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The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part I

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.


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.

(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.


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.

Fullscreen capture 2262014 120800 AM
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.


To be continued in Part II

An Eight Decade Circle

Unretouched image of Uncle Suetaro’s band.

My father’s decades old story about how he broke his elbow became the topic in the earlier story, “正覚時” (Shoukakuji).

Shoukakuji is the name of the Buddhist temple – a hop, skip and a jump from my father’s family home in Hiroshima.

Temple entrance.  My father's home is behind me and to the right.
Temple entrance. My father’s home is behind me and to the right.

The temple’s reverends supported my family’s religious needs for over a century now.

Aunt Michie’s wedding.

Funeral services for my grandparents and my father’s siblings.  Including my Aunt Shiz just this last September in “The Spirit of Aunt Shiz and Kharma“.

Including my Uncle Suetaro who was killed in action as an Imperial Japanese Army soldier on Leyte in the Philippines.


When Masako-san, my son Takeshi and I walked to the temple in 2013 to investigate my dad’s story of how he broke his elbow, we were greeted by the Reverend.  He was 90 years old and still had his wits about him.

While he did not recollect my father, he validated the placement of a large round rock under the pine tree that hasn’t been touched for as long as he’s lived at the temple…. And that’s a loooong time.  I’m sure he was born there.

And that there was a big branch of a pine tree that has since broken off recently.

He said he knew my Aunt Mieko who died in 1939.

And miraculously, he mentioned Uncle Suetaro.  The reverend said they played together as children and that he was always a jokester and smiling…and that he could hear him playing his “fue”, or flute, from his second story room at the house.

Until then, not even Masako-san knew Uncle Suetaro played a flute…but there was no proof.

Just the recollection of a 90 year old reverend.


My tennis elbow pain kept me from retouching the old vintage photographs I had brought back from Hiroshima last September.

And the project was at a standstill since late October.  That was as depressing as Obama V2.0.

But from three weeks ago, I am attempting to slowly restart the retouching project as my elbow pain has subsided greatly…and I came across the group photo you saw at the beginning here.

This was the backside since I know you ALL can read ancient Japanese:

Written by Uncle Suetaro himself.  I believe – BELIEVE – it says, “February 21, 1939. Performed for First Sino-Japanese War anniversary.”

As retouched:

As retouched. Uncle Suetaro is the slightly taller one just to the left of center.  If you click on the image, it will enlarge.  Look in his right hand.

But as I enlarged the image to begin retouching, something caught my (old) eye.

I noticed Uncle Suetaro was clutching something in his right hand.

A case.

A case more slender than the others in the group picture.

It’s not a trumpet or a trombone, that’s for sure.

Or for a cue stick.

It sure looks like a flute case.

Oh, heck.  It IS a flute case.

I say so.


So words from the mouth of an old reverend started an eighty year old circle… to this vintage photograph of young boys.

All of whom likely lost their lives in a violent war.

As did my uncle who played a flute.

John Wayne? A Samurai?

It’s true.

John Wayne would have made a great samurai.

He often killed eight men with his six shooter.

Samurais did the same thing…  Slashed through two dozen other samurai with one sword…at least in the movies.



My mother drummed it into me for the first years of my life – that “my ancestors” were samurai.

And not just plain ol’ run-of-the-mill samurai.

They were 偉い侍.

Okie-dokie.  I’ll help.  High ranking samurai.

And its true…but flawed.


It gets too complicated so for argument’s sake, I have a second cousin, Toshio.  He was adored by both my mother and Aunt Eiko.  “Tosh-chan”, as we lovingly called him, was always kind to them through the years.  Considering his horrendous working hours common amongst Japanese workers of that time, he still made the effort without complaint.  He eventually became a top-notch engineer for Mitsubishi and worked in Cairo and Singapore to name a few places.  He lives in Yokohama, Japan.

Tosh-chan sporting a Japanese goliath beetle near his home in the village of Fukui. 1974

When I lived in Japan alone for a couple of years as a very young adult, ever faithful Tosh-chan was there again.  This time to help me out as well.


As it turns out, and while mom was there with me visiting, he took us to his home village of Fukui, on the Japan Sea side.  It was beautiful country and the area still had the ambience of pre-war Japan.  We stayed at his parent’s house and were fortunate to meet some of the extended family.  The house was typical from that early time – even the abode was outside.  And the mosquitoes.  Notice the plural?  They never went away.  The little buggers loved me…  After a couple of hours, I was swollen like a Japanese pin cushion.

Mosquitoes and me - nice and puffy.
Mosquitoes and me after a while – nice and puffy.


One day, Toshio drove mom, his mom and me to a very old temple, Zenshouji (全昌寺〒922-0807 Ishikawa Prefecture, Kaga, Daishoji Shinmeicho, 1 if you’re curious).  It was at least three centuries old and miraculously escaped US Naval bombardments.

We met with the head monk who took us to a room where we waited.  We sat with our feet under our hineys; you should try that.  Very uncomfortable.  And the damn mosquitoes were there.

Then out came the monk with a VERY old notebook for the lack of a better description.  It had black front and back covers.  It was about three inches thick and quite dusty.  It was held together by an old hemp string which bound EQUALLY old rice paper.  He opened it up on the tatami flooring.

I wish I took photos of it.  But my family (on my mother’s side) does have something similar in appearance.  The paper and writing looked like something like this:

Example of calligraphy on rice paper. Written by Great-Great Grandfather Wakio Shibayama.


The rice paper the history was written on was from the 1600’s… from about the time the Mayflower set sail on her historic voyage putting it into an American mindset (which was AFTER the Native Americans were here, of course).  And the writing had some details on “my” samurai ancestors.  Unbelievable.  Even Joan Rivers would have been speechless.


We then proceeded up a good sized hill accompanied by – you guessed it – the world’s supply of mosquitoes.  I would have preferred just one Doutzen Kroes bug me.  Was it my Hai Karate cologne?…  or my blood infused by twenty years of Oscar Mayer bacon?  Whatever it was, I must have smelled scrumptious to them.  I was the nectar of the gods to the little buggers.

We climbed.  And Tosh-chan pointed out that as we climbed up, the gravestones (called Ohaka) got older.  And older.  And older.  1900.  1850.  1800.  1750.  1700.  1650…  “Fascinating,” as Spock frequently said.

Then, near the top of the hill by a ledge was a line of ohaka.  There they were.  “My” ancestors.  Samurai ancestors.  I was standing by their ashes.

You can see the edge of the hillside off to left of Tosh-chan.
You can see the edge of the hillside off to left of Tosh-chan.

The ohaka with the roofs on them mark the resting place of the honorable samurai.  (The littler ones mark the resting place of children.)  The one Tosh-chan and I are standing next to represents the resting place of a high ranking samurai.  All their last names were of the “Shibayama” clan of which my grand-mother was one (my mother’s mother).

According to the family’s understanding, one ancestor was so skilled in swordsmanship that he was appointed the personal instructor to the son of a shogun.  I’d have to admit that would be quite an honor back then.  Others were feudal lords.

But……..  That is on my mother’s side and even then, half of that as she had her father’s blood in her… although my grandfather was also of samurai heritage.  I know very little of grandfather’s side except that he came from the island of Shikoku.

And my father’s family?  They were hard-working farmers.  NOT samurai.  And that’s one-half of ME.

So what does that make me? As mentioned at the beginning, my mother drummed into me my ancestors were samurai.  I grew up thinking, “Yeah!  I’m samurai!”

Yes, my ancestors were samurai.  Noble ones at that.  No doubt.  But what my mother drummed into me was just a tad flawed to say the least.  SOME of my ancestors were samurai.


So I guess John Wayne is more of a samurai than I.

Make that Tom Cruise.  He did a much better job portraying one in “The Last Samurai”.


In a future post, you will learn of the true samurai.  Not the lore.  It is definitely not what you see in Hollywood movies.

But in closing this chapter, here is good ol’ Tosh-chan this past summer when my oldest son Takeshi and I went to Japan.

He helped us once again.  Right down to the mosquitoes.

My son Takeshi and Tosh-chan in Yokohama near my father’s WWII US 8th Army HQs.