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The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 4


You can hardly tell this is a young girl anymore. As Masako and Mr. Tsukamoto told me, they were walking dead. Flesh literally melted off their bodies and dangled. Grotesque forms which were once human beings.

The aftermath of the bombing was no different from hell.  Not that I’ve seen hell nor that I would want to…

But Aunt Michie and my very young cousins saw it.

They visited hell.

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a-bomb1
Atomic bomb survivors. Perhaps this is what Aunt Michie and her cousins saw in their search for relatives on the other side of the hill. If you notice the flask the young girl is holding to her lips.  It was likely filled with radioactive water.

Nearly all doctors and nurses within the city had been killed or seriously wounded on August 6, 1945.  If they survived the blast, they were likely to fall ill from radiation poisoning and they themselves would die within days.  All remaining medical supplies – which had been nearly non-existent due to the war – had been destroyed as well.  Most food – even unpicked fruits or vegetables – were contaminated with radiation as was water(¹).  Thousands of corpses plugged the rivers as they would go in to soothe their burns but would soon perish.

It is important to note that food rationing in Japan was much more extreme than what was imposed on the American public.  While the rationing in America began in May 1942, it started with just coffee and sugar.  In Japan, rationing of a far more extensive reach began in 1939 if not earlier.  It extended to nearly all first quality food stuffs.  Rice, barley, seafood, meat, soy bean paste and soy sauce, vegetables, fruit, seafood, etc.  Groups called “tonari-gumi” were established in villages and the like; they monitored and rationed food to the Japanese families based on what work they were doing, e.g., war production, number of family members along with their age and sex.  The rationing was so severe that when one family member died, the family did not report it.  The average caloric daily intake was cut down to less than 2,000 a day by 1945.

homeless_orphan_in_postwar_tokyo
Homeless orphan in Tokyo. He would have to be determined if he was to survive.

The Japanese civilians were starving, so to speak, and were without question malnourished.

Aunt Michie was no different.  She was hungry like everyone else and likely tired easily due to low nutritional intake and daily physical and emotional demands upon her.  It is important to have an understanding of her condition at this crucial moment in history.

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Sadako – taken in early 1948 by my father while on furlough. She would marry a distant cousin (common cultural practice at that time) who was also badly burned in the atomic explosion.  She is wearing clothing my father bought for her at the Tokyo PX.

After the shock and black rain subsided, Aunt Michie’s thoughts immediately went to her treasured family.  According to my cousins, she went into her priceless family rice reserves and cooked real rice for the children.  Sadako, the second oldest, remembers to this day how she savored that bowl of rice, a definite luxury at that time.  While but a child of ten years and filled with anxiety about eating such a fine meal, she saw at that moment her mother’s love and affection for them was unconditional.

Aunt Michie’s thoughts went to the Aramaki family (aunt and uncle’s family) who lived in Hiroshima.  She had no way of knowing that day but they had become direct victims of the atomic bombing.  They had been burned over most of their bodies and had even been trapped under their destroyed house.  They managed to struggle with their searing injuries to Aunt Michie’s house to seek refuge and care.  They had realized that only strong family support would allow them to live.

Grotesquely, the path going over the 300 meter high hill which the relatives traveled became littered with scores of dead people.  Masako said they were unrecognizable lumps of flesh and died where they crumpled.  Many had their clothes burned away.  While thousands were killed instantly, other thousands suffered for days before dying from intense burns, radioactive poisoning and other injuries.  As radiation poisoning was unheard of amongst them, some were told they had dysentery and the like.  Many before dying oozed pus from their ears and blood ran from their noses.  You will not read this in any Western textbook.  In fact, the gruesome information about the days, months and years after August 6th was suppressed for a couple of decades by both governments.

While the dazed and immensely pained adults struggled to Michie’s farm, there were young children of the family unaccounted for(²).  Without hesitation and unbelievably, Aunt Michie – in her weakened state – pulled a two wheel cart over the hill to Hiroshima to look for them.

Over a hill.

大八車
I believe this to be the type of cart Aunt Michie pulled to Hiroshima to look for the unaccounted for children of the family. Kiyoshi called it a 大八車, or large two wheeled wooden cart.

Miraculously and while the details are lost, she found some of them and hauled them back to the farm on the cart, now laden with the additional weight of the children…  on the same road that was further littered with dead and dying people.  Think of the mental anguish Michie had to endure when dying people came up to her and asked for her help…  It would be difficult to not look at them.  It was more difficult to ignore them, I’m sure.

According to my cousins, a total of 23 people got refuge and care at Aunt Michie’s farm.  I understand many were relatives from the Aramaki side of the family.

There were more hurdles for Michie and her children immediately ahead – caring for the injured and dying.

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You can tell which way this woman was facing when the bomb went off. Her left side is burned. Photo was likely taken after August 6, 1945.
Caring for Victim of Hiroshima Bombing
A mother looks after her child. This photo was also likely taken after August 6, 1945.
Victim of Hiroshima Bombing
An elderly woman lies dying on the floor covered with flies. Perhaps this is just one of the sickening sights Michie and her children have buried in their conscious.

The preceding photographs may show what Michie and the children were faced with.  And the children were just that – children.

How old are your children, by the way?

The older cousins recall that they, Michie, Mikizo’s parents and the less injured relatives took on a 24 hour a day field hospital of sorts to treat the injured.  It was stifling hot and humid; yet, they had to be given constant attention and there were so many of them.  I cannot imagine how exhausting this task could have been, especially when you are hungry and malnourished yourself.

pattern
Taken sometime after August 6, 1945. The side of her you see is what had faced the atomic explosion. The patterns are from her clothing she wore that day. It was where the dark patterns of her clothing had been in contact with her skin. Masako recalls vividly this type of pattern among the burn victims and that the maggots followed that pattern.

The common injury were burns.  Severe burns…and they had no medicine whatsoever.(³)  No Bactine.  No Motrin.  No aloe.  All Michie could do was to coat the burns with a type of cooking oil and bandage them with pieces of cloth.  She must have endured unlimited anguish in knowing she could not measurably lessen their pain and suffering.  There must have been constant crying and unbearable moans of pain.

And on their hands, blood from human beings.

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Namie – taken in early 1948 by my father while on furlough.

Six year old Namie could never forget what she had to do.  Flies were swarming having sensed dying flesh.  Namie was tasked with shooing them away with a fan but they wouldn’t stay away.  And worse yet – time and time again, she had to remove the maggots that were feeding on dead flesh…with chopsticks.  I do not know if I could have done that…but Namie did.

The turmoil that must have stormed inside Aunt Michie to tell her daughters to do what they had to do for the sake of survival…and then to be stern with them and tell them to continue when they wavered or cried…  must have been punishing to her as a loving mother.  She must have wanted to cry.

Aunt Michie was the point woman.

And she fulfilled that role.

Her goal was to get everyone to tomorrow.

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To be continued in Part 5….

Notes:

(1) Per my 2012 meeting with Mr. Tsukamoto in Hiroshima, water is the main theme of the Cenotaph at the Peace Park.  Survivors clamored for water.  Where there was well water, many survivors were suffocated as dozens more pressed against them for the precious liquid.  Please see “A 1937 Yearbook, the Atomic Bomb and Hiroshima” for further information and links to their personal story.

(2) The number of unaccounted for children is unclear.

(3) Mr. Tsukamoto recounted how they had to constantly mash yams and place them over their burns to temporarily lessen the pain.  They did that for over a month, he says.

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 2


Taken in 1945 after a B-29 bombing attack on Tokyo. There is little left of the city and many, many families were without food and homes. Sadly, there were thousands of orphans as well, many of whom would perish.

Human dignity is as crucial to an earnest life as is air, water and food.

Aunt Michie drew upon that dignity inside her to help her family and others survive the day to day ruthlessness of life during war and ultimately, the atomic bombing.

While her dignity was larger than life, Michie would ultimately sacrifice her health and well-being to ensure her family and others would survive…and survive strongly.

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obaachan
Japanese high school girls being drilled on how to use bamboo spears to ultimately repel “the invaders”. Notice the presence of the Imperial Japanese Army in the background observing.  Tokyo 1944.

By 1945, Japan had already lost the war.  While the Japanese military leaders controlled the country and its path to ultimate destruction, the civilians took the brunt of war.  Many cities had been destroyed by US bombing raids leaving millions of families homeless.  There was not enough food to go around.  Many starved to death, especially orphaned children, if not from neglect as others would shut their eyes to them.

However, Hiroshima was largely spared from aerial attack.  The US did carry out bombing raids in March and April 1945 against military targets in Hiroshima but it was not frequent…but it was frequent enough to require air raid drills  The naval port of Kure though, where the battleship Yamato was built, was essentially destroyed in June 1945 by US Army and Navy bombing attacks.

HiroshimaBombingMap
A hand drawn map showing targets and damage to Hiroshima by US bombing raids including the atomic bombing. For a zoomable map, please copy and paste this link into your search bar: http://www.digital.archives.go.jp/DAS/meta/DGDetail_en_0000000611
Source: National Archives of Japan

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After her marriage in 1933, Michie was tasked to arduous farm labor at the Aramaki farm.  Their primary crop was rice.  She also gave birth to five children before war’s end: Masako (1933), Sadako (1936), Namie (1939), Tomiko (1942) and Masataka (1944).  Kiyoshi would follow in 1947.  She loved them unconditionally.

Michie image1
A happy Aunt Michie and likely Tomiko. Tomiko would soon be adopted by another family in the actual city of Hiroshima.  Undated but perhaps 1943.

On the farm lived Mikizo, his parents and Michie.  The four of them – and eventually three of her oldest daughters (a total of seven family members) – would work the land from a little before sunrise to sunset.  It was hard, arduous labor.  Back breaking work.  They did not have John Deere tractors or combines to aid them but had an ox to plow the fields with.  This was 24/7.

After all that hard labor, nearly the entire crop was taken by the Japanese military for the war.  They were allowed to retain a small portion of the crop for their own use.  As a result, rice was even further rationed for family consumption.  They had no choice.  On top of that, there was little else to eat.  They lived a meager life per my cousins.

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As the war dragged on, Japan was descending into the abyss…and it kept getting more and more darker.

In the story “Dear Mama”, Michie’s youngest brother Suetaro (my uncle) hurriedly wrote a somber good bye letter to Grandmother Kono in his war diary.  He was being sent off to war and certain death.

Farewell
Farewell sendoff for Suetaro who was heading to certain death. Michie is to his left and holding Masataka; Mikizo to his right. It is only an educated guess but the older man to the right of Mikizo is his father.  May 3, 1944.

I wonder how she really felt, knowing that Suetaro was going to fight to his death against the country in which his two older brothers and sister were imprisoned.  They were her brothers and sister, too.  An ugly internal conflict.

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The area around Tomo was nearly barren of younger, physically capable men.  All the men up to 35 years of age were taken by the army, regardless of their family status.  Mikizo was no exception.

In late 1944, at 35 years of age, he was taken by the Imperial Japanese Army.  Suetaro foresaw that happening in his farewell letter; he warned Mikizo to fully cooperate with the officers and to do exactly as he was ordered.  This was because it was brutal even within the non-commissioned ranks of the Imperial Japanese Army; the training officers routinely beat recruits into submission.  These recruits were largely the men who were ordered to their deaths in “banzai charges” by the thousands.  They greatly outnumbered the “hard core” Japanese officers.

banzai killed
Aftermath of a banzai charge.

Aunt Michie’s family who tended to the back breaking labor on the farm was now lessened by one.  As with her brother Suetaro, she foresaw never seeing Mikizo again.

To make matters worse, her mother (my Grandmother Kono) suffered a cerebral infarction the day she learned Suetaro was being sent off to war.  She became paralyzed on her left side.  To get about the now empty house, she would have to pull herself around with her right arm.

On top of everything else – tending to the crops, the house and the children – Aunt Michie now had to care for her disabled mother.

Michie’s daily life was now further strained with even more stress…  Life must have appeared darker to Aunt Michie.

Michie’s willpower and dignity will now be on trial and severely tested.

But the struggles she will endure will have purpose.

She would not let her family down.

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To be continued in Part 3….