Miyo Nishikubo was ten years old when the rumblings of World War II began. Germany had been threatening to align with Japan and Italy. The entire world was on edge.
Miyo’s parents had moved from Japan to make a better life for their family. Miyo was born in Los Angeles, and therefore a U.S. citizen. But as talk of war began, Miyo’s parents became worried and wondered if their family wasn’t safer back in Japan. They reached out to relatives back in Hiroshima.Their primary concern was the safety of their family, and her parents debated returning, but they couldn't decide one way or the other. The war began in earnest in Europe, with Japan on the side of the Germans and Italians.
December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor was attacked. Suddenly the war was on American soil, and the west coast was feeling extremely vulnerable.
Immediately all Japanese living in the Los Angeles area where Miyo lived were suspect. “Slanty-eyes,” “Japs,” and “yellows” were derogatory terms that were hurled at anyone with Asian facial features. Suddenly a stranger in her own land, even as a child Miyo felt hatred although she didn’t understand it.
The family left the USA just before thousands of people of Japanese descent were herded into barbed-wire internment camps. In Japan, Miyo’s parents settled in and sent Miyo to school. The war was raging full force: America, Miyo’s homeland, vs. Japan, the land of her ancestors.
Watch Miyo's video talking about her experiences in Hiroshima here.
In Japan Miyo discovered that her Japanese peers hated her too. Miyo was again hated simply for who she was - in the United States for having Japanese ancestry; in Hiroshima the mere fact that she was associated with anything American was enough to earn derision, intolerance, cruelty, and outright discrimination.
Miyo was harassed at school. All the students wanted to do was learn, but the bombings and air raids on the city made survival preparation the foremost concern. Rationing, which had already started in 1940 because of the American embargo, got worse. Many shops went under as they had nothing to sell. Young children scavenged for anything they could. Families donated what they could to help the war effort. Cars didn’t move from driveways as gasoline became scarce.
The government preached intolerance for anything “American,” including anyone who had lived there or worse, was born there. Like Miyo.
After the Battle of Midway, six months into the war, schools removed English from the syllabus, and replaced it with military training. Late that year, American B-29s began regular bombing raids. Although Hiroshima was a large city, it had little military value and was not fire-bombed, but the nearby naval base was attacked several times.
They cut fire breaks through the town, destroying everything on every other city block. Once bulldozed, the house and building remains were removed by working crews of school children. The fire breaks would mean nothing when a single bomb fell less than a month later.
On the morning of August 6, Miyo was happy to discover that she didn’t have to go to school that day - "school" again meant working to clear the rubble. When the bomb hit, she was at home, otherwise she would have been vaporized along with thousands of others. Their home sat in a valley, dipping down by the sloping land on either side, which helped shield the family. The bomb blast was bigger than anything they’d been hearing during the bombing raids thus far. No one knew what had happened. A huge, multi-colored cloud was rising over Hiroshima, and some thought that a volcano had erupted. Others thought there had been an earthquake. The family spent the rest of the day in baffled ignorance - until the people from the city started trickling back. Later these people were named the “hibakusha" - the atomic people.
Many were burned beyond recognition. Their skin was peeling off. Many of them died that day, 40,000 people are thought to have died instantly, and over 180,000 eventually died. Others were blinded. And many, many more died in the following days from radiation poisoning - especially since they didn’t even know what that was at that time.
Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, and six days later Japan surrendered. The surrender caught the survivors of Hiroshima by surprise; even as thousands of seemingly uninjured men and women were dying of radiation poisoning, the city braced itself for attack from the Americans.
Peace was declared, but so much of the small island was destroyed that the few remaining doctors, and their limited medical supply could not do much. There was no food, and the wounded continued to die. In September 17, a typhoon smashed the fragile shelters the townspeople erected. American occupation forces eventually arrived and brought supplies.
After the war, Miyo couldn't forgive her fellow Japanese for the intolerance they showed her when she moved back, and soon afterwards her family moved back to the United States, where they settled peacefully and Miyo had a good life.
Thank you Miyo, for sharing your Story with us.
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