Fond memory of pre-war Japan
When I was a child my world seemed like a wonderful place to live.
As an American, I was born and raised on a sugar plantation in the Philippine Islands. At that time the Philippines belonged to the United States of America and had it's ownership since 1898 upon the Spanish American War. This wonderful country in the Far East was comprised of a multi ethnic diverse group of people who called the Philippines home. They were Malay, Muslim, Negritos, Oriental, Spanish and Occidental.
Many Americans living, working and teaching in the Philippines were building a strong future for their adopted country. Education was at the helm of progress. This grand plan to give the Filipino people their long awaited independence was at long last near it's goal. Other nationals, British, Dutch, German, French, Spanish and Swiss were also with strong presence.
When I was 18 months old, I became ill with infantile paralysis, or as you know this disease - polio. It was very debilitating and I could no longer walk or stand due to the advanced atrophy and weakness of the muscles on the lower extremeties.
Each year my mother and I would sail on an American President Lines ship
to San Francisco, California, where a wonderful Orthopedic Surgeon would
On our way home, our ship would stop at many ports and countries and we would have the opportunity to visit, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Yokohama and Kobe, Japan. I especially liked Japan. Here, we would get off the ship and visit your wonderful country.
The snow would be gently falling as we would find our way by rickshaw to an inn or welcoming restaurant. The cozy and friendly atmosphere where wonderful hot aromatic teas would be served was always enjoyable. Delicious bowls of hot steaming nori soup with bits of shrimp and tofu filled our nostrils and staved off hunger in the cold winter day. We especially loved the sashimi with it's vibrant pink colors and delicate flavors.
We also noticed your beautiful women and men in elegant kimonos sharing their meals together. The wonderful smells of sandal wood, incense and rose water brought a sense of well being on our visits to Japan. The haunting sounds of the samisen filled the air.
Your country held a fascinating beauty and her people were kind and welcoming.
When I was eight years old, my world fell apart.
I was to awake one morning, on a Monday, December 8, 1941, to travel to Manila for a day of exercising and stretching with my physical therapist. I was driven into the city by our chauffeur and was accompanied by my amah. (nanny) It was a beautiful day, as December is one of the coolest months in the Philippines.
While I was stretching with my therapist, there was a huge noise and rumbling, crashing and screams. The earth shook violently and continued to do so. Objects came crashing to the floor and a tall book case toppled to the ground. The radio was blaring, "Take cover - the Japanese just bombed Clark and Nichols field and parts of Manila. They bombed Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack in the Hawaiian Islands destroying most of the American fleet. America is at war! Stay tuned!"
We were frightened and piled in the car and started for home. The streets were jammed with Filipinos trying to get out of the city, carrying belongings on their backs. Every one was frantic. We tried to stay away from the fires that were burning and prayed the dive bombers would not find us. After many hours we made it home to the plantation.
A war, premeditated, brutally well defined and deliberately executed by the Japanese Imperial Military was now in control of our destiny. This frightening time in our lives was to last for over three years
The following paragraphs are time framed throughout the war........they are excerpts taken from a book I am writing, in my own voice. Some voices are from a child. Other voices come to you as my adult mind speaks.
I felt myself swirling in a cloud of confusion. My mind gradually placed fact after fact in place, changing their positions now and again till I thought they fit this eight year old logic.
My visions of the people of Japan were well mannered and polite, enjoying their ritualistic life of beauty, calmness and gentility. Their artistic genius spoke volumes.
I held these thoughts as I watched the aftermath of a bunch of "Nip" soldiers who had just drowned a young Filipino boy in a bathtub on a lawn in Manila...As we passed on the street ,they laughed and jeered and hopped with joy on their feet as the wet, lifeless body of this child was taken away. He was just my age."
"The Japs are calling us 'dangerous enemy aliens.' How can that
be? I am only eight years old."
My brother, Bud, was only three months old when the war started and my sister, Dodie, was three years old.
"Why do the soldiers treat us this way? ...Japanese are supposed to love little children."
"We call these soldiers with guns and bayonets, Nips or Japs.......they are mean and when they talk, they scream and yell......they never talk normally....it is scary"
When we first came into prison camp, my mom and us children were put into a large room with 30 other mothers and kids...every child became ill and the constant crying and smell of vomit and diarrhea was enough to make us all sick, even if we were feeling good
"So, this is what it feels like to lose your freedom. No person should ever have to take another prisoner. But I guess this is what they do in wartime. We pray a lot."
"My mother saw a sad thing today. A young mother tied a rope around the waist of her three year old son. She then lowered him into the large garbage can by the Jap kitchens and pointed to the pieces of wasted food she wanted him to pick up. Then she pulled him up out of the can. How hungry do we have to be to do something like this?"
"My father and some other men built small huts which we call shanties. They are made out of sawali and bamboo. Ours is one very small room where the five of us sleep and live during the day. This is so much better than the Annex. At least we are together, even if we are crowded."
My father planted some taro plants next to the shanty. When they grew they became many things to us. The big leaves kept the shanty cooler in this oppressive heat. I would lie under the leaves and read and feel safe. When my little sister and brother would play under the leaves they would believe that they were in the United States. They did not know any better.
At night when we got into our sleeping cots, we would play a game. We would take turns telling the rest of the family what meal we would want to eat first when we got to the states. We would carefully decide and take great joy relating our choices. It seems that when we spoke about food, we would get satisfied and be able to go to sleep.
I would order pork chops or lamb chops, lots of rice or baked potato
and chocolate ice
When we were first put into camp, the Japanese Government had control of us. The Japanese decided that they would not feed us. This was against the laws of the Geneva Convention of which they had promised to honor. Whatever food we needed we would have to get for ourselves. Now, here is the problem. How do you feed 4,000 people, including 900 children in the middle of a hot war?
If they felt like it, our captors would allow friends and our household
help to bring prepared food to the front gate. This was the package line
which we looked forward to.
It became harder when the next year the Japanese Military took over and
controlled our food . Two meals a day....early morning Lugao (watery
rice gruel) - and dinner which
Lack of food was not the only culprit to hit us hard. We had diseases of dysentery, malaria, dengue fever, measles, beri beri, scurvy, whooping cough and death due to starvation. My legs became worse and I outgrew my braces and shoes leaving me weak without any support. I broke down all the good surgery that my doctor had performed on my legs.
After the war, I had to have many more surgeries and rehabilitation.
The Japs became meaner as the Americans were on their way back to the
We had quite a few executions. Three young Australian men who tried to escape were beheaded, Right before the American troops came to liberate us, the Commandant took out four men and executed them. There was no explanation for their actions. This was only a few weeks before we were freed. So near and yet so far - so very sad.
We were finally liberated on February 3rd, 1945 at a few minutes before 9:00pm. I will not go into detail as you can imagine the thrill of being rescued by your own wonderful soldiers who risked life and limb to come to us. That night, my mother who was 5 ft 8 inches was only 74 pounds and near to death. She had nursed my brother till he was three years old to give him nourishment. She recovered eventually after many many weeks of eating good food again back in the states.
You have to understand one thing - Not only did our bodies waste away from starvation, but our minds were dimmed. When we were found by our troops, we couldn't think or speak that fast. Even simple phrases uttered were halting. Malnutrition is dangerous for the body and mind.
This is my personal message to you young people of Japan. Please know
How many of you have asked your elder relatives how they survived in the war? Have you asked them what they did for food? Were they injured in battle? Where did they fight? Singapore? Philippines? Borneo? China? Manchuria? Okinawa?
Did you ask them why there was a war? What did they do in these countries they invaded? Why were they there? Do you know the true story of Pearl Harbor? What did they say?" Do you know who started this war? Are you sure this is a correct answer?
If you are not satisfied with answers given you, go outside the box and look for answers elsewhere till you are satisfied. Then bring it all home for other people to learn."
Be aware of what is happening around you. Listen! Who is talking and what are they saying? Be involved and learn much. Be all you can be, not only for yourself but for your country.
There is an old and wise saying, "THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE." Japan needs to set itself free. Perhaps you will be the one to do this.
So now, please pardon the proclivities of an old woman whose whole life has been influenced by war and whose determination to make things right in the face of truth is still strong and urgent. I know. I was there.
The personal account that follows is the wartime experiences of a Japanese lady who was born and lived those years in Manila, as told to Yukako Ibuki.
My Wartime Experiences in Manila and the Mountains in Luzon
I was born on December 1, 1927, in Manila. My father was from Hiroshima Prefecture, who had been successful in his business in the United States before he came to Manila, and ran a variety store. In 1940, there were about 1,500 Japanese migrated from Okinawa, Hiroshima, and other Prefectures in Manila. They were diligent, getting along well with the Filipinos, merged with the local society and shouldered part of the development of the economy there. At the Japanese school I went to, I had many Filipino and mestizo friends, and most frequently, we spoke in Tagalog.
As the international situations deteriorated, and as soon as Japan opened hostilities against the United States, the Japanese were put in a few internment camps in the city. We brought food with us into the camps. At the entrance of the camp, Filipino soldiers stood with a rifle, and we were not allowed to go outside. Soon, when the Japanese Forces landed on the Philippines, we were liberated and able to return to our house, but we found that the household goods had completely been carried away.
Since I was 17 years old, I was conscripted in the Army Headquarters before graduating the Japanese High School. At the Security Section where I was attached to, I saw more than enough of the horrifying scenes carried out by Kempei-tai (Military Police). After the fall of Corregidor, I was transferred to the Policy Affairs Section of the Second Staff Officers Department, where I was able to work with respectable military personnel.
In 1944, as rice, foods, and materials for clothing became short among the Filipinos in the City; our family did as much as we could to spare such items to our family friends by whom we had been taken care of. From September to December of the same year, many American carrier-based airplanes flew over Manila, and bombardment of the vessels in the Manila Bay intensified.
In December, the Army Headquarters was dissolved, and many Japanese began to repatriate to the Homeland. But our family decided to stay in Manila, and my brother and sister became Navy civilians and worked at the Naval Hospital. Later, they moved around with the hospital.
Those who remained in the Philippines were instructed that even women and children should not become POWs of the enemy, and began evacuating Manila into the mountains in Luzon. My father and I got on an Army truck, as my brother and sister saw us off with a smile on their faces. Before we arrived in San Jose, which was our first emergency evacuation point, two people died from the strafing of an American plane.
One day in San Jose, I was brought out to act as interpreter to requisition food for the Commissariat. The Japanese soldiers took a water buffalo away from an old Filipino, forcibly giving him a bankroll of military currency. The old man was crying bitterly and said, "Please do not take the buffalo. I cannot support my family without it. Please don't ...." Their behavior broke my heart, and I also cried by taking his hands in mine.
Since that time I could never cry any more, even when I was later told that my father had died of hunger in the mountains, my sister had killed herself, and my brother had been missing after injuring his leg. I was eventually re-conscripted as assistant nurse of the Army Hospital, and separated from my father. Going through bombardment, explosion of shells and starvation, I sometimes saw such horrifying scenes as a child crouching down by its dead mother, soldiers and civilians who struggled hard to get free from a morass in the rainy season mountain paths, but I moved on only to survive, wandering about in the mountains without humane emotions such as fear, shock, or affection for others.
I went down the mountains after knowing that the war had been over by the leaflets of the US Forces, and they nursed me with great care. At the field hospital in Kiangan, an Army doctor satirized my maturated wounds by fragments of a mortar shell with powdered penicillin, and applied brand new gauze. I remembered that at the Japanese field hospital in the mountains, I had sterilized used bandages in the boiling water, scooped maggots out of the water, and sterilized more bandages.
Fortunately, I was carried to Santo Tomas university, the civilian internment camp during the Japanese occupation, which was then used as the US Army Hospital. One Army doctor treated my wound, and another treated malaria respectively. The nurses and Filipina helpers took good care of me. I shared a large room with three other women; two Japanese ex-trading company employees, one of whom had not been in the mountains. She had been hospitalized here because of TB. One other was a Korean ex-“comfort woman.” A patient from the Army Air Corps who had participated in the bombing mission over Japan showed us some clear aerial photos, which reminded me of what my father had said, "How did they dare start this stupid war against a powerful nation!"
After I regained health, I was moved to the Japanese Women’s Camp. I worked first as the chief of the kitchen staff and next as the interpreter of the POW Hospital. Then I "repatriated" to Japan for the first time to see it.
Ms. Wakao's experience can be read at: http://www.wakao.lougopal.com/
-- posted Nov. 2004