My memories of the days after World War II


Written by Ryozo Takemura
Translated by Mitsuru Onda

Starvation

 I would like to give an outline of our living conditions in Kyoto during World War II and after the war, before describing my experience and observations. Otherwise, I think it is difficult to clarify what the occupation brought us or what the War was like.

 When Japan was defeated in 1945, I was a second-grade student of junior high school and a growing child with a good appetite. I was always starving at the time, because of the serious food shortage.

 Let me give some examples of those harsh days in detail. We worked very hard for a few days each week, instead of learning at school. We had to demolish our houses by ourselves in order to make a wide road from our school to the center of Kyoto city, so that we were able to run away, when the US Air Force attacked us with bombs. Three quite wide roads called Gojodori, Oikedori and Horikawadori were constructed at the present time after we demolished houses from which residents had been evicted by the Japanese army and government. We had only the poor meals offered by our school after working hard on the road. The meal was kind of soup whose great portion was squeezed bean cake which had little nutrition. It was not only very nasty to eat but also made us suffer from diarrhea very often. Nevertheless, we could not help eating it, because there was no other food.

 The food situation of my family was not unique but very common and similar to that of other families. My family business of traditional Nishijin fabrics finally went under and my family had to move to a small house which had no farmland to cultivate and no place to breed chickens. The food supply from the authorities began to cease often, and even if it was sometimes offered to the people, it was only sweet dried corn which could not feed us with, as the supply for a week. I can remember that I ate strange bread made from flour with ingredients such as dried orange skin, rice bran, and corn. Almost all the families had stone mortars to grind materials in those days, and we were using these to make the unusual flours. It was apparent that we would not be able to survive by eating such strange food. People murmured that not a few persons nearby had died of malnutrition, because they continued to eat only such food. My mother swapped her kimonos and a chest of drawers for a little vegetable. Coins and notes were already valueless because of the severe inflation.

 I planned to breed rabbits below the floor of my house. I thought that rabbits could be bred in the narrow space and that their reproductive powers were strong, so that they could become our source of protein. But as soon as I started to breed them, problems arose. No grass for the rabbits to eat could be found on the Kamogawa riverside or nearby place, because it had already been eaten up not by rabbits but by people. So I walked around many farms looking for potato-runners that had no potatoes or leaves yet for my rabbits.

 After I had gone through hardship to breed my rabbits a very sad outcome was waiting for me. I had to kill them for my family to eat. It was my sorrowful job to kill my rabbits, even though I was only 13 years old. I knew very well that my father was very gentle-minded and he could not do it at all, so I had to do the cruel job without any complaints.

 It was an extremely painful job to slaughter a rabbit once a month. Of course, I did not know how to do it painlessly, so I usually hit the rabbit on the head with a big stone to render it unconscious, and then cut its throat with a knife. Once, I made a mistake and unable to kill the rabbit quickly. It ran away from me, dragging its bloody internal organs. So I had to pursue the dying creature and put an end to its life through my tears. I could not stop trembling for a long time.

 Who can imagine this kind of sorrowful and painful life without experiencing that time? But all of this was truly my experience and I had to live in such a way for at least two years. I felt that such a gloomy life would continue forever and I spent my life with very little hope. Yet it was not only my family. Every family that had no close relatives lived like this and groaned along somehow in starvation.

Education for death

 In those days, school teachers were teaching us, "It must be you that defends our country" and they trained us for the last battle on our mainland. We accepted their leadership without question, training ourselves to rush into tanks with imitation bombs. Only after the war did I learn the truth that such bombs had not existed in Japan. I was thinking that I had to decide to die for our country, even if it was a fruitless effort. I intended to fight a last-ditch resistance against the Allied Forces.

 During the War, the Japanese army and government were inciting us, making us believe continuously that the American and English armies would kill all the men and rape all the women. But I was not always afraid of the Allied Forces after the War, because I read in the newspapers that they would occupy and control Japan but would never treat us awfully. I suppose the Japanese authorities, which were deeply controlled by GHQ, changed their strategy all of sudden, thinking "The Allied Forces will never treat us cruelly, so we should not fight but try to get on well with them."

American power

 It was in August of 1945, although I cannot remember the exact date, when the jeep carrying American soldiers came rolling past the front of my house, the sound of the jeep engine giving me a big shock. The sound seemed to me as if the jeep had an airplane engine under the hood. The jeep was as fast and strong as I had never seen or heard anything like it before in Japan. The cars in Kyoto were only fire trucks or funeral coaches made in Japan in those days, considerably weaker than the American jeeps.

 When I mentioned the power, speed, and sound of the American jeeps to my classmates at school, all of them agreed with one voice. The Allied Forces, at first, gave us not fear but a sparkling impression.

 There was one more thing which impressed me deeply. One day, American soldiers came to our junior high school (Kyoto Municipal Toba High School at present) and declared that they would requisition the gymnasium and schoolyard. They broke down the pool which we had been constructing by scoops for one and half years. The pool was gone, the ground leveled by bulldozers and power shovels in just two hours. We were much more surprised at the power of their machines than angry at the American soldiers.

 It was true that there were few cannons and big machines in Japan from 1943 to 1945. We didn’t have any big weapons at that time, that’s why we couldn’t intercept the B-29, which flew over Japan and bombed many big cities. Although the Japanese military force was very weak, not a few Americans say “We had to use A-bombs in order to cease the war as soon as possible”, but I have never agreed with the opinion. Japanese people must have realized defeat soon, when they saw twenty or thirty American vehicles rolling along the road.

Commodities

 “The most powerful and glorious army!” That was our first impression of the occupation army. As the occupation continued, various alterations were brought to our daily life. Fortunately, goods distributed by the occupation army served our diets amply and delectably. I remember that a big canned cheese was rationed to us. My father and mother didn’t eat it much, because of the smell-they had not tasted cheese before-but I enjoyed it as if it were a godsend. Crackers and a few slices of white bread gradually came to satisfy our appetite.

 The plentiful American commodities soon came to change the lives of the young. One of my friends bought cartons of cigarettes, broken them down and sold them secretly to the Japanese people. As he began to deal widely in blankets, canned foods and alcoholic drinks, he could not continue to study and finally left school. I heard he was selling a stimulant as well.

Tragedy

 There was a mother-and-daughter family in front of my house. The daughter was about the same age as me and cheerful, but her disposition became gloomy as time went by. She became beautiful instead. Presently, a black American soldier began to visit her house and then she disappeared. There was a rumor going around that she went to America with the soldier. American soldiers seemed to be very free in comparison with Japanese soldiers. When they were off duty, they visited many houses where young Japanese women were staying. They often came to my neighborhood by jeeps and threw chocolate and chewing gum to us from their jeeps. We frequently saw a lot of schoolboys gathering around the American soldier’s jeeps and asked them for such things.

 We saw many girls standing along the streets seeking customers. We called these girls who had relationships with American soldiers without distinction “pan pan” in contempt. Those girls insisted that Japanese women were saved from becoming victims of sex crimes by American soldiers owing to them, though this explanation might have been consolation or self-deception. Probably they had more hardship than us. Even if they were attracted by American-style tenderness and wealth, we could not help thinking of these women as they were driven by the pressure of having no food and fear of losing their lives.

 Although malnutrition was not a direct cause of death, it caused tuberculosis indirectly. There were a few guys who had died of tuberculosis around my house. Fortunately my family avoided death, but my older brother who had come back from the front suffered from it first and I suffered second. There were numbers of women who lost their fathers, husbands or brothers either by tuberculosis or more directly by the war. Numerous women could not help becoming prostitutes on account of their severe situations and in order to save the lives of their families.

 In every corner of our town, we saw many girls who were walking arm in arm with American soldiers. Some of them became “only”, which meant being girlfriends or wives of American soldiers, and they were proud of themselves in comparison with “pan pan” who couldn’t have particular partners. After becoming “only”, they disappeared from our sight without our knowledge. It was said that if the soldiers were commissioned officers, the “only” were brought to the base. We were not sure whether it was true or not. We heard some wives were taken to America by their husband and felt happy, though we were not sure of the truth of this.

 When the Korean War broke out in 1950, as American soldiers moved here and there, their partners had to move to and fro. Almost none the soldiers came back to Japan from the front, leaving many Japanese wives deserted. It was reported that there were many Japanese women who were deserted by American soldiers after having children of mixed race.

It is well known that Ms. Miki Sawada constructed the orphanage called “Elizabeth Sanders Home” for the deserted children or orphans at Oiso in Kanagawa prefecture in 1943 and raised more than two thousand children.

Off  Limits

 There were signs everywhere saying “Off Limits” or “No Entry” throughout Kyoto under the occupation. Since Kyoto was not attacked from the air, magnificent and historical buildings remained here and there. Almost all the buildings were taken over by GHQ and the Japanese people could never get in because of signs saying “Off Limits” or “No entry”. These signs confirmed for us that Japan was defeated and we were occupied. During the war, we believed from the bottom of our hearts that Japan was better than any other country that it was truthful and righteous, that it was god’s country. This belief or myths collapsed in my mind, as the days past after August 15, 1945. As the reality of the war which had not been known to the general public come to light, our anger at our war leaders grew. Above all, we became more and more angry toward the Emperor and the military authorities who had driven their own people to death.

Anger against America

 As well as the Japanese military authorities concealing the truth, we began to have suspicions of GHQ, after hearing they limited freedom of speech and concealed various affairs caused by American soldiers. Whether it was true or not, such rumors as an American soldier raping a young girl at Fushimi and the killing of a Japanese guy near the base immediately seemed true to me and became established in my mind thereafter.

 It was during the Korean War that I became conscious of anger against US Forces and the Japanese government following American policy on the Korean peninsula. I could by no means accept the assertion of the US government that, “That We dispatched troops to North Korea, because South Korea was in danger of being invaded.” That same sensitivity that had lead to me hatred for Japanese military authority perceived America’s actions as expansionism. I noticed that America was going to make a profit at the sacrifice of North and South Korea.

 So I tried to obstruct the trains, which were carrying weapons and munitions for the war, by performing die-in en masse at Kyoto station. Although it was pointless to do so, we fought against the police force many times. I felt an antipathy toward both the American and the Japanese governments. As irony would have it, the munitions boom during the Korean War helped the Japanese economy to recover perfectly. But the war brought America and Japan profits at the cost of many lives on the Korean peninsula. I could not help feeling deep sadness in those days.

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