Tag Archives: Hiroshima

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Epilogue


Fortune in War

I believe there is fortune in war.

Before Pearl Harbor, the US was still not recovered from the Great Depression.  With the money printed in great quantity – as a necessity – by the US government, the US war machine rolled into action.  Many executives and businessmen taking part in this frantic and mass expenditure of government money with their companies gained their financial fortunes from this great war as did a large number of Congressmen.

The boots on the ground also had fortune – but it was MISfortune.  Misfortune fell upon the millions of brave young men who were sent to war because world leaders had their own agendas.  Millions were killed like my dad’s favorite brother, my Uncle Suetaro.

Misfortune, unfortunately, also followed home for the rest of their lives those young men who survived combat.   Men like Smitty, Old Man Jack and Mr. Johnson.  Horrible nightmares each and every night.  Some succumbed to the immense weight this horrible misfortune had on their minds and ended their own lives after making it home.  Sadly, they are all being forgotten in our children’s history books.

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Our little group was afforded a day of sightseeing before leaving for Osaka/Kansai Airport in Japan, once again led by Mr. Yusuke Ota.  Here’s a small collection of sights taken in, some during the week (Clicking on an image will show you its location.):

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Mr. Kagimoto hunts for dragonflies at the  golf course we had lunch at. The facility was once for US Army officers.
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Shoeless children help their elder sell pineapples at bayside in Tacloban City.
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Meeting with beautiful wife of Tacloban City’s Mayor, Christina Gonzales, a former actress. Thank goodness for our Carmela in the center: she speaks four languages fluently including Tagalog, English and Japanese.
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Villaba’s town center; the beach is off immediately to the left. Our two vans are at the right.
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(From left) Masako, Christina Gonzales and Carmela. The other young lady in red in the background is another Filipina actress.

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Mr. Ota inspects a clock tower he donated to Tacloban City; he serves as a councilman in Fukuyama City where my uncle’s regimental army base was located during the war.

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School boys at Old Kawayan City, Leyte.
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At Albuera, Leyte. One of two self-destroyed Japanese howitzers can be seen behind Izumi.
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Hard life of a Filipino fisherman.
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At the San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the Philippines. Engineering was provided by the Japanese.

While waiting at the Manila Airport for our connecting flight to Osaka, Mr. Ota took us to the Philippine Air Force Museum where among other items was the Type 99 Arisaka rifle Lt. Onoda kept with him for over 29 years in the Philippine jungle.  He was the last holdout from WWII:

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Epilogue

A Victory Nonetheless

Seventy years after this most brutal war in the Pacific, the same US Marines and the same Japanese military that sought to kill each other with extreme bitterness are now the closest of allies as shown in the USMC photos below.  Now, they sail together on the same US Navy ships, eat together, train together and assault the beaches here at Camp Pendleton, CA together in joint training exercises.  The same with the US Army.  My gut feeling is one of these gallant young men would die to protect the other if the unfortunate circumstances arose.

Then:

U.S. Marines inspect the bodies of three Japanese soldiers killed in the invasion at Peleliu island at the Palau group, September 16, 1944. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)
Bitter enemies then, U.S. Marines inspect the bodies of three Japanese soldiers killed in the invasion at Peleliu island at the Palau group, September 16, 1944. (AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal)

Today:

110215-M-0564A-030 U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers carry gear during a hike at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2011. DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Gene Allen Ainsworth III, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)
U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers carry gear during a hike at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2011. (Three US Marines on the left, two Japanese Self-Defense Forces soldiers on the right.)  DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Gene Allen Ainsworth III, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

Uncle Suetaro lost his life and while Smitty carried the war silently for the rest of his life, they were both victorious because of the above.

It was not in vain.

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One War.  Two Countries.  One Family.

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Uncle Yutaka, taken at the Minidoka, ID “War Relocation Center”, circa 1944. You can see the sub-standard wooden barracks they lived in; they only had tar paper covering the wood slat walls. Yutaka was the oldest surviving sibling but was imprisoned here during the war. My dad and cousins were also here but no picture of them is available.
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Aunt Shiz and my cousins as they leave the Tule Lake, CA “War Relocation Center”, November 1945. My best guess is she still doesn’t know for certain that her younger brother Suetaro had been taken by the Japanese Imperial Army and killed. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima where her mother Kono and older sister Michie (and her children that went on the pilgrimage) lived just three months earlier.
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Dad in his US 8th Army uniform along with Namie (center) who went on the pilgrimage and Sadako, her older sister. Dad had taken them Spam and C-rations plus clothing he bought at the PX in Tokyo.  April 1948, Miyajima, Japan.
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Uncle Suetaro’s official death certificate from the remnants of the Japanese military. It was dated October 15, 1947, less than two months before my dad arrived as a US Army sergeant for the Occupation of Japan.

My Thoughts of the Experience

I cannot speak for Masako or my other cousins but what you believe in is almighty.  Hope.  Fear.  Happiness.  Sadness.  I experienced all those during the pilgrimage to Leyte.

While listening to Masako’s tender letter to Uncle Suetaro, a feeling of deep regrets and the dashing of hope experienced by Grandmother Kono buried me.  My heart could see Grandmother’s face in silent torment, resting in Masako’s arms in 1954 as she drew her last breath in the Kanemoto family home.

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Grandma Kono at her Seattle barbershop, circa 1917. A forlorn Grandma and Masako, sometime after learning of Suetaro’s death, circa 1948. Grandma would pass away in this very home six years later.

Just like most American mothers, Grandmother must have clung on to a hope – however dim – that her youngest son Suetaro would come home… the one she decided to keep from returning to Seattle in 1940 so that he could carry on the Kanemoto name and inherit the home and land. That was not to be now. It would have been better to have let him go home. Her son would be alive.

But perhaps Uncle Suetaro would have ended up in the same prison camps that my dad, aunts and uncles were in but would still be alive.  Or, he would have answered the call out of camp and volunteered for the US Army as thousands of other Nisei’s did to prove their loyalty, only to die in Italy or France as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WWII.¹

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Uncle Suetaro and my dad.

I also thought about my dad often during the trek.  At 96 years of age, this journey would have been physically impossible for him.  More so, I wondered if the stirring up of fond memories of his youngest brother would do more harm than good at this stage in his life.

My 24 year old son bows deeply in front of the family crypt holding the ashes of Suetaro who was killed at 24 years of age.
In 2012, my then 24 year old son bows deeply in front of the family crypt holding Uncle Suetaro’s fingernail clippings and a lock of hair.  Uncle Suetaro was killed also at 24 years of age.

I also felt more deeply the quandary confronting Uncle Suetaro when he was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army.  The decision he had to make to knowingly fight the country your siblings were living in as Americans… and the country he most dearly wanted to return to.  However, he wrote in his farewell letter that he will fight to free his older siblings from the prisons FDR sent them to.

Also in his heart and in that of his mother, both knew this was a one-way trip.  A death sentence.  Japanese soldiers rarely returned from war.  In the case of his IJA’s 41st Regiment, only 20 young men returned home out of 2,550.

I’m sure just like any other American boy, he wanted a life that was worth living, a life filled with feelings, emotions, love and dreams.  That would never happen and it pains me without end.

Before he met his death, was he drowned in futility or solace?  Did he see death up close and come to the stark realization that would be his future perhaps tomorrow?  What did he dream about as he took his last breaths or was he blindly looking up at the stars hoping?  Was he dreaming about his childhood, playing on the corner of King and Maynard in Seattle with my dad?  Was he in great pain or was his death swift and without warning?  Did he see the eyes of the American soldier inches from his own eyes in a hand-to-hand combat to the death?  Was he hungry?  How terrified was he?

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A tiny photo of the two brothers, dad and Suetaro, in Hiroshima, perhaps 1928. It fell out from behind one of the pictures in Uncle Suetaro’s photo album, filled with pictures Uncle Yutaka likely mailed to him from Seattle. Although tiny, it must have been precious to Uncle Suetaro for him to have kept it. I wish I knew why.

The painful mystery of what Uncle Suetaro did, felt or saw in his last days will remain forever so…  That is one agony that will be with me until my own time comes.  Happily, we at least visited him in his unmarked graveyard among the now lusciously green vegetation with the birds endlessly singing Taps for him.

As Izumi passionately said to Uncle Suetaro’s spirit, “Come home with us.”

Indeed, he did.

He is no longer a soul lost in a faraway jungle.

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I wish to thank my Hiroshima cousins for making this unforgettable pilgrimage possible and a special thank you to Izumi whose untiring efforts to follow up on Japan-based leads brought comfort to our family.   I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to Akehira and Carmela who made dear Masako’s journey so comfortable and worry-free.  And a heartfelt thank you to Mr. Yusuke Ota whose in-depth knowledge allowed us to see our Uncle Suetaro’s last footsteps on this earth and gave Masako peace in her soul.

Most of all, Uncle, thank you for your sacrifice.  Indeed, you set your older brothers and sister free.

Rest in peace.

南無阿弥陀仏

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Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 1

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 2

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 3

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 4

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 5

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 6

A Soul Lost From WWII Comes Home – Part 7

A Soul Lost from WWII Comes Home – Part 8

Notes

  1.  For a summary of the all Nisei US army regiment during WWII: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/442nd_Infantry_Regiment_%28United_States%29

A Draft Card and Immigration


In my seemingly never-ending drive to uncover lost details of family history – both here in America and in Hiroshima – many surprises have popped up.  Stuff I could have not even imagined.

For instance, finding out my grandfather went camping – complete with a Coleman stove from that time (circa 1915).  It’s odd even for me to see Japanese immigrants camping let alone in shirts and ties:

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Grandfather Hisakichi on the right with the Coleman stove next to him. Mr. Fujii is in the center.  His importance will be noted in another story. Circa 1915.

Or that Grandmother Kono – also from a small farming village in Hiroshima as my grandfather – would pose for a picture on the running board of a brand new 1918 (c) Chevrolet Touring happily holding my Aunt Shiz:

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Grandma Kono and Aunt Shiz, July 1918. The car is owned by Mr. Fujii, the owner of Hotel Fujii and shows up clearly in another photo. Seattle, WA.

I don’t think even she could have ever dreamed she would be sitting on the running board of an American icon from the poverty she had lived in before coming to Seattle as a picture bride.

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On other subjects, I’ve developed unprovable conclusions based on detailed inspection of such photos… but I guess there’s no harm in believing them.

For instance, there are quite a few lefties in my dad’s side of the family.  I’ve always wondered from whom that trait came from.

Well, in the few photographs remaining of Grandfather Hisakichi, I see some glaring patterns:

Here he is on the right, holding a cigarette in his left hand:

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A motley crew indeed.  Grandfather Hisakichi on right, holding cigarette in his left hand. I know when I (ahem) smoke a cigar, it is in my right hand. I am right-handed.

In July 1922, he is photographed here holding his hat in his left hand; however, as in his other photos in a suit, his gold chain (perhaps a watch) leads to a left vest pocket.  I am unsure of which direction a watch would have been pocketed:

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(L to R) Dad, Grandfather Hisakichi holding his hat in his left hand, Aunt Shiz. Unidentified park, July 1922.

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But there is one undeniable fact.  While I cannot find the actual US Immigration manifest, the 1930 Census discloses Grandfather Hisakichi (legally) immigrated here in 1898 when he was just 17 years old.

But because he was a documented immigrant, the government knew he was here.  He had to register for the draft in 1918!  WWI was raging then.  He was 38 years old.

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So there is a benefit to illegally immigrating to the US.

“They” wouldn’t know you’re here.

…All in jest, of course.

“Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge” – Shine


In response to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge of this week: SHINE

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, June 28, 2010
The Enola Gay (For a short computer animation of the atomic bomb’s explosion, please click.

 

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Custom downdraft carburetors in a hot rod.

 

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My car enthusiast bud Prof. Arnold is reflecting off a meticulously polished all-aluminum Cobra.  That’s the hood’s surface propped open, folks.

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 7


“When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.”

– Vernon McLellan

That was Aunt Michie.  She gave all of herself and of her life strength to others because her heart knew no other way.

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At the moment Aunt Michie watched the ugly mushroom cloud rise from her field that day, her older siblings – my dad, Aunt Shiz and Uncle Yutaka – were all imprisoned in the “war relocation centers” scattered about the United States.  These were truly prisons and the popular view is that FDR imprisoned them “for their protection” because they looked like the enemy.(¹)

Life within these “camps” was “sub-standard”.  They were forced to live in small, shoddily built wooden barracks covered only with tar paper with little or no privacy.  No running water – they had to go outside to use public latrines or showers.  Food was served in mess halls on pot metal plates at specific times, just like in the military.  The food was miserable according to Dad and worse yet, they had to wait in line.  For the first month or so of imprisonment, he said all they had was liver, powdered eggs and potatoes.

But then again, he said it was food.

Aunt Michie and her family were near starving in Hiroshima while dad was imprisoned in the good ol’ US of A.

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Taken at the Kanemoto home in Hiroshima, 1951 and soon after my parents wed. (L to R) Sadako, Namie, Aunt Michie holding a young Kiyoshi, Grandma Kono, Masako, mom and dad. Courtesy of Kiyoshi Aramaki.

It is assumed like for the rest of America, Dad and his older siblings heard the news of the atomic bombing but while in the camps on or about August 8th… that one enormous bomb had wiped out Hiroshima.  There must have high anxiety and anger as many of the inmates in Dad’s camp (Minidoka) were from Seattle; they had family in Hiroshima as their parents had immigrated from there.

My cousins tell me that sometime after war’s end, Michie’s “American” siblings – my dad, Uncle Yutaka and Aunt Shiz – managed to re-establish contact with Grandmother Kono and Michie.  With the Japanese infrastructure destroyed, it was a miracle.  And it was no easy task as letters to and from Japan were not only prohibited, it was impossible.  There was no telephone in the villages where Grandmother and Michie lived.

But her American siblings somehow managed to send much needed clothing to them.  When my father finally reached Hiroshima while a sergeant in the US 8th Army, he carried two duffle bags full of C-rations, candy and Spam.  They said it was a feast for them after years of hunger.

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Dad in front of his Hiroshima home – April 1948

Sadako (who savored the white rice Michie made them on the day of the bomb) told me at a farewell dinner two years ago that she fondly remembered my dad taking them to a market of some kind where he bought her a little coin purse.  She remembered Dad gave her the money to buy the little purse and was told she could keep the change.  She remembers then handing the change – which was a LOT of money back then – to Michie who humbly accepted it.  Sadako said she cherished that little coin purse for years.

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EPILOGUE

From exhaustive laboring on her farm… to taking precious sashimi to her brother Suetaro… to walking ten miles with children in tow to care for Grandmother Kono after her stroke… to the pain of learning of her brother being killed in action… to being thrown onto the ground and watching a huge mushroom cloud rise over a small hill… to pulling a wooden cart over a hill…  to tirelessly aiding the victims… and most of all, sacrificing her own health for the sake of others…

She never gave up in those thirty years.  Would you have? I don’t believe I would have had the fortitude.

But because her soul would not quit, she got everyone to tomorrow… but in doing so, her own tomorrows dwindled.

Michie is still here.  The fruit of her sacrifices can be seen today in her six children, all of whom have lived – and are still living – full, joyous lives.

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Four of Michie’s children with my son and I. The four at the left front were at Aunt Michie’s farmhouse after the atomic bomb; Hitoshi was there as a burn victim. Hiroshima – September 8, 2012
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At breakfast – Endaijisou Hot Springs, November 2013.  Tomiko was at home when the atomic bomb went off; the house was destroyed.

They have their mother, Michie, to thank and they cherish that… and that they were all there at the farmhouse when she looked at each one of them intently one last time before leaving this world.

A most grand mother.

And yes…

They all love food to this very day.

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I wish to deeply thank my Hiroshima cousins for sharing their memories of their life with Michie with us.

Like all Hiroshima citizens I have met, they simply pray for peace.

NOTES:

(¹) There are declassified US intelligence documents which show that a small number of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were performing espionage.  Intelligence was able to determine this by intercepting and decoding secret Japanese communications. This information was given a cover name of MAGIC and these documents were typed up for FDR and a very small number of trusted officials.  However, rounding up the spies would clearly indicate to the Japanese that their code had been cracked.  These documents present another view contra to the widespread belief that FDR imprisoned the Japanese and Japanese-Americans from discrimination and war time hysteria.  In other words, FDR used that hysteria as a cover story; by doing so, he was able to remove the “spies” from the West Coast without alerting the Japanese.  FDR also stated in communications that there would be “repercussions” from such action.

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 6


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A mother holding her child in Ebisu, a part of Tokyo, and in front of her corrugated tin hut. 1946. National Archives.

Indeed, the difficult struggle for food in enough quantities and quality continued.  Black markets for food flourished, particularly in larger cities.

Housing in the cities, however, was extremely tough.  As an example, after many cities were bombed out, millions flocked to Kyoto.  MacArthur and other Allied military leaders omitted Kyoto as a target for its ancient cultural richness.  Many Japanese had heard of that by war’s end and trekked to Kyoto in hopes of finding a roof over their heads.  Unfortunately, all living spaces were occupied.  No rooms were available, even at a huge premium.

Even in 1948 – three years after war’s end – Tokyo still had tremendous scars as can be seen in one of my father’s photographs below:

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The trees bear the scars of the firebombing. Tokyo Station is in the background being rebuilt with the aid of the US military. Notice the “jinrikisha” lined up in front; they were the equivalent of taxis today and were pulled or pedaled by Japanese men to make a living. Cars will not be available for about ten more years.  Taken by my father in March 1948 while serving in the US 8th Army under General Eichelberger.

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Soon after the bomb was dropped, the hostilities finally ended.  However, food and essential goods continued to be largely absent.  Amazingly, my cousins who went through that hell choose to reflect on these post-war years positively.  That is, reflecting on it as a miserable time will but cause a wound to fester.  They had seen enough of festering wounds.

But let us step back a year in Aunt Michie’s life.

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Uncle Suetaro is pictured at the bottom left with his Army buddies. You can see how lean they are due to insufficient nutrition.  August 11. 1943.

One month before the surrender, Grandmother Kono was informed by the remnants of the Japanese military that her son Suetaro was killed on Leyte fighting as an Imperial Japanese soldier.  The date of death was recorded as July 15, 1945.  The Emperor capitulated just one month later.  Of course, we have no record of that communication nor when Grandmother Kono was actually told, but the bomb was dropped just around this time, we believe.

A little more than a year earlier, around March 3, 1944, Suetaro walked to Tomo and Masako’s school.  He wrote a farewell note on a chalkboard at Masako’s elementary school to say good bye as he was off to war.  Masako remembers he had written to be a good girl and that he was sorry he couldn’t say good bye in person.  The family took their last family picture with Suetaro (Part 2); he was flanked by his older sister Michie and Mikizo.

We believe the next day, Aunt Michie went to the train depot to say good bye to Suetaro.  She was very fond of him and “his American citizenship”.  Everyone loved the fun Suetaro and she apparently talked of him often after his death.  But at that farewell, deep down, she knew it would be the last time she would see him.  I wonder how she felt watching the train disappear.

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This photo was in Grandmother Kono’s photo album. Flag waving school girls stand on the right.  After talking about it with Kiyoshi, we believe this was the send-off Aunt Michie went to – to see her brother Suetaro go off to war and certain death. Kiyoshi indicates that a professional photographer took these types of photos at the train station and that the pictures would be offered for sale.  1943.

Soldiers rarely came back.  Per tradition, he had left Grandma Kono some of his nail clippings and some of his hair.  That is what is in the family crypt.

For hundreds of thousands, entire bodies would never be found.  This was true for America, England, Australia, Russia or Germany.

But at least part of him remains there in Hiroshima.

The cousins tell me Aunt Michie grieved for days after his departure… and that she was torn apart when she learned of his death.

The bomb would fall just days later.

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According to the family, even shortly after the bedlam caused by the bomb, Aunt Michie continued to care for her stricken mother by walking to her house five miles away when she could.  My dad said the road was “pretty” level but that since it is Japan, there were hills along the way, especially near Ishiuchi, a small village.

Taken by my father in April 1948 in front of the Hiroshima family home. Holding the baby Kiyoshi, who was born in the home, is Aunt Michie then clockwise – Sadako (who savored the white rice), Masataka, Namie (who pulled maggots out with chopsticks), Masako (who was thrown across her classroom by the shockwave, and Grandmother Kono (who did shaves at her Seattle barbershop).

In December 1947, Aunt Michie started to have contractions while walking over such a hill.  She was able to make it to Grandmother Kono’s house where she gave birth to Kiyoshi, right then and there.  No, no doctor…no nurse… and Grandmother Kono could not help due to her stroke.  It is said she was very happy that the birth took place at her childhood home.  She grew up there along with her American siblings.  She had felt safe.

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My cousins believe their mother, Aunt Michie, gave all of herself for her children and her family.  In spite of malnourishment, she toiled in her farm’s fields, cared for Grandmother Kono, gave her all in the bomb’s aftermath, set the example for her children.  She put everyone before her.

But soon after giving birth to Kiyoshi, she developed kidney problems.

They tell me that medical care then was still pretty non-existent so she had no choice but to ride it out.  However, she pushed herself back into working the farm too soon to care for her children, her own stricken mother and other household duties.  That was Aunt Michie.

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An “石じぞう”, or a stone buddha, along a pathway in Hiroshima. ©Koji Kanemoto 2013

Cousin Kiyoshi remembers massaging his mother’s swollen legs after a day’s work.  He also fondly remembers perspiring trying to keep up with Aunt Michie on a hot, humid summer day as they walked up a hill overgrown with thick, green wild grass.  There was a “石じぞう”, or a stone figure representing Buddha, alongside a ridge overlooking a blue Hiroshima Bay.  Kiyoshi will always remember that moment, looking at his mother with perspiration running down her face and the blueness of the bay.

In retrospect, they feel that if Michie had taken some time to rest and more often that she may have regained her health.

On May 29, 1963, she was laying in the same farmhouse in which she nursed the 23 injured people that fateful day.  Her kidneys were giving out.  She opened her eyes one last time and looked lovingly at each of her children who were gathered about her then closed them.  Thirty years after her father gave away her hand in marriage at 19, after 30 years of a life heaped with physical and emotional demands one after another, world changing events and family tragedies…  After enduring the pain of survival, Aunt Michie left this world.  She was but 48.

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In September 2012, I visited Aunt Michie for the first time. Masako is flanked by her daughter Izumi and my son Takeshi. Similar to the hot summer morning when she was knocked down by the shockwave, it was hot and humid that day. Now, I feel it was appropriate.

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Aunt Michie conquered all and gave her life to others so they could get to tomorrow… and she did that with dignity and unconditional love for her children.

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An epilogue will follow for Part 7….

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 5


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A rare photograph taken after listening to the Emperor’s surrender speech, August 15, 1945. There was a coup attempt the night before the speech was broadcast.

Although the violence of World War II was nearing an end, other aspects of the war could continue against Japanese civilians for years to come.

Their infrastructure was gone.  Essential assets such as manufacturing plants, machinery, trains, roads, housing, utilities, even fishing boats had been destroyed.

And most of all, food.

And Aunt Michie’s dignity – the entire family’s dignity – will continue to be tested until the late 1940’s.

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Dated April 1943. A boy poses holding a stick in a bottle filled with unpolished brown rice. This is not the polished brown rice you eat today at Panda Express. It was more wild. Japanese would insert a stick into a bottle partially filled with brown rice then repeatedly jab at the rice until the husk came off. It was low grade rice with the germ still on. (From the Mainichi Shimbun archives.)

For eons, Japan has been unable to produce enough rice for their people let alone food.  In fact, it was not until about the time Japan hosted the 1964 Olympics that Japan could produce enough rice for themselves.

The war took a terrible toll on regular folks from getting their “rice fix” – they were just not able to eat it.  This deprived them savoring it, the mental and biological satisfaction of just eating it.  Think of it this way – what if not just bread itself was kept from you but also the sweet smell of the freshly baked bread with the perfect crust..with melting butter?  Talk about attacks on your psyche: deprivation.  Deprivation for years.  Prolonged sensual deprivation makes for huge changes in one’s outlook on life.

Like the photo of the little boy, millions of civilians would acquire a wild form of brown rice (玄米 genmai) and dehusk them as shown.  Along with barly, it served as a substitute for the flavorful white rice with the higher calories.

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Confronted by not only the absence of medical supplies, Aunt Michie’s house was now filled with 23 men, women and children with varying degrees of burns.  I doubt emergency rooms could handle such a sudden load of burn victims… but Michie’s family did.  On top of that, her house was damaged by the atomic bomb’s shockwave.  It pains me to even see in my mind what they had to do to make the house habitable enough so quickly to nurse the injured.

It was mayhem and Michie personally did not ask for this horrific situation… but now, on top of trying to provide medical care for 23 people, she was confronted with one ominous problem: how to feed them all.  There was no food left in the city of Hiroshima and it was just over the hill.  And any food left in the village of Tomo was fresh.  It would spoil quickly anyways in the heat as there was no refrigeration.  No supermarket.  No canned goods either.

She did as Aunt Michie only could.  She used her precious reserve of rice and only served it to the ailing victims.  I am sure she believed that would be the only way to truly help them survive as all of them were malnourished.  As a result of rationing the remaining rice to the victims, her own children who weren’t physically injured were delegated to survive on cooked pumpkins, stems, stalks or taro roots for the duration.

A huge, gut wrenching decision for Aunt Michie, I’m sure.

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Some of the wild grass or other vegetation boiled for emergency eating can be seen behind my father and Uncle Suetaro. Hiroshima, circa 1929. Copyright Koji Kanemoto

To help this dire situation, the Hiroshima aunt who was not badly injured went about the area with Mikizo’s parents scavenging for wild grass and other vegetation to boil.  That, too, became part of their food.  Although likely not very nutritious to say the least, there was no other alternative.  And it is important to note such wild vegetation they boiled or ate had been subjected to the black rain…

What do you have in your yard?

Perhaps you can somewhat understand why my cousin Masako thought Spam was the most delicious thing she ever ate.

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In spite of all Aunt Michie could do, my cousins tell me some of the burn victims’ injuries wouldn’t heal.  They had worsened.  Their wounds began to fester or decay for lack of a better description.  Pus formed.  There was nothing they could do.

The odor of the decaying flesh permeated out of the house.  They say you could smell it from the dirt road immediately outside.

It became so intense that people would hold their noses to scurry past the house.

None of my cousins who were there tell me they will ever forget that vulgar smell of rotting flesh… or death.  Never.

Just like Old Man Jack.

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IMG_5861
From Aunt Michie clockwise: Aunt Michie (holding Kiyoshi), Namie, Mikizo’s father, Masataka, Sadako, Masako, Mikizo and Mikizo’s mother. Taken in 1948 at their farmhouse where they cared for 23 victims. Courtesy of Kiyoshi Aramaki.

My cousins tell me some didn’t make it.

Others would pass away in the next couple of years from the effects of their injuries or radiation.

Nevertheless, the struggle for food and other essentials would continue…but my Aunt Michie’s immediate family survived.  Even Tomiko who was in Hiroshima proper.

And Aunt Michie’s dignity and strength reigned supreme.

They all made it to tomorrow.

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The surrender documents were signed by Emperor Hirohito’s representatives aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.

Unbelievably, Mikizo also survived the war.  Although taken prisoner upon Japan’s surrender as a soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army, he was released from Manchuria and allowed to return to his Hiroshima farm in late 1946.

To be continued in Part 6….

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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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.