While countless atrocities were committed, I strongly believe that especially in the latter stages of the war, say late 1943-on, not all Japanese soldiers and sailors were crazed devils. Professional military personnel had been whittled away by the thousands by that time. Replacements were replacements: they were drafted like millions of our boys: grocery clerks, farmhands, carpenters, etc., but not as well trained as our military were.
I do feel that these young Japanese soldiers and sailors were much like our boys under the stress of combat. They griped about the monotonous chow (or absence thereof) like Old Man Jack. The heat and humidity in the harsh jungle environments wore them down just like ours – likely worse due to lack of supplies – and took its toll on morale.
I stress again I am not condoning the inhuman acts. I just wish to present a possibly different view on our Japanese adversaries during WWII… that they were not all willing to commit suicide and die on behalf of their Emperor. Yes, they hated the enemy with all their might and would lay down their lives for their buddies just like ours… but all of them DID want to go home.
Life can be fulfilling, emotional, filled with awe…and eerie. All at once. In ten short days. In a country far away.
But life and its generations help you live it backwards and forward.
Ten great days were spent in Tokyo and Hiroshima with my oldest son, Takeshi. He is 24 years old. We had never been on vacation together. My loss. I admit to being worried he was not going to enjoy himself.
There is so much to write about for family and friends but jet lag affects more than sleep. There is a cavernous disconnect between my (normally minimally functioning) brain and my fingers.
But during this trip…
My son enjoyed his time with my dad’s side of the family immensely – so much so he shed a few tears at a farewell dinner they threw for us. He even found a new drinking buddy – my cousin’s intelligent and beautiful granddaughter, Yuu-chan:
With my cousin Toshio Nakano, we saw my father’s station he served in as part of the 8th US Army’s G-2, Military Intelligence Service in Yokohama; because I carried some photos of him in uniform inside, the Public Relations Officer escorted us to a view from the (unrestricted) roof:
Was able to meet my cousin Masako (78) once again and the family – and we were royally treated:
Took the cremated remains of my Aunt Shiz (95) for internment; she was my dad’s last living sibling. He is now the last one:
Saw the most beautiful parts of Japan:
A most EMOTIONAL meeting with those responsible for finding my dad’s 1937 high school yearbook:
And the most STARTLING and tear-jerking finds of generations past – including those of my father’s younger brother who was KIA as part of the Japanese Imperial Army:
I hope you’ll stay tuned until this old mind functions again. Not that it ever did. Thought it best to say that before someone did.
After a war’s end, the war for food continues for a losing country. Japan was no exception.
In “There Be Gold in My Family,” Taro was mentioned. He was miraculously able to track down my mother and Aunt Eiko in what remained of Tokyo after Japan’s surrender in WWII. He was part of the US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service and had brought them much needed food, clothing and cigarettes.
After being discharged from the Army in early 1947, he returned to his family’s farming roots in Livingston, CA. With his meager income, he still managed to buy clothing and shipped them to my mother and Aunt Eiko. He was a kind and generous man. To this day, they are indebted to Taro.
One ensemble Aunt Eiko received was a blue dress, shoes, and handbag. More later.
When war ended and the Allies began their Occupation of Japan, the population was in rags. Many had no homes.
Everyday people suffered from poverty, filthy conditions, hunger, and food shortages. In order to help distribute food, Japanese people were given assigned rations by the Allies. This was put into motion quickly thanks to the Supreme Commander, Gen. MacArthur. He ensured the most humane treatment possible under those wretched conditions.
In reality, living just on the rationed food often did not provide adequate nourishment, and a thriving black market developed amidst the constant food shortages. Civilians lined up, waiting for their rations of beans as even rice was not available to them at that time. (The last point is critical to this story.) They also carried receptacles to carry clean water which was also rationed. As many young Japanese men were killed, a majority of those lining up were the elderly, women and children.
Of course, Americans were issued food ration stamps as part of our war effort back home and textbooks show many photos of starving and tortured American prisoners.
Back to Aunt Eiko’s blue dress ensemble.
She recalls how “Western” they looked. Especially since the outfit was a BRIGHT blue. Very American. Very NOT Japanese. Madonna-esque. You can tell by looking at the clothing the women were wearing in the food line picture.
Aunt Eiko was so happy though. She wanted to show off her dress but was fearful of the ridicule or demeaning comments she may receive from passerbys. You see, even in 1947, only a small minority “had”… The vast majority were “have nots”. Neighbors would turn their backs on those that appeared to have received favors from the conquering Americans.
Nevertheless, she was too happy and wore the ensemble through the still decimated Ginza. She caught a photographer’s eye. She was asked to model. So she did.
The photo series ended up in a magazine, a rarity as paper was still in short supply and very expensive. Another case of have versus have nots.
Although the magazine now is extremely fragile (the paper quality was very poor), it is one of Aunt Eiko’s prized possessions. I was so worried the pages would fall apart if I opened up the magazine to scan the pages. Its odor was typical of old newsprint. But somehow, the pages stayed together.
This is the original B&W of the cover shot:
Inside the cover:
Orginal B&Ws of this page:
Aunt Eiko cannot recall why the actual magazine took about a year to be issued.
But what is the connection between a blue dress, food and post-war Japan?
The photographer paid her with “ohagi”. Out of his food ration. Made out of precious rice and beans.
There be gold in my family. Really. Well, the Congressional Gold Medal, that is. And it is made out of gold and honors the “Nisei Soldiers of World War II”. Its on display at the Smithsonian.
In fact, my family was awarded two of them. Two Congressional Gold Medals. Pretty neat, don’t you think? Three if you include a distant relative. Four if Dad had enlisted in the Army five weeks earlier. OK. Enough of that.
It was just a miracle mom and her younger sister Eiko survived the war having lived in the heart of Tokyo where very little was left standing. My grandmother was required to train with a sharpened bamboo spear to repel the invaders that were expected to come. It’s true.
But when war ended in 1945, neither my mother nor my Aunt Eiko could have possibly thought that they – through no grand scheme – would each end up marrying an “invader” and that they would end up living in America. The country that bombed their home into ashes. But it was a brutal war. Just fact.
Even more stunning is that they would be unknowingly dovetailed with the famed US 8th Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) for the rest of their lives. (I had briefly reported on the top secret MIS in an earlier short story.)
The first family member bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal is my mother and Aunt Eiko’s cousin, Taro Tanji; he is pictured above in a family portrait taken in Tokyo. He was born in Merced County, CA. Taro, like my father, was imprisoned in the camp called Granada in Colorado for being of Japanese heritage although he didn’t speak one word of Japanese.
In 1944, along with thousands of other young American boys of Japanese heritage, he was drafted out of the camp into the US Army. He was a “Nisei”. He then was assigned to the top secret US Army Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) in Fort Snelling, Minnesota to learn the Japanese language.
After graduating, he was assigned to Tokyo as part of US 8th Army and became part of the Allied Occupation. Once there, he immediately sought the fate of my mother’s family.
Through the resources of the MIS, he miraculously located my grandmother – the same one who was forced to train with a bamboo spear. They had survived but were in dire straits like millions of other survivors.
Exactly as my father did for my cousin Masako in Hiroshima, Taro used whatever pay he had to buy them clothing and essentials from the PX, took them C-rations and of course, American cigarettes for my grandfather. There are many stories of other things Taro did (he was a STRONG man) which I will save for later.
A kind man, Taro became a much loved teacher in the Gardena school system. He recently passed away in Gardena, CA in 2009.
His CGM was posthumously awarded to his wife, Aunt Martha. Amazingly, neither mom nor Aunt Eiko realized Taro was part of the MIS until I told them. I determined that through research of US Army records.
My Aunt Eiko was sickly as a young girl. Indeed, it was a miracle especially for her to have survived. She hates medicine, even to this day. As a funny story, when the US Army began de-licing the surviving Japanese citizens, she ran away as she was terrified she would get sick from the powder. Well, it was DDT so she wasn’t that far off.
In 1966, she met Paul Sakuma, a Hawaiian born Nisei. While Uncle Paul told Aunt Eiko he was also put into camp on the Mainland (the article says that, too), I can find no record of his internment. However, Uncle Paul was at some time in Springfield, Massachusetts after the war started. He was “featured” in this newspaper article. Surely, the title of the article was a sign of the times.
Uncle Paul was also drafted in 1944 and was also sent to the MISLS at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. This is the only photo Aunt Eiko has of Uncle Paul in uniform. I stumbled across it last year. Frankly, Aunt Eiko also knew very little of his Army days but I noticed the building in the background (below) as being the old cavalry barracks at Fort Snelling which sparked my researching again. He was also indeed a member of the famed MIS unbeknownst to Aunt Eiko.
Uncle Paul was also immediately dispatched to Tokyo as part of the Occupation Force. He was assigned to the 720th Military Police Battalion and accompanied patrols where his translation abilities were needed. A couple of good patrol stories – ones that men would likely appreciate. Perhaps some ladies, too. No harm, no foul, as the great Chick Hearn said.
Days before my first marriage, I got a call from Aunt Eiko late at night. She was hysterical. Uncle Paul had died of a massive heart attack in 1980 in Tokyo in the new home he had just finished building for them. He had continued living in Tokyo as a civilian employee of the USAF.
Like Taro, Uncle Paul was posthumously awarded the CGM. I secured the CGM and surprised her with it. Aunt Eiko “cried for happy” as he held the medal for the first time early this year (below). She loves him greatly to this day. She said, “Even today, Paul brings me great happiness.” If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes, well, you’re pretty tough.
As dad volunteered in February 1947, he did not qualify for the CGM. But unbelievably, mom, too, did not know much of what dad did in the Army let alone him being a member of the MIS. Mom said dad never talked much about it except to say he did not enjoy interrogating Japanese soldiers being returned from Russia and Manchuria.
Nevertheless, mom and Aunt Eiko WERE enmeshed with the famed Military Intelligence Service although they didn’t realize it. Fate. They were surrounded by the invaders – secretly. Famous ones at that. A prejudiced opinion, of course.
I am very proud of these Americans. The Congressional Gold Medal is a tremendous honor and finally brings to public light the importance of the intelligence they secretly obtained for our United States of America amidst prejudice and discrimination.
I like to think that these Americans of Japanese heritage weathered the clouds of that time so we could have glorious sunshine today.
True stories about World War II – One war. Two Countries. One Family