Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Unforgettable Night: My Grandmother’s War Experience During the World War II


This small booklet is a war-time memoir of my beloved grandmother Reiko. She was born in 1929 in Osaka and is now 89 years old. When she was 13 years old, the war broke out between Japan and the USA.

Then, on the night of June 17, 1945 (about two months prior to the Atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the 314th bombardment wing of the Army Air Corps (120 B-29s) dropped 809.6 tons of incendiary and cluster bombs destroying 2.11 square miles (5.46 km) of Kagoshima city  (44.1 percent of the built-up area), where she was living. Within a few hours, well over 2,300 civilians were killed and over 3,500 were seriously injured. Miraculously, my grandmother (16 years old at that time) escaped death that night.

This booklet is neither anti-American nor pro-Japanese. As her granddaughter and as a Christian, I am simply and wholeheartedly pro-Kingdom (Matt.6:33, Phil.3:20). Christ is our “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah.9:6) who has brought eternal reconciliation, forgiveness and true unity to those who believe in Him. Moreover, in Christ, we are now God’s family regardless of our national or cultural differences. This is my prayer that God may use this small booklet for His glory.

Her story

Right after my first English lesson, the war broke out between Japan and the USA. I was a 6th grade elementary student then, and had just learned my first English sentence, “This is a pen.”

The war changed everything. All of a sudden, the English language had become the forbidden language, the language of our “enemy.” Thus, we were strictly forbidden to use foreign words such as “spoon,” “volleyball” or “basketball” etc..

At school, training for boys included hitting wooden horses on which portraits of Roosevelt and Churchill were hung, and in junior high school, included climbing obstacles; meanwhile girls were trained to use bamboo spears and practiced throwing hand grenades.

 Housewives who were practicing bamboo spear training (source)

During World War 2, a war slogan of
"We won't ask for anything until we shall win." circulated in Japan (source).

Luxury is the enemy" is another famous war slogan
in Japan during the WW2 (
Though we were suffering from hunger and malnutrition,
we were not allowed to say anything against the military government.
The newspapers and radios were full of wartime propaganda and lies. 

Great Kagoshima Air Raids (17th June, 1945)

As the war situation deteriorated, many families in Kagoshima city had already evacuated to remote districts, including my own family. However, exactly one day before that fateful night, I was one of the junior high school girls summoned by the Japanese military government to go back and to engage in some mandatory services, such as farming and working in the munition factories.

So, I walked all the way from the small provincial town of Takeno-yama to Kagoshima city by myself and returned to my home, which was situated in the center of Kagoshima city, an area called Tenmon-kan. It was raining hard that day.

Then, on the night of June 17th, 1945, as I was paging through a family album, an air raid siren started to ring loudly and I rushed out of the door to see what was going on outside.

It was a serene, dark night. I looked up at the sky and saw some bright lightning. “Oh, what is that? Fireworks?,” I exclaimed. Ironically, those beautiful flashes were the tools of death called incendiary bombs.  It was the very first time that I had ever seen those bombs.

Seeing the Army Air Corps (120 B-29s) approaching toward us so rapidly, I went inside the house and tried to hide myself in the underground bomb shelter. However, due to the heavy rain of the previous day, our home bomb shelter was flooded and thus I was unable to enter it. For a while, I was hiding in another bomb shelter which was situated at the community center but returned home after some time. “Should I stay at home and try to hide myself in the underground bomb shelter one more time?” I was in great terror and did not know what to do.

At that moment, I heard a strong voice across the street. It was the bicycle shop owner in front of our house and he was shouting, “Reiko chan, don’t stay here. We must get out of here immediately or we will all die.”

Encouraged by his words, I decided to run for my life. The streets were already in flames and full of dead bodies. Many combat pilots were doing strafing runs so low that I could even see their faces.

Then, I reached the basement of the Yamakataya department store. However, it was already so packed with people that it was impossible for me to enter it. So, I ran towards the sea, but, again, the sea was also full of people and many had drowned. “What shall I do?” I kept running for my life. Death was all around me. Then finally, I climbed the hill and reached the Terukuni shrine and sat down at the left side of the torii (a gateway at the entrance to a Shinto shrine). Then, to my terror, I saw from the hill that the whole town was burning. I also saw that the Yamakataya department store had been bombed and burned down.

Later, I heard that those who were hiding in the basement of the department store were all killed. If I had been there with them, I would have been dead for sure.

Kagoshima city right after the Great Kagoshima Air Raids, 1945.
There was nothing but burnt out ruins.(source)

The following morning, the survivors started to walk inside the military tunnels for hours and hours. It was completely dark, each of us had to hold on to the back of the person ahead and thus, we continued on our way. 

Then, after many many hours, I found myself at the gate of the distant country lodging where my family was staying, and entered the house.

There was a rumor in the district that all of the people who were in Kagoshima city last night had been annihilated, and so, my family thought that I had been killed already. Oh, my poor mother! Stricken by unbearable sorrow, she was doing my funeral rites and offering an incense stick at the Buddhist altar!

Then came the 15th  of August, 1945; the day that Japan lost the war. The men in the province were listening to the Emperor’s Gyoku-on Hoso (Imperial Rescript on Surrender) on the radio and I was listening to their conversations from behind a sliding paper-door. The men were talking as follows: “The American army will land here soon and will exterminate us. So, it is more virtuous to kill ourselves than to be slaughtered by the enemy.” “Then, what shall we do with our women and children?” “They shall be raped or killed by the Americans. So it is better to throw all of them into the well and kill them first, and then we men will kill ourselves.”

Just like Okinawa, where countless women and children had already lost their lives by collective suicide, we nearly faced the same tragic fate as well.  

What grieves me most is that so many young souls perished miserably like this during the war time.We had been brainwashed and educated through political propaganda that our sole life's purpose was to live and die for the Emperor, allegedly a living god (arahito-gami). Oh, what a tragedy!

Kamikaze pilots playing with a puppy before their flights, may 1945 [1309x1600]
(above) Kamikaze suicide pilots playing with a puppy
2 hours before their flights, May 1945.
 The boys in the picture were 17-18 years old. (

A Will written by a young boy to his mother."I might not be able to see your face any more on this earth, Mom.Oh Mom, show me your face!
But I don't wanna leave you any "memento."
Because I know that if I do, then, that "memento" shall keep you crying even after 10 or 20 years.
Dear Mom, when I leave Koriyama base, I will fly above our house. 
And this shall be my final farewell to you."

Dear readers, I’d like to testify with all of my heart that war is an absolute evil.

Thank you for reading my story.

13th, June, 2017
Reiko (88 years old)