2. Life in Hiroshima
My father chose to live in Fukushima-cho, Hiroshima, because a lot of people from Jinyang County were already living there. A large group of Korean people from a different village were in the neighboring area, Kanon-machi. Every day, my father collected garbage, pulling a large two-wheeled hand-drawn cart from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., then came back home to have some gukbap (Korean rice soup), had a nap for a while, and around 8 a.m. left for work in a nearby factory named Nakano Kasei. In the factory he rendered tallow by boiling down beef fat from a nearby slaughterhouse to supply to a soap factory and also ground bone meal from beef bone. Our house was in the area right under the present Shin-Koi Bridge, which is now at the western end of Peace Boulevard which runs from east to west through the Ota River delta. My family lived there until our eviction due to the construction of Peace Boulevard after WWII.
I was the firstborn child, born in July, 1932. But my birthday recorded in the census register is September 15 because our family register was still in Korea and my birth registration was made there on that day in September. I have three sisters and two brothers. The youngest child in my family, a sister, was born one year after the war ended. We lived with many Koreans in our neighborhood, helping each other.
When I was a child, one day I visited a kindergarten accompanying a friend of mine, Sada-chan, who went there. At the kindergarten, a teacher asked my family name, saying, “What is your myoji?” I had never heard of the word myoji or family name before. So I answered, “Myoji.” The teacher kindly made me a name tag showing my name as “Myoji.” I had a very pleasant time there, and back home, I asked my parents to let me go to kindergarten. However, my father said, “You are a girl. You don’t need to go to kindergarten.” I cried and cried until he said yes at last. I was happy to go to kindergarten, but people in the neighborhood were critical of my parents, saying, “How can they let their girl go to kindergarten?”
When I was an elementary school student, I was doing well in school and was a class vice-president. In those days, the class president was supposed to be a boy and the vice-president a girl. I remember one day when I was in second grade, a classmate boy bullied me saying, “Go back to Korea!” I immediately yelled back at him, “Sakureruna!” which means something like, “Don’t be bossy, idiot!” in Hiroshima dialect.
When I was in the third grade of Fukushima National Elementary School, the school was closed because of the construction of the Ota River Discharge Channel, and I transferred to Tenma National Elementary School (present Tenma Elementary School). Hiroshima city, standing on a delta, had suffered from flooding almost every year. The construction was a really big project to make one wide water discharging channel by merging two west rivers of the seven flowing through Hiroshima. The westernmost river, the Yamate River, was planned to be made much wider and the next river, the Fukushima River, to be landfilled. Fukushima-cho, where my family lived, was located between those two rivers, and was divided into two areas by the newly constructed embankment, the Yamate River side and the Fukushima River side. The Yamate River side was going to be under the new channel and people there had to move. The Fukushima River side area was left intact. Our house was on the Fukushima River side, so we remained living just east of the embankment. The project started in 1932, but was stopped in 1944 due to the worsened war situation. In 1939, Japanese government issued an ordinance requiring all Koreans living in Japan and the Korean Peninsula to adopt a Japanese-language family name and change everyone’s given name within the half year between February 11 and August 10, 1940. I was uncomfortable with my Korean-style name because I was tired of being called bitter things at school, such as “Korean!” and “Go back to Korea!” So I wanted my parents to change my name into a Japanese-language one. However, my parents didn’t do anything even after the period expired. I asked them the reason many times, but they didn’t say anything. It was said that about 80% of Koreans on the Korean peninsula changed their names while only 14% of Koreans living in Japan did. Wondering why my parents didn’t change our names, I cried and cried asking them to change. Two years later, when I was a sixth grader and about to enter a girls’ high school, my parents finally agreed. My parents chose the Japanese family name, Arai, and my name, Park Nam-joo, was changed into Arai Namiko. I was very very happy. The new name consists of two Chinese characters, “ara (新)” and “i (井).” It is believed that originally the Park clan arose from a well in the ancient Silla Korean kingdom, so the character, “ara (新)” comes from one of two characters used for Silla (新羅); the other character, “i (井)” means a well (井). Many Koreans who originated from the Park clan chose Arai as their Japanese family name. As for my first name, my father gave me Namiko (南子), taking one Chinese character from my Korean name, Nam-joo (南珠). I didn’t like the new name’s characters, so I myself decided the Chinese characters for my name, Namiko (奈美子), by adopting different Chinese characters for “na” and “mi.” Because I liked the Japanese city, Nara, which reminded me of Korean historic cities, I chose the “na (奈)” from Nara (奈良) and “mi (美)” meaning beauty.