Valuable Advice (A Memoir)
Near my home in California today, as I hike the hills of Crystal Cove State Beach, looking out over the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean to the west, phrases of a couplet from long ago, come to mind and I speak the words into the morning mist before me.
Japan Yoi Kuni Hanano Kuni
Hichigasu, Hachigasu Hanino Kuni
I remember this couplet as if it were last night that I first read it seventy years ago. It was an ominous notice of coming peril. But at the same instant the spoken words, of long ago, give birth to happy feelings of family, of my father and mother, their wisdom, and our safety.
I see the clear water splash below and wonder, “will that same water flow far enough to also embrace the sand of that far away beach of my childhood?“
I was born in Kusumichou, Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan on July 10, 1935. My world was small and peaceful and happy. My brothers and sister and I shared a comfortable home with our parents. My father was a successful businessman in Fukuyama City.
As a child, I was oblivious to the personal dangers of the great Pacific War, even though my family and I lived in its very epicenter, Japan.
I attended Kasumi Elementary School near our home. At school, sometimes there was news of the Great Pacific War, but it was far away. Occasionally there were announcements of great victories by the invincible Imperial Japanese Army or the Imperial Japanese Navy. But there was no sense of danger and we always felt safe and secure.
On one occasion, when I was in the third grade (1944) as a part of celebration of a great military victory in South Asia, our school received a gift of hundreds of rubber balls. Everyone received a rubber ball. We all had great fun playing games as we kicked the balls back and forth in the schoolyard. But somehow there was a note of unearned pleasure overshadowing the afternoon.
On another occasion, my classmates and I found ourselves looking down from our classroom windows to see food being prepared. There were great pots of Miso being prepared for all the school. The familiar smell of this traditional dish created great excitement among the students. It was a treat for our school. We were provided with a great sumptuous meal at noontime. My classmates and I all enjoyed the delicious food. There was a message in the treat of delicious food. The message was important and also somewhat ominous.
Food is a very real necessity. We were reminded that we should always be careful with our food. We must keep extra food on hand at home, just in case! We were very fortunate to be protected from outside danger. But we must do our part. There were subtle messages in the offering. We must conserve food. It would be important.
Altogether it was an indication that changes were coming. The peace and security I had known during all my childhood was about to change.
The stories of the great victories of the army and navy were diminishing. They were replaced by thoughts and ideas for protecting our homes and keeping enough food on hand.
One day in late 1944 we noticed more changes. It seemed that the teachers and other adults were getting very serious. There was a sense of fear and personal danger in the air. Our noon playtime became somber. It was no longer fun. The games were gone as the teachers became stern. We were encouraged to be serious, strong and even angry.
Soon playtime changed and became military training. My classmates and I began drilling with bamboo poles that had sharpened ends. We were taught to carry them as weapons of war. We used them to poke, strike and finally to stab into straw dummies. Sometimes the straw figures had names written on them: Roosevelt or Churchill. Then it was clear. War was coming to us.
At home now, we were preparing to protect ourselves from the airplanes that would come to bomb our city. We were taught to have a place to go where we would be safe from the bombs and the fire. There was a shelter for that purpose and we must go there as soon as we heard the warning sirens. We were told stories of the great B-29’s that were dropping incendiary bombs on the cities.
One day a few B-29 Bombers flew low over Fukuyama. As they passed over, the American airplane dropped thousands of small white papers. They came floating down on the city like giant snowflakes. They were called Leaflets. The leaflets contained messages from the Americans to the Japanese people. They warned of coming danger to the people of our city Fukuyama.
I felt some confusion as I pondered the message. The bombers were coming to destroy our city, and yet the Americans flying the bombers were telling us to go out and away to save our families and ourselves.
As a child, I was confused about the message. It was as if my family and I were not the reason for the bombs. I felt a feeling of comfort that strangers from far away would tell me that danger was coming and I should go find a safe place. “Danger is coming, go away to a safe place !”
However, my father knew the message and was aware of the danger. He was prepared to keep his family safe.
AMERICAN LEAFLET DROPPED OVER FUKUYAMA JAPAN
The Air Force dropped this leaflet on numerous occasions. For instance, on one raid 700,000 were dropped by the 73rd Bomb Wing on several Japanese cities on the night of 27-28 July 1945
Text on the back is:
ATTENTION JAPANESE PEOPLE
In the next few days, four or more of the cities named on the reverse side of this leaflet, will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories, which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique that they are using to prolong this useless war. Unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America´s well-known humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives.
“America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique, which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace, which America will bring, will free the people from the oppression of the Japanese military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan.
“You can restore peace by demanding new and better leaders who will end the War.
We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked, but at least four will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately. “
The war stories became different. There were no longer stories of great victories. We now heard about many cities that were destroyed. They were dropping bombs on Japanese cities. They were called B-29 Bombers. Sometimes we would see them high in the sky.
In June of 1945, my father took our family to live in the village of Takamichi, on Shikoku Island, east of Fukuyama. My father had arranged for the family to stay there because he knew that it would be safe from the bombing. There were no military operations there. It was a beautiful park-like setting. We stayed in a perfectly preserved house that was hundreds of years old. This was like a national historical reserve. The home we stayed in was adjacent to a large private pond. There was a forest of bamboo growing in the back yard. Unfortunately we soon learned that we could not stay.
There was no ready supply of food available. To our dismay, we had to find a better place to avoid the bombings. It became urgent that our safety was at risk.
In June of 1945 my father moved our family again. He found a small farming village in the mountains to the west that produced rice and other food. Food would not be a problem. This village is named Tojo and is there even today. We were in the mountains west of Fukuyama City, and about 90km from Hiroshima city. In this peaceful quiet, rural setting that my family celebrated my tenth birthday, July 10, 1945.
Living in this village, up in the mountains, we were able see great distances. Although we were quite a distance from Hiroshima City, we were aware of the day it was destroyed on August 6, 1945. During the days that followed, we saw a number of survivors as they came through our small town. Some of the injuries they suffered I remember very well. There was a man whose body was burned, like a sunburn in a pattern of stripes that matched the pattern of his shirt. Many others came walking with injuries.
The next day August 8, 1945, we learned, from the radio news about sixty B-29 bombers were flying over the Setonai-kai Straits. Within moments we could see the sky darken as B-29’s overhead were circling to head southwest. Soon I could hear Boom! Boom! Boom! as the bombs fell to the earth. That night we could see the reflections of fires burning in the distant cities. It was so bright that it seemed like daylight. My mother told us that it was Fukuyama City that was burning. We were very sad.
The city of Fukuyama was virtually destroyed (80.9%) on August 8,1945 by B-29 Bombers. Most important, we were safe. My father had taken his family away from the danger.
On August 15, 1945 (Showwa 20 nen) at noon, everyone was told there would be an important radio message broadcast made by Emperor Hirohito.
As the Emperor was announcing: “we have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the joint declaration of the powers”, and the war was over. A few people started crying. Suddenly more and more people were crying. Then it was everyone crying, moaning and complaining.
Later, we would visit Fukuyama and our family home site. It was a real shock to see that our former home was destroyed and entire area as well.
But where were my neighbors and friends? My school was gone, but where were my schoolmates? What about the teachers? I was learning the result of war on a personal level.
As we looked to the east, we could see all the way to the harbor with no buildings blocking the view. Easily visible were boats and ships. People were gone.
My friends were not to be found. So my peaceful happy childhood was gone. Thanks to the wisdom of my father, the family was safe. Now my family would be about restoring our lives. We were all safe and the Great Pacific War was finished.
From time to time over the many decades since, I have wondered why more people were not saved. I did not understand.
The leaflets came down by the thousands to the tens of thousands people. The people had them and read the American warning. It seemed to be clear that there was no alternative but to avoid destruction, and get away from the city.
Why did my friends and their families not go to the mountains as the leaflets had instructed?
My childhood memories of Fukuyama, Japan and my friends there bring moments filled with joy, and then sadness at their loss.
I also have happy memories of the American B-29 pilots crewmen who gave lifesaving advice to my family that pointed us to safety.