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Yoko’s Diary – ed. Paul Ham

January 23, 2016

YDThis will be more interesting for adults than for most children. Despite this, several teachers have produced notes for its use in literacy lessons.

Yoko Moriwaki was aged 12 and lived in Japan, not far from the southern Japanese city of Hiroshima. Yoko and her family lived on the lovely mountainous island of Miyajima, home to one of the most beautiful religious shrines in Japan. They shared a small house made of traditional Japanese paper. Her parents were teachers.

Until 1941, when the war broke out, her life was fairly typical of most Japanese girls. She went to school, learned the piano, was cared for by her family, she performed her ceremonial duties. She was taught to believe in a religion called Shinto, the ancient Japanese faith. At the heart of Shinto in the mid-twentieth century was a belief in, and worship of, the Emperor as a living god.

When the war came, Yoko’s life changed completely. Slowly the towns began to lose their young men. In 1944 Yoko’s father was called up. As Japan began to lose the war, food started running out, and by 1945 even rice, the Japanese staple diet, grew scarce. She and her family ate sweet potatoes and berries and anything they could find in the forests.

Japanese girls loved their sailor-suit uniforms, but due to wartime austerity, junior students had to go without them. In some places the authorities believed the white uniforms made children visible to enemy planes, and banned them. Instead girls had to make their own uniforms.

Yoko’s mother found an old kimono, took it apart and sewed it into a small dress for Yoko.

As the war worsened and Yoko and her classmates were mobilised to work as labourers, she was compelled to wear the drab grey trousers and shirt called monpe.

Towards the end of the war, Yoko worked as a student labourer on one of the house demolition sites. She was one of about 7500 student workers in Hiroshima aged between twelve and eighteen. One of her jobs was to clear debris from demolished homes to create firebreaks and thus prevent fires from spreading after a bombing attack.

On the night of 5 August, Yoko prepared for another day as a mobilised student worker: ‘From tomorrow morning we are joining the home demolition groups. I am going to do my best,’ she wrote.

The next morning she got up early, travelled to the city, reached the demolition site, took off her dress, and put on her monpe. At 8.15am a plane flew overhead. A large object fell out. It was the first atomic bomb ever to be dropped on human life. Suddenly there was a great flash and the temperature shot up to many times that of the surface of the sun. Then a tremendous shockwave convulsed the city and blew apart most of the buildings. Anyone standing within a 2-kilometre radius of the blast was horribly burned or struck by flying debris. Yoko stood 700 metres away, in the open air, without any protection. Her little body was blown into the air and dreadfully burned. She began crawling on her hands and knees to a place of safety. An army truck picked her up and drove her out of the city centre. A volunteer housewife found her near lifeless body in a village school that was doubling as a relief centre near Hiroshima, and tried to ease her agony but she died that evening.

One of the delightfully personal aspects of Yoko’s diary is the little notes at the head of each section recording when she got up, went to bed, how long she studied for and what chores she did. This reveals a personality which was very ordered and disciplined. It also gives readers an insight into how life was lived by children such as Yoko at that time and in that place.

People wondered why so many planes flew over Hiroshima without bombing it – little did they know that they were reconnaissance flights for what was to come. Their city was so free of bomb damage that the effects of the atomic bomb were more spectacularly showcased. Before other cities were firebombed, American planes often dropped leaflets warning people to evacuate.

The curriculum included ‘National Moral Education’, ‘Home Management’ which taught girls how to be good home-makers and ‘National Literature’ which involved learning patriotic texts.

She did one hour’s homework every day, was up at 5 am and didn’t go to bed until 10pm most days.

She was annoyed when air raids meant that school was cancelled – a very different attitude to education that today’s. As someone who believed in the state’s propaganda and thought she could make a difference, at the end of the day someone describes her as ‘a feather in a hurricane’.

People in Nagasaki thought they weren’t going to be bombed because of their large Christian community. America didn’t seem to care about that. Had the weather been different, however, it could have been Kyoto or Kokura instead.

I had to book up Contrail = clouds formed when water vapour condenses and freezes around small particles (aerosols) that exist in aircraft exhaust. Some of that water vapour comes from the air around the plane; and, some is added by the exhaust of the aircraft. The exhaust of an aircraft contains both gas (vapour) and solid particles.

The book is beautifully produced and nice to handle. I felt very emotional reading it.

 Quotations:

‘The 1945 school entrance ceremony was held today. At last! I am now one of those girls I have long admired — a Kenjo student. I am going to be mindful of how I lead my daily life and work really hard so that I won’t shame myself as a Japanese schoolgirl.’

‘I saw one of those blasted B-29s for the first time today. It circled Hiroshima, trailing a long, beautiful contrail and then flew away.’

(There was no time for classes; students were required to help in the war effort. I can almost see Yoko, gritting her teeth while labouring, trying to do her best, berating herself for feeling tired and comparing her situation) `to what our soldiers are going through …’ and `to Father fighting in the war …’

(and to the fierce battle) ‘being waged in Okinawa. I mustn’t be outdone by the British and American schoolgirls …’

‘I went to Hara Village to help with farm work,’ (round trip 16 kilometres)

‘We marched to Yagi Training Hall to put valuables belonging to the school in safe storage. On the way there, I simply wanted to throw them away! I did my best though,’ (round trip 25 kilometres).

‘Today, the Year 10 students were sent to the manufacturing battlefront. We will hold the fort while they are gone,’ and ‘We Year 7 students stood at the school gate and clapped as they left. I nearly started crying.’

‘because only the Year 7 students are left now, the playground seems strangely bigger than before.’

‘I tied up my hair for the first time today.’

‘On the way home, the wind blew my hat into the sea. It is just too bad!’ I

‘I made dolls out of wool.’

‘I feel sorry for my classmate Hamada­san, whose father has died. I am going to comfort her.’

`Today, a girl called Asako Fujita, who survived a major air raid on Osaka, joined our school. I am going to be her friend.’

`God, please protect my brother Kohji.’

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