A Prayer for Peace, Memories of My Grandfather

A Prayer for Peace, Memories of My Grandfather

Sunday February 25. I was at work for night duty on a snowy day. It was when the four of us were warming ourselves at a brazier and chatting, we heard the sound of an air raid siren. Tachi from the general affairs section came over and told us to put out the fire immediately. We kept the fire on but Tachi got mad and poured water onto the brazier from a bucket. It was right after that. I heard loud noises nearby. Instantly I thought it was a bomb but nothing happened. I looked around carefully and found 50cm (20inch) hole pierced through the roof to the floor. An unexploded bomb? I didn’t have time to think about it. Incendiary devices were dropping and the fire had started burning all over.

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.

 

 "I'm a bad dog, Duck" The chapter of time he was working at meteorological observatory. This is the original copy printed from his old word processor.

"I'm a bad dog, Duck" The chapter of time he was working at meteorological observatory. This is the original copy printed from his old word processor.

 

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.

March 9 at around 11:00, they issued an air raid warning. I wrapped myself up in the blanket and was watching from a window in my dorm room. Somewhere on the eastern side of the city was burning red. I had no idea where it was. The attack lasted long, until the dawn of the 10th. It took a long time because airplanes flew in one by one to attack. After this day, they used this method of attacking every time. The next morning, I saw many victims walking from eastern side to find shelter. Their faces seemed like they were covered with soot. They looked exhausted. They silently walked toward west.

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. 

About three days later, I visited the affected area. On the embankment along the Sumida river, bodies were laid. A lot of them were charred. I couldn’t tell their age or sex from the charred bodies and it didn’t feel as disturbing, maybe because they no longer seemed like human beings. Half burnt bodies were a lot more horrible. It was a dreadful sight.
Air raids had become an everyday occurrence. Many cities, not to mention Tokyo, got attacked all the way to the Japan Sea side except for Kyoto. Areas near my dorm were attacked on May 25th. The dorm building somehow survived.

May 25, 1945 is known as the "Yamanote Bombing" and was one of the biggest attacks with one of the most casualties suffered.

There was a bombing attack on a cloudy night. I could not see where the airplanes were. I heard the roar of B29s right above my head. The bursting sound of bombing and bullets and the vibration were continuously heard and felt. I didn’t know where they were attacking. The fear lasted all night.
August 6. A new type of bomb was dropped onto Hiroshima. “New bomb in Hiroshima” newspapers reported. At my work, a meteorological observatory in Tokyo, people whispered that it could be a nuclear bomb. Scientists were sent to study. They brought back burnt granite and concluded that it was in fact a nuclear bomb. I had a general idea of what that was from a science magazine. It was the ultimate weapon. There was research in Japan to develop one too. Whoever was able to acquire it first would win the war, they said. And America did. It meant that the defeat of Japan had become certain.
August 15 at noon. There was an important announcement, so we were gathered in front of the radio. I assumed we all had to kill ourselves. That was the only thing they would want from us at that point, I thought. But to my surprise, it was an edict of the end of the war. The voice of the emperor was trembling, perhaps he was crying, and the emperor said something like “ We accept the Potsdam Declaration. Citizens must endure what cannot be endured, bear the unbearable, work hard to rebuild this country.” During the war, nobody spoke or even thought to surrender. There was no such word in Japanese people’s minds. I’m sure everyone was shocked at first. But then, I’m also sure everyone felt at ease. The first thing that came to my mind was that I could finally sleep at night.

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.

The first thing we thought of after the mindless hour had passed was how we should behave when the occupation began. We were killing each other only until yesterday. We had to be ready for any possible atrocity by the “enemy’. History tells us how miserable defeated countries could be throughout time.
But it was surprisingly calm. Public order was kept. Of course there were some smaller troubles, but in that grave crisis, they weren’t big enough to question.
Better sleep had come shortly after the end of the war, but starvation didn’t go away easily. The food shortage had began long before the end of the war.
The war had ended. So many people traveled to rural areas to buy their food. There were no more supplies anywhere, so the farmers wouldn’t agree to sell the food in exchange of money. Everything had to be bartered. Everyone sold everything, anything, that can be sold to buy food. It was of course considered black market and was illegal. But we had to risk confiscation and fines nonetheless. We had no other choice.
There was a food distribution, though it wasn’t enough to survive. Everyone had become black marketers. Many people suffered from malnutrition.
It was even difficult to bath, maybe once every two weeks. When I heard that some public bath was open, it didn’t matter how far it was, I went. We couldn’t keep ourselves clean enough. Fleas and lice were a serious issue.

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.

The radio aired military songs and reported battle results.
But somehow we managed to listen to waltz or tango at work during lunch breaks. Although I’m not sure how that was allowed, they for sure were soothing and calmed us during days of bombing. “Tango Delle Rose”, “Tango Notturno”, “La Cumparsita” to name a few. We listened to classical music during junior high school at my friend’s house, but this melody of tango shook my young soul.

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.

It was a cruel time to live in, but my adolescence was still glorious and radiant at heart.

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.

 

 

Afterword:

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.

 

Linen Scarf

Linen Scarf

平和への祈り、祖父の記憶

平和への祈り、祖父の記憶