5. Confusion Until the End of 1945
Among the people in my neighborhood who had evacuated to the embankment, some were able to build shacks together in a few days at their house sites. I remember that galvanized sheets for roofs were distributed through the neighborhood association, but other materials were collected by picking wood from collapsed buildings. These buildings, which only sheltered us from the wind and rain, were too humble to even be called shacks.
On August 15, the Emperor’s announcement of Japan’s surrender was broadcast, but I heard about it by the neighbors’ rumors. I was happy that we would not have to worry about air raid attacks anymore, but I was half-disappointed because I had believed that Japan had fought the war for justice. Education is a scary thing.
In September, agents appeared, offering to take Korean people back to Korea from Arate, a small fishing port near Kusatsu port in Nishi-ku, Hiroshima. Many Korean people, including most of our relatives, went back to Korea, paying money to the agents. My family decided to stay in Japan to keep looking for my uncle. We thought that even if he had been in the center of Hiroshima at the time of the A-bombing, he might have been blown away from the blast and would be all right. He might have been taken to some aid station and was waiting for us. Since he was the first son of my mother’s family, she said if we went back to her hometown in Korea without finding him, she would not be able to face her parents. In two to three months, though, people who had returned to Korea came back to Japan one after another. When they went back to Korea, they found that they didn’t have the basics of their livelihood or even a place to live there.
On September 17, the Makurazaki Typhoon, one of the biggest typhoons in the Showa era, hit Hiroshima, which had been already devastated by the A-bombing. Hiroshima people had managed to build their own shacks and tried to start life anew, but they lost everything again. Our shack was blown away in an instant. Drenched with rain, we had no choice but to stand in the water mixed with mud and filth for two to three hours as the typhoon passed through.
In October, we started to see GHQ soldiers. Girls were told not to go outside. At first, we were scared, but then we saw some children get chocolate and candy from the soldiers. We thought the soldiers were not so frightening, so we started to go out. When I walked on the street, I saw a GHQ jeep for the first time. A cardboard box was dropped from the jeep, filled with cheese, butter, chocolate, candy, meat cans and coffee. Even today I remember the chocolate and candy were so good. What surprised me was seeing female soldiers in the jeep.
In November when it was getting cooler, people who had been in good physical condition started to die one after another. At first, their hair fell out in bunches, and after one week, they died. People worried about their hair, and I was worried that my turn would be next. I often touched my hair to see whether it was falling out. So many people died that wood for burning bodies ran short. I didn’t know the word, “residual radiation,” at that time, but I clearly remember people saying that no plants would grow for 70 years in Hiroshima. I didn’t know even the word, “atomic bomb” until 1946 when the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission was started.
As sanitary conditions were bad, people were troubled by lice, especially in girls’ hair. At the end of November or in December, GHQ announced that it would conduct aerial spraying of DDT. We put all our futon bedding and clothes on the street and also stood outside to have our whole bodies sprayed. A large amount of white powder was sprayed from an airplane. I remember the white powder was mixed with the airplane’s contrail, making the sky white.
Syphilis was also rampant after the war, too. A lot of girls had to work as prostitutes to support their families or survive by themselves after losing their families. They were called “pan-pan girls,” because when men clapped their hands two times, “pan-pan,” it was the sign of calling the girls. There were some of these girls in my town. The notice from the neighborhood association cautioned that in public baths, we should sit on our underwear not to get infected with syphilis. My physical condition had not been so bad, but at the end of the year, I suddenly fell on the earth floor of my house and remained unconscious for three days. I had diarrhea and soiled myself. Many people died with the same condition as me in my neighborhood, and my family thought I would die soon. On the third day, suddenly I woke up and said, “Give me water,” and after drinking it, I gradually recovered.