Bridge to Forgiveness
Chapter Three: Judgment Day
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A NEW morning, August 6, 1945, broke through bright and clear, ending the long night of air raid sirens and fear. A brilliant sun climbed the Hijiyama Mountains above Hiroshima with its 420,000 permanent citizens and 40,000 military personnel. The city awoke from its fitful sleep, thankful that no bombs had fallen during the night. Once again, Hiroshima had been spared the ruinous carpet-bombing of Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagoya, and Osaka. Once again, Hiroshima was testu no nabe, an invincible cast iron cauldron.
This morning the city returned to normal wartime activities. A volunteer Army Corps had been organizing and mobilizing students of middle schools and girls’ schools in the work of defending the city. The rumbling from the demolition of buildings and the widening of streets for “fire-breaks” was shaking the shoji screens in my home. The activity was one of many Army Corps Evacuation projects that had become a daily experience for quite some time, a final full-scale preparation for an inevitable invasion of the land by the enemy. Hiroshima would become the decisive battlefield. Buses and military trucks were already evacuating school children to prescribed destinations in villages outside the city.
As soldiers marched past my window, while people on the street cheered them, I lolled in bed, searching the corners of the ceiling for a sign of the great white crane or its soul mate, the white butterfly. The vivid dream pulsed through my mind.
My Mother, as usual, had been up since 5:00 a.m., preparing our breakfast. I wondered if she had slept at all the previous night. My Father religiously rose at 6:00 a.m.. He and I usually spent a few minutes just being together in the morning, before he went to work.
In recent days my Father had repeated the lessons of the Samurai Code with increasing intensity. It was now becoming obvious that his reason for this special time with me was to instill the ethics of the Code deep within me.
He had taught me the greatest victory is victory not over others, but over your own weakness. Giving out of abundance is not really true giving. True giving is when you freely give what you really need for yourself. Always make sure you give with your heart. Just because no one is around to witness your decision doesn’t mean you are free to make wrong or selfish decisions. Always be true to yourself and honor yourself. Don’t judge others. Always tell the truth regardless of the consequences. Don’t idle your hands. Don’t waste the time of others. Once time is spent it is forever gone. The greatest quality you possess is dependability, so people can always count on you. Once you make a promise, keep it regardless of the cost.
On this morning my door slid open and Father came in. He leaned over me, gently cupping my shoulder. Something was afoot. In the morning's bright light I noticed worry lines on my Father’s dark brown forehead. His voice was composed but his hand shook as he closed the shoji screen.
“Oto-chan. Father.” I was worried about him. I wanted to ask what was going on, but the words stuck in my throat. Neither did he have any words for me.
We shared a moment of powerful unspoken communication. He gently and firmly grasped my shoulders in a gesture of reassurance. I felt his strength flow into me, becoming one with me. I had rarely felt such intense intimacy with him, although we were very close. I understood just then, more than ever before, what it meant to my Father that I was his Number One Son.
Japanese people believe in a special insect called a mushi which reveals in secrecy a message of a catastrophe about to happen. I wondered whether my Father had been talking to a mushi. He asked me to sit with him and look into his eyes. I sensed a great urgency. He spoke with the same great deliberation as when he had repeated teachings on our walks by the river. It was as if he thought this was his last opportunity to instill the Samurai principles to the honorable son of Tanemori.
He told me, “Takashi, always remember to sacrifice your own immediate needs for a higher moral purpose. Always observe reverence for life. And never forget to live for the benefit of others. These are the pillars of the Samurai Code. Takashi, listen carefully. I will say once more …”
Suddenly our talk was cut short as the sky erupted with shrill sirens warning of enemy aircraft approaching. At 7:09 a.m., on August 6, 1945 the radio blared the frantic announcement: “Enemy planes, B-29’s, are in the skies northwest of Hiroshima, approaching sharply to the heart of the City.”
Above us in the blue sky, the wings of three B-29s glittered in the sunlight as they flew in formation over Hiroshima City. The enemy planes no longer were shrouded by the darkness of night, but boldly approached in the brightness of day while Hiroshima’s citizens were still recovering from the air raid less than five hours before.
“Three large enemy planes are proceeding westward over Saijo area …” frantically came the voice of Mr. Masanobu Furuta, the radio announcer on duty at Hiroshima Castle’s headquarters.
The screams of the sirens brought the city to a screeching halt. Our clock ticked in the silence as time seemed to stretch. For me, this was the first ever daylight air raid. We heard our running neighbors’ footsteps as they rushed from their houses toward nearby bomb shelters. My Father hesitated before making his decision to stay in the house with the family. He called everyone into his room. My Mother, unexpectedly, showed her strength by supporting my Father’s decision. We sat, holding our breath by our tiny radio, waiting for the next official announcement.
At 7:31 a.m., the announcer confidently delivered good news from Military Headquarters, “No enemy plane is in sight!” He repeated with a strong voice, “No enemy plane is in sight. It is all clear.”
The radio said the B-sans, B-29’s, had gone away. The “All Clear” was announced to great sighs of relief, loud applause and shouts of Banzai from all quarters of the city, like the ringing-in of a New Year! The clock started ticking again. Activity resumed as on any other day.
On the street, I watched my Father calmly greet neighbors emerging from the bomb shelter. I heard the voices of my neighborhood buddies, Taro, Katsutoshi and Kazuko, who had all played war games together, chattering excitedly about the events of the previous night.
“Were you scared when B-san showed its face this morning?”
Kazu fearlessly replied to Taro, “No! Why should I be afraid? Weren’t they chased away by Japanese soldiers last night?”
“Yeah! But, you are acting like a little borrowed kitten, afraid of the big, monster American soldiers!”
“See, what did I tell you, Kazu. I just knew that B-sans were scared of Japanese soldiers. And they may have seen my Father’s face. Ha, ha, ha! I bet they were scared like a little kitten.”
“I am ready to fight. See. I have a bamboo spear. I am going to charge all Americans. It will be just like spearing fish.”
“Futari to mo Eikagen ni shinasai yo,” Taro’s mother turned to Kazuo. “You two stop nonsense talk. Instead of babbling, you need to return home and get ready for school.”
She turned to Kazu and Masumi. “There is nothing to take lightly about the war. Your soldiers are fighting and dying to protect us. Your war games on the streets are no comparison to the realities of war. Instead of silly babbling, get ready to go to school.”
I reflected about my Father, caught on the horn of his personal dilemma. He had an allegiance to the Emperor and he also had an allegiance to follow his truth and his heart. There were men from my neighborhood who were fighting in the thickest battlefields on islands in the Pacific Ocean. Many of their ashes had already been returned home in pine boxes.
At that moment, I felt shame for my Father, who had chosen not to be a soldier like Taro’s father. I had to reassure myself that my Father was an honorable Japanese man even though he was not a soldier. He was, nonetheless, working for the Japanese Imperial Government. What was wrong with that? I had never heard him blaming any government or military leaders for this bloody war and the fate of Japan, which was in the hands of the same Japanese leaders who had made the decision to enter the war four years earlier. I should feel proud of my Father!
Taro arrived at our back door so that we could go to school together. I grabbed my randoseru, my official Japanese school backpack, and prepared to leave for school. Suddenly, a soft whimpering drew my attention toward a dark corner of our front room.
“Mommy?” I asked. As I moved closer, the darkness lifted to reveal my Mother gently rocking my baby sister Sayoko and quietly sobbing to herself. I instinctively extended my hand to touch her shoulder gently.
She looked at me with urgency in her eyes and asked me to stay with her a little longer. I walked to the door and told Taro that I would see him later, then returned to my Mother.
Just as my Father had, my Mother approached me with an inexplicable urgency in her voice. Her eyes were so transparent, I saw myself mirrored in them. Her unease was so clear, I took her hands in mine.
“Why are you crying, Mother?”
She seemed distant and withdrawn, but was finally able to speak in a soft, quivering voice as she composed herself, “Chichi oya no oshie o kesshite wasure naide kudasai. Soshite Anata wa Tanemori no Chonan de arukagiri Samurai no chi o tsuide imasu. Sono koto mo wasure naide isshokenmei ganbatte ikite itte kudasai ne. Always remember what your Father has taught you and never forget that you are the Number One Son, heir to a Samurai family. You have a duty to live victoriously as a Son of Tanemori.”
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Why are you talking like this all of a sudden? It doesn’t make sense to me! Was anything happening this morning before I woke up?”
Then I squeezed my Mother’s shoulder reassuringly and said, “It’s okay, Mother, the B-sans will not come today.”
“You are the Number One Son of Tanemori!” exclaimed my Mother. “Do not forget, you have a duty to live victoriously as a son of Tanemori.”
“I understand, Mother.” I said in a quiet voice. “Oka-a-san, Nani mo shinpai shinaide kudasai. Takashi wa chonan dakara ne. Sayoko wa boku ga chanto mamotte yarimasu.” There is no need to worry. I am the Number One Son and I will protect my baby sister, Sayoko.”
I reassured her that I would uphold the teachings of my Father.
She quickly turned away from me, perhaps to hide her tears.
“So ne. Oka-a-san wa nanimo shinpai shinai demo yokkata no ne. Takashi wa chanto wakatte kurete imasu ne? I shouldn’t worry about you. You understand, I know. I don’t need to remind you again, do I?”
She motioned me to go as she tried unsuccessfully to hold back a river of tears. “How silly I am,” she said, wiping her tear-drenched face.
That was the first time I ever saw my Mother cry. Seeing so many tears was very unsettling for me. I had never seen her acting so strangely.
Through the open shoji screen of my Father’s room, I could see my younger brother, Sadayoshi, sitting on my Father’s lap. My older sister, Masuyo, was in the kitchen, finishing up dirty dishes before getting ready for school. No one had noticed the exchange between Mother and me.
“Sah, hayaku, hayaku! Hurry, hurry!” She tried to shoo me out the door.
I gathered up my randoseru and shouted, “I am going now!” then, to reassure her, “Oka-a-san, B-sans will not come back any more.”
I watched military trucks, tanks, and the march of soldiers on the main street, only fifty yards from our house. Filled with excitement, I waved vigorously to the soldiers, giving them a big smile. I smiled because the sounds of marching assured me that B-sans would not attack the invincible city of Hiroshima. “Heitai-san, Arigato! Thank you soldiers!”
By the time I reached the Tenma Gawa River I had turned to reflect sadly on my Mother’s flood of tears. The Tenma Gawa was one of seven rivers snaking through the city, and it ran right behind the school. I contemplated the footprints of sparrows or seagulls that marked the smooth, sandy beach left by the outgoing tide. I took a deep breath of fresh morning air mingled with the sea breeze saltiness, savoring the sensation.
© 2008 Takashi Tanemori with John Crump