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NIHEI Haruyo interview, June 2011, part 1

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Well, I was in my second year of national elementary school then. So...I would often play outside when there were no air raids. What shall I talk about first? -- You can talk about anything.-- Well...we were still children during the war. We were told that Japanese soldiers were fighting battles abroad to protect us. We also believed in that. At the time, we did not feel air raids or war close to ourselves. But, during 1944 and 1945, there were air raids every day, which were quite frightening. At any rate, we, kids, used to play outside when there were no air raids. As the air raids became more fierce, however, my friends were evacuated from the city, one after another. The kid living next door also left. All of the children disappeared. The school evacuations (gakudo sokai) were enforced on the 3rd through the 6th graders - with pupils participating in such programs. My neighborhood gradually became quite cheerless. -- And your siblings? -- I had two brothers and a sister. My eldest brother was a junior high school student at the time. School education was under the old system then, and it might be different from today. I don't remember what grade he was in. Also, I had my second eldest brother. He died of sickness, not in the war. My eldest brother and I were six years apart. I was in my second year of elementary school, and had a five-year-old sister and my parents. We were a family of five. -- Where did you live? -- During the war we lived in Kameido, Joto Ward. It's Koto Ward now. There was a national road --the Keiyo Road now--. Along the road, a number of stores stood in a row. The place was fairly bustling because it was along a national road. On the opposite side of the road, there was the Chiba Road. It's called the Keiyo Road now. Beyond the Keiyo Road, the two railroad lines, the Sobu Line for Chiba, and the Onagigawa Freight Train, had been running on the wide banks. They might be current elevated railroads. In such a town, a lot of small stores stood side by side along the roads. There was also a small ironworks, but, there were few factories around there because it was near the station. -- Could you talk about your parents? Your father and mother? -- My parents' ages? -- What were they like? What did they work at? -- My parents had been running a small business. They had been handling what is now called spices. They worked as middlemen. Their business was not so large-scale. They had been engaged in brokerage. Small as my parents' business was, we were making a decent living. -- Did you go to school every day? -- Yes. As the war grew fierce, however, air defense alarms went off during school hours. And the school dismissed the class. Sometimes air raids began before I got home. Almost every day, I went to school and was ordered to go home during class. -- Do you remember your life under air defense and dealing with air raid shelters? -- Yes. I would go to school carrying my knapsack on my back, crossing like this... taking a first-aid kit bag with things like Mercurochrome, bandages, and adhesive plaster. From the other side, with a folded air-raid hood, I'd shoulder my knapsack crossing like this and go to school. If an air defense alarm was issued while I was at school, I'd hurry home with the hood on. Well, I'll tell you about the air-raid shelter. Shitamachi areas were packed with small wooden houses. I remember that we first built an air-raid shelter under the floor, just under the tatami mats. The shelter was pitch-dark and musty. It made me feel terrible. But, I hear that the town assembly made a rule for the residents then. If we are under the floor, we would be buried alive and not be able to escape if the houses would collapse. So they seemed to have established a rule to make outdoor shelters. Families living in houses with gardens built shelters in the gardens, and others of Shitamachi area with no gardens made them on the roads. As there were virtually no houses with gardens around Kameido, people built shelters on the roads. There was a sidewalk by the Keiyo Road. On the sidewalk, we dug a hole which was a little larger than a mat like this. -- How many people could enter there...? -- About ten. -- It was fairly small, wasn't it? -- Yes. It was...something like a tunnel rather than a shelter. In Kameido, as well as in this neighborhood, the ground is sinking. So, the earth cannot be dug deep enough. If we dig about 1 meter, water soaked through the ground. So we dug the ground about 1 meter, laying something like a drainboard on it. And...we made an entrance on one side. As far as I can remember, we dug a hole and put up something like pillars, and covered that with futons or worn-out blankets. Then we layed soil that we'd dug and scooped it on them. I remember that the shelter was like a cave dwelling. The entrance was only on one side of the shelter. It had no door, so we'd hang some blankets or something over the pole. Whenever the air-raid alarm sounded, we'd enter the shelter. I remember entering with something like lamp, candle... or flashlight in my hands. The shelter was musty, and its roof was too low for us to stand. I hated it. -- Can you talk about meals? Were you hungry then? -- Well, in wartime...until our area was burnt down on March 10th, I didn't feel hungry so badly, and didn't experience the suffering of food shortage. I think the food situation varied from family to family. It might be said that I was not starving because my family was doing business.... Do you know "gyo-sho"? There was a woman who would come all the way from Chiba, carrying various articles for sale on her back. She had fish, meat, rice, and a lot of sweets. She would drop by with all kinds of articles a few times a week. I'd wait in expectation of her to come. I remember her even now. She was called "Otaki-san." At first, she carried a lot of items. The load was taller than her. She'd been shouldering a big heap of goods wrapped in a blue cloth. Whenever she came in, she'd take out her goods and spread out the articles. Rice cakes stuffed with bean jam, rice balls, boiled crabs, chicken... She'd bring us a lot of foods like that. She'd also bring some fruits, including watermelon and other melons. So, as far as I remember, I never starved so badly until air raids happened. However, the bulk of her load became smaller and smaller in the course of time. She said, "I cannot get anything to bring you lately. I'm sorry." Around March that year, her bag of food was really small. My mother would say, "In any event, Otaki-san is a great help to us. I'm so thankful to her." So I thought that Otaki-san was really a great woman, and decided that I'd become a woman like Otaki-san when I grew up. My little sister and I would play Otaki-san, piling pillows up and wrapping them in clothes, and would carry the bundles on our backs saying, "Hello." We made people laugh. That was our daily life. -- Were you sleeping in the early hours of March 10th? -- Yes. On March 10th, two 6th graders were home, having returned from the school evacuation to the countryside. We were happy and played with them so delightfully on the night of 9th. Of course we played outside. We played war. The elder boys played brave soldiers, and we were appointed to act as war nurses, though we were just kids. We were not allowed to play in the shelter, but we'd built a fortress with grave mounds, and played battle. Boys imitated B29s and Zero fighters like this. While we were playing very happily until the evening, my mother called for me and said, "Dinner is ready." So we parted saying, "Let's play tomorrow again." It was the evening of March 9th. We each went home. I remember having dinner at home with my family. It was a poor meal, though. As blackout had been in force at the time, we lowered the electric light, and had dinner at the round "chabudai" dining table which we had been using then. In those days there were no television, games or any kinds of amusement. We only had radio and newspaper. At around 8:00 p.m., my family said, "Let's go to bed before the air raid happens." We said that every night. Then we cleared the table, made our beds, and went to sleep. We lived in a small, two-story house. As the war grew intense, my father made a rule that we'd sleep as a group downstairs, for fear that we might not be able to escape together in case of emergency. So we'd sleep close to each other in a six-mat room downstairs. On the night of March 9th, we were in bed at around 8:00 as usual. After a while, an air defense alarm started to sound. My father went outside to see what was happening and came back soon. He said, "It seems to be okay. The enemy planes seem to have gone in the direction of Chiba Prefecture." "It seems to be safe. You can stay in bed now." So we slept again. Then, after a while, my father rushed into our house from the outside again and said, "It's different from before, so wake up!" We were utterly surprised and jumped out of bed. We changed into our clothes which we had folded and put at our bedsides. At the time, I had kept my spare clothes, a cardigan which I had treasured, and a packet of sugar candies, my small knapsack. In those days, there were beautiful papers or labels on cans or bottles on the market. I loved such papers or labels and would make a collection of them. I kept them in my knapsack, carried it on my back, put my cotton air-raid hood on, and went outside. When I went outside to take refuge in the air raid shelter, the sky was still dark around Kameido. I remember the wind was so violent. It was very cold. Then I casually looked back and saw the vast sky in the south. Unlike today, there were no high buildings then. It's probably around here. The sky was deep red, and things like sticks or pipes were falling heavily from the sky. I remember entering the shelter wondering what they were. At that time, I had a close friend "Masao-chan." I used to play with him during the day. He and I were the same age. We used to get to school and come back together every day. As he was a naughty boy at school, he'd always be scolded by the teacher. But he was so bright. He'd say to me, "Don't tell your family that I was scolded by my teacher today!" Then the boy, you know "bouka yousui," water for extinguishing fires? The water containers had frozen in the cold. He would get on top and crush the ice with a stick. That was a duty of children at that time. Boys would do that often. While looking at the boys crushing the ice, we entered the air raid shelter.

Video Details

Duration: 16 minutes and 13 seconds
Year: 2011
Country: United States
Language: Japanese
Genre: None
Views: 505
Posted by: japanairraids on Aug 19, 2011

2011 interview with NIHEI Haruyo, who as a young girl experienced the March 10, 1945 firebombing of Tokyo by the United States Army Air Forces. Posted by

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