Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Japan 1930-1951

by Hiroko Nakamoto as told to Mildred Mastin Pace
Finished January 31, 2010

The only problem with this book is that it left me wanting more. As the book ended, I wanted to know what happened to Hiroko Nakamoto. Of course, the book is called "My Japan 1930-1951." By design, it doesn't tell what happened to Ms. Nakamoto in her adult life.

This memoir tells the story of a little girl growing up in pre-war Japan. Strong traditions dictate how a girl may act and what type of future she'll have. Hikoro's plans for the future begin to change when Japan attacks the United States at Pearl Harbor and World War II begins. Women - even as young as 12 or 13 - begin to work in factories to support the war effort. It's a difficult transition for all, but especially for the young women who, up until then, had been learning how to be good wives, mothers, and homemakers. But even then, the plan was to return to the traditional ways after the gods granted victory to Japan.
Their plans would change forever on August 6, 1945.

It was 8:15 in the morning, and I was on my way to work. I was walking. The night before, as usual, there had been alerts all night. I was groggy from lack of sleep. The all clear had sounded just as I left home. Now all seemed calm and quiet. I did not hear any sounds of airplanes overhead. Suddenly, from nowhere, came a blinding flash. It was as if someone had taken a flashbulb picture a few inches from my eyes. There was no pain then. Only a stinging sensation, as if I had been slapped hard in the face. I tried to open my eyes. But I could not. Then I lost consciousness.

Of course, this was the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. A few days later, another was dropped on Nagasaki.
Witnessing the devastation of the recent natural disasters in New Orleans (hurricane) and Haiti (earthquake) we have some idea of the hopelessness that the destruction of a city can bring. It's a long difficult process to rebuild buildings and lives. How much worse it is to rebuild after the total destruction of an atomic bomb.

In addition to the physical devastation, the Japanese people had to face defeat. It turns out that their emperor was not guaranteed by the gods to be victorious. The American occupational forces arrived and long held, old fashioned traditions began to change. Life for the Japanese was never the same.

Life for Japanese women was certainly very different. The young women that had gone to work during the war realized that there was more for them than being a slave to house and home.
Even for those who would stay home, the primitive ways were not acceptable once they saw such modern conveniences as an American kitchen.
Families were torn apart, houses were destroyed and many people had to live in barracks and dormitories. The traditions of the strong Japanese family began to change as well.

This is Hiroko Nakamoto's story. As such, we don't get a complete picture of the war, the atomic bomb and it's aftermath. But, through Nakamoto's experiences we see what life was like for a young girl.

Any story of Hiroshima would be depressing, but Hiroko Nakamoto was such an inspiring, hopeful person that this book was a pleasure to read.

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