the last child.

Uncle Suetaro is on the high chair with Dad standing next to him. They are in front of my grandparent’s barbershop on King St and Maynard in Seattle. The shop was inside Hotel Fujii (no longer standing). Circa 1921.

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While growing up, Uncle Suetaro was my father’s favorite sibling.  Suetaro and dad were inseparable from what I am told.  Dad’s nickname for him was (and still is) “Sue-boh”.

Suetaro was a happy child and always made people laugh and feel good – like Grandmother Kono.  Suetaro and Dad played “oninga”, or tag, together frequently; there was no Nintendo or footballs to throw around in the 20’s.  When Suetaro got old enough, they picked “matsutake” mushrooms together on Grandfather’s mountain property as told in “Masako and Spam Musubi“.  When Grandmother made fish for dinner, Dad wouldn’t eat it – but Suetaro did.  Suetaro ate everything.

This is my favorite photo of three of the youngest siblings; we uncovered it just this month in Hiroshima thanks to my cousin Toshiro:

The three youngest siblings: Mieko, Suetaro and Dad. A rare photo as all three are smiling – especially Dad. This portrait was also taken while they sat on the Hiroshima home’s sakura wood. My assumption is it was taken immediately before Dad left to return to Seattle.

Dad says they had one bicycle to share between them.  On school days, they would walk to the train station together in the morning while one slowly rode the bike.  They would leave it at a little shop which was still quite a ways away.  However, whoever got to the bicycle first AFTER school got to ride it home – quickly.  Leaving the other brother in the dust.  And it was a long walk – especially in the summer heat and humidity.  Perhaps it was the bicycle in the early portrait shown in “Souls of Wood“?

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Dad left Hiroshima soon after graduating from Nichuu High School at 18 years of age; he arrived back in Seattle on May 18, 1937.

Grandmother, Suetaro and Mieko were left behind in Hiroshima.

He would never see his favorite brother Suetaro or Mieko alive again… and Grandmother Kono will soon experience a demonic dread that will stay with her for the rest of her life.

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To Be Continued… A direct link to Part II is HERE.

Souls of Wood


They walked on it.  They posed for family portraits on it.  They passed away on it.  It felt as if their souls were infused in it.

Although my ancestors have come and gone through that house for about a hundred years, the old sakura wood shared their souls with me.

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Then:

The Kanemoto’s sat on the cherry wood walkway for a portrait. Notice the glass paneling at the center-rear.  My father (second from left) is sadly all who remains from that generation. Circa 1928, Hiroshima, Japan.

Now:

Although aged and weathered, the sakura (Japanese cherry) wood upon which my ancestors sat upon for family portraits is unchanged. Even the glass paneling in the background is the same.

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While I am certainly not in the construction industry, my father’s family home is based on the Edo design era.  Generally speaking, they are built on stone foundations, with supporting square timbers and a raised floor.  “Tatami” mats were used for flooring.

My father, while now 93 and suffering from dementia, fondly recalled the floor plan of the Kanemoto house…especially of the main room seen the family portrait.  He said it had a “tokonoma”, or a small alcove alongside the altar, or “butsudan”.  He also clearly recalled the floor space measured by the number of tatami mats used; in this case, “hachijyou” or eight mats.

This is the room in which my cousin Masako “saw” Aunt Shiz a few days before she passed away.

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The house was indeed damaged from the atomic bomb’s shock wave.  This same shock wave shook the Enola Gay violently even while trying to escape the blast at about 30,000 feet altitude.  She was 11-1/2 miles away.

The house is about 4-1/2 miles away by way the crow flies.  Almost due west of the hypocenter.  Masako was knocked down by the hard-hitting shock wave while in her classroom.

A low lying hill called Mt. Suzugamine served somewhat as a barrier, deflecting the shock wave.  Still, nearly all of the sliding door panels were knocked down and the ceiling was sucked up more than a foot per Masako.  Roof tiling was also blown away from the force.

Masako is trying to show how the atomic bomb’s shock wave lifted the ceiling up over a foot. It is repaired now but was left as-is for decades.
Masako in the process of trying to show how far the ceiling was lifted by the blast on August 6, 1945.

My Uncle Suetaro took one of his last photos in front of this house in May 1944.  My grandmother already had her stroke and is not in this photo but his sister, Michie, is standing to his right.

One of the family treasures found during our journey to the family home in Hiroshima this month. Uncle Suetaro is going to war and his death.

Grandmother Kono’s funeral in 1954; my father can be seen in the lighter suit to the left standing next to Michie and Masako (hidden by the flowers):

Grandmother Kono’s funeral at the house.  1954

The home does have spirits within.  It’s not cornball.  It is an incredible sensation.  We were called to those souls in the wood this month.  Seriously.

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When I saw my son in front of the home, I saw that I’m in the last half of my journey in life… but I came back to myself on that old sakura wood.

Early family picture in front of the house.  The entry is on the right.
My son Takeshi standing next to the Kanemoto name in front of the house just this month.  The entry can be seen behind him.

The Spirit of Aunt Shiz and Kharma


Although my Aunt Shiz passed away ten days before my son and I were to travel to her childhood home in Hiroshima, I believe it was her caring soul that made our journey eerily complete.

Time for heebie-jeebies.

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L to R: Uncle Yutaka, Dad, Uncle Suetaro, Aunt Michie, Aunt Shiz, Great Grandmother Kame, Aunt Mieko and Grandmother Kono at the Hiroshima home. Circa 1928.

Like all but one of the siblings, Aunt Shiz was born in Seattle in 1916.  My grandparents operated a barbershop as mentioned in “Masako and Spam Musubi“, the first story in this blog.  In the picture below likely taken early in 1918, she is standing in front of her mother Kono at their barbershop in Hotel Fujii near King and Maynard in downtown Seattle.  Grandma Kono is smiling while looking on; she appears to be holding a straight razor.  My relatives tell me Grandma was great with the customers and gave excellent shaves. (If it is a straight edge razor, she’s holding it in her left hand. We have a number of lefties in our family. Hmmm.) Notice the wooden sidewalk:

Aunt Shiz standing out in front of the barbershop; her mother (my grandmother) Kono smiles while looking on. Kono is holding a straight razor; she apparently gave great shaves and the customers enjoyed her friendliness.

In this photo taken about five or six years later, the wooden sidewalk has been replaced with concrete.  Aunt Shiz shows her friendly character while dancing on the left.  You can make out “Fujii” on the sign hanging overhead in the background:

A happy and smiling Aunt Shiz dancing on the left. The barbershop’s poles can be seen behind her. Circa 1923 in downtown Seattle.

Masako tells me Aunt Shiz was the village “hottie” as she grew up back in those days.  It made us laugh but it was true.  Surely, she broke a lot of the young boys’ hearts in the village.

She returned to Seattle on April 7, 1935, a vibrant young lady.  Amazingly (well, really not), her granddaughter looks very much like her at that age.  Genes.

She married and had three boys and one girl.  All but one were imprisoned during World War II.  They had the dehumanizing horror of having to first stay in vacated horse stalls at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Los Angeles before being transported under armed guard in blacked out trains to Manzanar where they stayed until war’s end.  They were American citizens.  Incredible, isn’t it?

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Aunt Shiz, who was my dad’s older sister and last lving sibling, was a true “Kanemoto” as the saying goes.  They were much alike…especially when they talked in their “Hiroshima dialect”.  Funny they aren’t able to remember when their birthdays are but they sure remember their happy days as children in that Hiroshima home.  Both loved to eat.  And eat they did.  Most of all, they loved sweets.  Don’t ask why.

When I see Dad now, I always take him Japanese treats – mainly “manjyu” and “youkan”.

Typical Japanese sweet treat called “manjyu”. Aunt Shiz and Dad love them.
Sweet Japanese treat made out of sweet beans, or “yokan”.

Last October, shortly after her 95th birthday, I took Dad to visit with Aunt Shiz.  It is a long drive to and from.  While Dad had great difficulty remembering why he was in my car – not just once but several times – there was no hesitation by either of them when they first got a glimpse of each other at Aunt Shiz’s senior home:

Yes, I took a bag of yokan.  Its on the front right in the video in a cellophane bag.  There were three different flavors, too.  They ate them ALL.  Really.

But they couldn’t remember who was older.  Absolutely precious to our family.

At her funeral service in Los Angeles, her grandson described her perfectly as a very warm person.  She loved to hug and give her young relatives a peck on the cheek.  That was Aunt Shiz.

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But back to the story…  Some heebie-jeebie stuff.  You know…  Stuff that gives you a year’s supply of chicken skin.

Our journey to Hiroshima was planned for months.  My decision to do so was made after I met with Masako and the others in Hawaii in May and returned home…or so I thought I made that decision.  It was as if something took over my thoughts and actions.  It was kharma.  I was also going to take my oldest son Takeshi (24 years old – very important.  Remember that.) who had NEVER been out of the country.

As the time neared, our Hiroshima family was excited my son and I were going.  Although those of us here in the States were unaware, in the extreme heat and humidity of Japan, my cousin Toshiro went deep into a 100 year old wooden shed which still exists in a last ditch effort to uncover past family information.  He found it…about a thousand pictures from the late 1800’s through shortly after war’s end.  That is where the photos of Aunt Shiz and the barbershop emerged from although all were damaged by mildew and insects.  They were extremely elated and flabbergasted to have found these vintage family treasures still existing.  They began to go through them in the main family room where their “butsudan”, or family altar was.  The altar is also about a hundred years old.

A few days after they looked over the treasure, Aunt Shiz passed away quietly…  She had fallen asleep in her wheelchair like she frequently did but this time, just didn’t wake up.  Oddly, her daughter and my cousin Bessie, who diligently and energetically cared for her for many years, said “…she said she wasn’t that hungry that evening then just passed away”.  Not having an appetitite is NOT Kanemoto.  I will have to remember that.

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Bessie immediately notified the family in Hiroshima at which time Masako immediately said, “I saw Shiz in the room while we were looking at the pictures.  She passed through the house.”  We all got chicken skin when we heard that.  Masako does not make things up and is as sharp as a tack at 78 years of age.  She has all her wits about her.  (That last trait is NOT typical Kanemoto, by the way.)  We don’t doubt her.

Bessie suddenly requested I take some of her ashes back with me to the family home for interment.  I was honored.

After my son and I arrived at the family home with Aunt Shiz, my cousin Toshiro immediately placed her ashes on the 100 year old altar…in the same room where Masako saw Aunt Shiz.  Again, Masako said to us she saw Aunt Shiz in that room before she passed through the house.  Creepies.

Toshiro placed Aunt Shiz’s ashes on the family altar. The room is basically the same as it was when Aunt Shiz lived here about 80 years earlier.

Shortly thereafter, my Hiroshima family surprised my son and I with the many, many vintage photos.  Then to add to the heebie-jeebies, Toshiro remarked, “We know Masako saw Aunt Shiz’s spirit in this room shortly before she died while we were looking over our ancestors’ pictures.  Aunt Shiz could have passed away two months ago or next year.  But she knew you were coming and in her soul, she wanted to come home now with you.  She arranged for all this to happen at this time.  She is happy now.”

Wow.  I felt like if a day’s worth of chicken skin out of Foster Farms was thrown on my arms.  Really creepie-crawly.

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Not over yet…  We had her official interment into the family crypt a few days later.  My other cousin Kiyoshi – another kind hearted person and the man who invented the first EDM device – came with us to the family burial plot, or “ohaka”.  The stone ohaka holds the ashes of my grandparents and their deceased children – including my Uncle Suetaro who was killed on Leyte in the Philippines during World War II as a soldier of the Japanese Imperial Army.

As my son was cleaning the ohaka prior to the interment, Kiyoshi said to my son and I, “Suetaro was 24 years old when he was killed.  Now, your son is meeting Suetaro for the first time.  Your son is 24 years old.  It was all planned for by Aunt Shiz.  She picked this time to come home and for Takeshi to be here and to meet Suetaro.  It was meant to be this way.  To help strengthen our ancestral family bonds although an ocean separates us.”

My 24 year old son bows deeply and reverently in front of the family crypt holding the ashes of Suetaro who was killed at 24 years of age.  The ashes of Aunt Shiz can be seen in the small white box on top of the white cloth.

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He was right.  Masako and Toshiro are right.  Aunt Shiz picked this time to come home.  She knew we were going.  She decided Takeshi was to come.  She made everything happen as they did.  My son was very moved and affected by this coming together of family…so much so he cried at our farewell dinner.

Do I believe in spirits and kharma?

Yes.

A 1937 Yearbook, the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima


(Please see An Atomic Spark and a 1937 Yearbook and Dad Was in the Newspaper for background information.)

There is living proof of forgiveness from a few – and they let out a resounding message of world peace for us.

My son Takeshi, second cousin Izumi and my cousin Masako at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

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It was an extreme emotional experience – not just for my oldest son Takeshi and I but for the kind souls who joyfully spent their afternoons with us on a hot September day in Hiroshima.  I was able to finally meet – and thank – the people who were kind enough to seek out my father’s 1937 high school yearbook and thereby give my father a joyous remembrance of his most happiest days of youth in the sunset of his long life.

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Not being a writer, putting this experience into words is an endeavor.  But on September 6, 2012, we were able to meet in person Mr. Tsukamoto, Ms. Kanetou, Ms. Tanaka and Mr. Aramaki.

From left: Ms. Tanaka of the Hiroshima Chugoku Shimbun newspaper, myself, Ms. Kanetou who tracked down my dad’s 1937 yearbook, my cousins Izumi and Masako, Mr. Tsukamoto who first answered my blind email and set things into motion, Mr. Aramaki our guide and my son Takeshi. Messrs. Tsukamoto and Aramaki are survivors of the atomic bombing.

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Any guided tour is exceptional.  A personally guided tour of a peace memorial and museum of a man-made event of unparalleled violence cannot be surpassed. Both gentlemen were severely burned as young children.  With all doctors killed in the city, they had to resort to mashed yam salve to soothe their wounds. (To see a VERY well written piece on their atomic experiences translated into English, please feel free to read it here.)  Imagine doing that yourself as a youngster.

They first pointed out where my father’s beloved high school, Nichuu, was situated in relation to the hypocenter.  It is one thing to see it on your monitor.  It is another thing to see it on a large wall map.  Overwhelming.  I knew it was close but it was not much further than one of my father’s triple jumps in Track and Field.  It ceased to exist – as did over 320 of their young classmates.

Mr. Aratani points to the now vacant square lot that was once his school – and my father’s.

By destiny, both men – young children at that time being forced into laboring for Japan’s war effort – were saved by the decision of their instructor, Mr. Sekimoto.  Mr. Sekimoto decided it would be best for small group of them (which included another one of my relatives) to clear a large parade ground to the southeast (東練兵場) for the next crop of sweet potatoes.  The other classmates were sent to work on building a firebreak near Nichu – which sealed their fate.  They were erased from the face of this earth in a second.

Mr. Aratani and Mr. Tsukamoto point out the Eastern Parade Ground to my cousin Masako where they were to pull weeds that fateful morning. I subsequently learned another relative of mine, Hitoshi Kubo, was also with them. His burns were more severe.

Due to time, we journeyed outside with these two 81 year old gentlemen for further education.  However, without any inference of what was right or what was wrong 70 years ago, just a couple of images from within the Memorial Museum:

My son Takeshi, I believe, was very focused on the many displays. I believe the message of the Peace Museum was completely absorbed into his psyche.

Messrs. Tsukamoto and Aratani guided us to the Nichuu High School Memorial, emblazoned with the 321 fellow students who perished.  As did Mr. Tsukamoto on August 6th, 2012, I offered water; my son Takeshi also without any urging whatsoever left his precious water bottle on that hot and humid day which is a glorious gesture.  There is a reason for the water as will be explained shortly.

Mr. Aratani, Mr. Tsukamoto and myself offer water to the Memorial and a prayer for their young Nichuu classmates and souls.  321 of them.
My son leaves his water bottle for the young souls.

We journeyed towards the cenotaph.  On the way through a park, Mr. Tsukamoto began to cry.  I asked him what was wrong.  He replied, “Your father is very fortunate to have family that think of his well-being.  My soul is now filled with joy.”  We hugged each other under the shade of a tree and cried together.  As it turns out, his father died at a young age; he was never able to thank his father for raising him through a most horrible period.

We arrived at the cenotaph; the inscription was designed and written by Mr. Tsubokawa’s and Aratani’s good friend, Prof. Saika Tadayoshi.  In English, it says, “For to repeat the fault we shall cease for we shall not repeat the evil.”  It was purposely written with no subject.  It is for the reader to decide.  Mr. Tsukamoto subsequently sent this image of the actual manuscript of Prof. Tadayoshi written in calligraphy (brush and carbon ink).

From Mr. Tsukamoto.

The Atomic Dome can be seen perfectly centered through the arch.  He explained the “eternal flame” is not truly meant to be eternal.  It is to be extinguished when all nuclear weapons are abolished.

Cenotaph

Just beyond the cenotaph can be seen a pool of refreshing water.  The water symbolizes all the cries for water from the victims who survived the atomic blast.  Nearly all would perish.  Remember the water we poured on Nichu’s Memorial Stone?

We then walked to the actual hypocenter.  The atomic bomb exploded about 1,900 feet directly above.

The atomic bomb exploded directly above this spot.

There are several rivers flowing through Hiroshima.  We all know through books that the rivers were engorged with corpses and debris.  However, there are no photos in existence as it was when the city was destroyed.  There was no film let alone medical care.  However, before the US scientists came to measure radiation levels about two months later, a huge typhoon hit the devastated city.  While the rain tore through the rivers carrying the corpses out to sea, the rain also largely washed away radiation levels.  Therefore, when the US scientists did measure the radiation levels, it was tremendously lower than what it truly was.  You won’t find that written in any of our school history books.

This river was engorged with victims and were washed out to sea by a huge typhoon. There are no photos of this horrible scene as witnessed by our two survivors.

We returned from the very enlightening tour to join Masako, Izumi, Ms. Kanetou and Ms. Tanaka.  My father was bestowed with many kind gifts one of which was a compilation of years past of Nichu – including images of when dad’s class was digging the pool at the school in the early 30’s.  But lastly, as a small token of peace, fellow blogger Seapunk2 sent me some artistic pieces representing peace and serenity.  One was presented Ms. Kanetou.  I explained it to her that the artist said a sense of peace may be coming “…directly from her actions. You may feel the spirit contained within them.  (I) sat so long and quietly, collecting those tiny pieces, sometimes with tweezers. It’s a beautiful experience, to listen to the shore birds, seals, waves and take in the Pacific while I gather the otherwise unnoticed gifts from the earth and sea. Then, once I got the idea for containing them, that, too, was peaceful and gave me a lovely sense of satisfaction…”

Peace token from seapunk2!

Lastly, in a photo discovery made just a few hours before meeting them, I came across a photo of dad taken in 1937 soon after he arrived back in Seattle after spending ten years in Hiroshima and graduating from Nichu.  He’s sporting his Nichu varsity sweater.  The attendees were overjoyed to see Dad’s pride in Nichu – even across the ocean.

Dad in his pride and joy Nichu varsity sweater taken in Seattle, 1937. You can also see his bent right elbow. That is another discovery story.

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The men were burned severely as children working in a field for their country’s victory.  While their country lost, it was but a moment in their lifetime.  They still attained victory for the world.

More to come on one family, two countries and World War II.

True stories about World War II – One war. Two Countries. One Family