A Prayer for Peace, Memories of My Grandfather
This is a quote from an autobiography that my mom's side grandfather wrote. (He wrote it in Japanese and the quotes I'm sharing here are all translated by me.)
February 25 in the quote is February 25 in 1945. My grandpa was working at a meteorological observatory in Tokyo. He was one of the people who experienced the bombing of Tokyo in 1945 during World War II.
My grandpa originally planned to write his autobiography essay through the eyes of his beloved dog, Duck (my sister named him after Donald Duck when she was about three.) The title of his autobiography essay can be roughly translated as "I'm a bad dog, Duck". Duck understood words of humans and was a smart dog, but he could be timid. At the same time, he was a territorial and primitive dog with the instinct of a guard dog. He wasn't the most cuddly dog for these reasons. He bit my grandpa's hands a few times by accident because he sometimes panicked when he was touched suddenly, and that's why the title was given (I think). However, when Duck accidentally bit my grandpa's hand, he right away understood the seriousness of the matter, so he'd gently lick my grandpa's fingers to find out if he was okay. Despite those accidents, Duck enjoyed more than anything, to spend time with my grandpa. He had in fact, a deep affection towards his family.
After my grandpa retired, he spent much time with Duck (who was also aging at the time) and writing his essay.
I can recall him typing on his old word processor (not software—an actual machine. Remember word processors before the time of computers?) He never allowed us to read his writings while he was alive (that's what he told us), so none of us even saw what he was really writing about until he passed away. I moved to Canada shortly after his passing, so I haven't had the chance to read the entire thing. Perhaps that is something I should do during my next visit.
The autobiography starts with his childhood and then into his youth in Tokyo, working in his hometown while in his prime, and ends with his last days with Duck.
Sometimes it's written through Duck's point of view and other times through his own point of view. He wrote how he and Duck aged together, and of course, Duck's last moment. I've always loved dogs and Duck had been in my life for 16 years, so the chapter of his last moment is something I cannot read without tears.
The chapters of Duck's last moment and the days my grandpa lived in Tokyo impacted me greatly, so I brought the original copies of those chapters all the way to Canada to keep them close.
It wasn't just my maternal grandfather who experienced the war, my maternal grandmother and paternal grandparents all experienced it in their own ways.
My maternal grandmother and her family were living on Sakhalin Island for her father's job during and right after the World War II. Her family came back to Japan after the war ended. She told me that there could have been a good chance her family couldn't have come back to Japan if they weren't on that ship.
My paternal grandparents (they were young and not married then) lived in a rural area of Japan, so they didn't have to see the horrors like some did in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Okinawa. However, shortages of food were serious, so they had to help out the families rather than going to school. They don't even know if they graduated from junior high school.
When I was in elementary and junior high school, there were school projects where we had to interview our grandparents or elderly neighbours about the war.
I'm certain that the war was a difficult experience to recall, but nonetheless they always answered my questions because it was important for us younger generations to know.
I remember what they told me, but it was when I read my grandpa's essay years later as a grown up, I really understood what kind of reality he was put in.
This is about the March 9, 1945, one of the biggest bombing in Tokyo (Operations Meetinghouse II). Over 100,000 people were killed, over one million people suffered.
May 25, 1945 is known as the "Yamanote Bombing" and was one of the biggest attacks with one of the most casualties suffered.
I haven't finished reading the whole autobiography so I can't say for sure, but at least in these two chapters of his days in Tokyo, my grandpa didn't push any opinions loudly like anti-war or the importance of peace. He just wrote, almost in a bland tone, what was happening, how people were behaving, and how he felt at the time, simply as facts.
That's why, I was confronted to the reality of the time of war even more.
His writing kept telling me—that's how the war is; things like that happen during the war.
Words like "terrible" or "dreadful" don't even begin to describe the things people had to go through at the time. I'm sure a ton of people even suffered more than my grandpa had to, like people who were sent to the battlefront, people who lived in places that turned into battlefields, and people who lost their parents, children, partners, and close friends.
But even in war, even in hardship, there was always adolescence; one of the brightest times in someone's life.
There's a part in his essay that shows his youthfulness and this happened in the same year: 1945.
He also wrote things like who had a crush on whom and who was attractive at work. He even mentioned a woman whom he had special feelings for.
My grandpa as I remember was a man of few words; he would have never talked to us about anything like that when he was still around, so these episodes warmed my heart. (Later on in the essay, he also wrote how beautiful and kind my grandma was, he repeatedly used those words about her throughout the essay and that was also a joy to read.)
These two chapters were full of horrible and scary incidents one after another. I kept thinking how terrifying those air raids must have been every night, and how tough and difficult it had to have been to survive through the food shortage and such chaos. They left me with a strong impression. However, what I remember most vividly is this sentence below.
This sentence above can be found shortly after where he recollects this woman who was "not the prettiest but had beautiful eyes with long lashes that were mysteriously attractive whom he always remembered nostalgically when he listened to the tango "Ojos Negros (black eyes)."
It was a cruel time that I can only imagine, but there were moments for him and his friends that were brilliant.
And yet, there were people who got those moments taken away from them.
Will there ever be a day when every child and young person can live to their fullest?
The autobiography he left behind brought back the things he experienced alive and left new memories in me.
I turned 30 years old this year and maybe my generation is the last one who got to hear the stories of the World War II directly from people who had to go through it.
That's why I'm writing this, because I have to leave the memories that my grandpa wrote somewhere.
When it comes to talking about world peace, I feel that it's hard to find right words that are not cheap or cliché.
I'm thankful that my grandparents didn't lose hope and survived. I'm grateful that I can live in a foreign country safely. Maybe it is our duty as adults to tell stories like this to younger generations, even if it might sound cheap to them.
How lucky we really are, to live the lives in which we're able to talk about tomorrow without worrying that tomorrow might never come.
I don't want to experience a war. That is my honest feeling.
I don't want to go to a battlefront to fight. I don't want to see my beloved people off to a battlefront. I don't want to hide and run in the battlefield with fear. I'm scared.
I don't want to even think about my husband being sent away to fight a war. I'd cry and scream begging for him to stay even if that was cowardly or weak. I'd wish that he'd return alive even if that was considered unpatriotic.
I know that people who are parents would wish for their children's safety and happiness more than anything.
I have a dog, so when I think about what kind of situation dogs and cats were put in during the time of war, my heart aches.
I have important people in my life, and when I think about the fear and the agony they and I could experience if there was a war, my prayer is no longer a prayer, it becomes a cry.
To keep that feeling and my grandpa's memories alive in myself, I turn the pages every August—the pages of the two chapters where he spent his life in Tokyo in 1945.
August 2017, in memory of my grandfather.
Thanks for reading such a long post. I was nervous to write a subject that could be very sensitive such as this. It took long time for me to finish it, but I decided to publish it.
For the quotes from my grandfather's essay, some might find them factually inaccurate or inappropriate, but I can't ask him what he really meant by his words anymore, so I hope you understand. Also, thanks for reading this post patiently regardless of my imperfect English writing.
By writing this post, my intention was not to preach. I simply wanted to record what my grandpa left behind for us, and how I felt reading it.
The top photo is my grandpa and his dog Duck taken at his house. It was taken with a compact film camera (maybe by my mom) and printed out. My mom and my sister snapped it with their phones and sent it to me so that I could use it here.
I love this photo so much. Him and Duck have the same expression, they both look really happy. Duck's tail is wagging and my grandpa is saying something like "good boy!"
It was already more common for my grandparents' generation to wear western clothing, but my maternal grandpa always preferred wearing a Japanese kimono. He said it was more comfortable to him and that's how I remember him—in his simple but dashing kimono.
He passed away when I was around 20 years old. I wish that I could talk to him now and 10 years from now to chat about things I didn't talk about when I was younger.
My other three grandparents are still all well (my paternal grandpa just retired and he's over 80!) so I really have to (and want to) cherish time with them.