Originally from Tokyo, Hiroi’s family suffered great loss as a result of the air raids that destroyed the city and killed hundreds of thousands of people during World War II. Listen as he describes how his family fled Tokyo to start a new life in Tōhoku, his first impressions of American soldiers, and his feelings about the war.
This clip has been slightly edited from the original interview for clarity. A transcript of this clip can be found below. And a full transcript of our interview with Hiroi can be found here[forthcoming].
Paula Curtis: If it’s alright, I’d like to talk a little bit about the war time, but, about that time, what kind of memories do you have?
Hiroi Michiaki: What…
PC: The war time.
Hiroi: What time?
PC: The war time. War.
HM: Ahh when we were at war. The war time. Of course I didn’t do any of that. War. I was absolutely against it. Mm. But even so, everyone was killed. Not one of my classmates is alive. Everyone was killed in the air raids. And the people of my neighborhood, too, all of them, there’s no one left.
PC: And your family, at that time…?
HM: My younger brother and mother, even now their whereabouts are unknown, but I think they died. When a notice came, it was said you [could] confirm [a death], you know. But I can’t confirm theirs. In the air raids, everyone had burned to death, and it was impossible to tell what was what, whom was whom…. And since it was said that since their death couldn’t be actually confirmed, we couldn’t get a notice. It was said they were missing (lit. “whereabouts unknown”)… And even now their whereabouts are, well, unknown.
PC: Where was your home at that time?
HM: Mmm, properly speaking, in Tokyo, Kōtō ward, Ooshima. It was a place called Ooshima, but it was “Ooshima-machi 3-chōme, #400.” That was our permanent residence.
PC: And what kind of life did you have?
HM: The same. The same as now.
PC: Which is to say…?
HM: Mm. My father, well, he made many things.
PC: Then, at that time [he made] Edo-style tops, um—
HM: Yeah. During the war, things that “unnecessary”, so-called “luxuries,” were forbidden. And, hmm, we received this sheet, like a label. If you didn’t post that, you couldn’t sell [anything]. And they were allotted, how many [you received] per month. So you couldn’t [sell] anything more than that, and furthermore, as if that weren’t bad enough, we were required to make–what do you call them?– military supplies, for use during the war.
PC: Ohh… Did you or your family contribute in some way to the war?
HM: Not really effort, but everyone, mm, at that time we couldn’t say anything. If we did, the military police would come and we’d be arrested, and if we did something bad it was terrible. And everyone, well, it was that way for all Japanese people. Everyone would say “We’ll win! We’ll win!” and be happy. But there were a number of people who said that there was no way that Japan could win, and they’d be arrested. So no one could say anything, and in their hearts absolutely hated war. And family, workers, everyone who felt that way withered away, and most died, and there was no compensation. In my home, too, even though everything–my parents and siblings, our property–was lost in the raids, there was no compensation. Not a single word of apology. I want the emperor to apologize, you know. And, at Yasukuni Shrine, you know, why does the Japanese Prime Minister visit it? It’s strange, but nothing can be done. I feel a great sense of discomfort about that. More than the people of Korea and China, I get angry [about that].
PC: And just after the war, what were your neighbors’ impression towards America and Americans where you lived?
HM: Mmm. At first… it was the first time I’d seen them, so. Hahaha. Americans… Umm… We didn’t know that Japan had lost the war. That is, our home [in Tokyo] was burned down in the air raids, so we came here, deep into Shiroishi mountain, mmm there’s a place called Kamasaki hot springs, [famous for] Yajirō kokeshi, there’s a place called Kokeshi village, but, on the other side of that mountain, there was a small cabin, a small mountain cabin, and we lived there. It was a place without electricity or water. Umm… We were there not knowing at all that the war was lost. And when my father went to the town of Shiroishi, somehow the atmosphere of the town had changed, and when he asked, they said Japan had lost. And there, he said that we couldn’t pass the winter in that mountain cabin, and so we came down and moved to the town of Shiroishi, but that time was the first time I saw American soldiers, and man, their Jeeps…! They rode them in and I was like “Ooooh!” and was so surprised. Hahaha. “What is this?” I wondered.
PC: The attitude [towards them], what kind of attitude was it? For example, towards the Americans driving the Jeep.
HM: Ahh… rather than what kind [of attitude]… We were surprised. We were shocked. And when I thought, “These were the people we fought with?” I also thought, “We couldn’t have beaten them, could we?” [laughs] I wondered why we did something so senseless. Rather, I was angry at the top people [in Japan]. Even though they were the elite, even though they should have understood us, why did they do something so absurd, so unreasonable, and kill Japanese people? Well… my home had done that and become the sacrifice, and no one, not the government, not the people connected to that government, no one said a word in apology; they didn’t compensate us for anything. Rather [than the Americans], I was mad at them.
PC: And your impression was what?
HM: To the Americans?
HM: Ahh, I thought they were incredible. Really, umm… these people who were until yesterday enemies, I [didn’t think] they would be such kind people. And I couldn’t understand why we had gone to war. And um, at that time, in Shiroishi, along the national highway, we had rented the home of a farming family, and there we had set up a lathe, and the American soldiers had pipes, those sailor pipes, and smoked tobacco. We were asked to do those repairs, and my father often fixed them.
PC: And after the war, um, how did your life change?
HM: It entirely changed, and it was a terrible time. As I said just now, you know, there was no compensation, and we were, should I say, without means; we had no money, and even though we came here it didn’t mean we knew anyone, and we didn’t know the dialect here either. And there were many [troubles], and there were a lot of issues with the local people and we hadn’t made friends with them, but now I get along with them and they’re very kind. And I was really helped by them. In any case, there were terrible hardships [at the time]. There was nothing to eat, nothing to wear, the winter was cold. Often I thought I was going to die. Heh heh…
Postcard photograph of a soldier with Japanese children published Kinouya postcard archive, retrieved from Kinouya Postcard Collection.