Growing Up in Japan During WWII

Title

Growing Up in Japan During WWII

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Identifier

KomakiR_01_20181106_Clip01

Publication Date

11-6-2018

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Transcript

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

I’ll just start in kind of the ordinary place, and I know you’ve told story a number of times but I hope I’ll ask you some questions that will help you put a new spin on it. Tell me where you were born and when and tell me a little bit about your family.

R. Komaki, MD

Okay. I was born in Amagasaki, A-m-a-g-a-s-a-k-i.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

And if you don’t want to spell everything out, I’ll take a list and then you can correct it later. It just you know, it kind of breaks up your storytelling, so this makes it easier.

R. Komaki, MD

It’s just outside of Osaka, where my father used to work.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

What was your father’s profession?

R. Komaki, MD

He was a banker, but this was after he moved back, we moved back to Hiroshima, where I grew up. My father graduated from Kyoto University, majoring in economy, and he was working at Han Shin in Osaka, it’s (inaudible), the big company, and he was working there. Then, I was born in Amagasaki [City, Hyogo Prefecture], where our house was.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Do you want to share your birthdate?

R. Komaki, MD

September 24, 1943. My parents, they came from Hiroshima, and my [parents and their three daughters] went back [to Hiroshima in 1947].

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Cam you tell me, what was your father’s name?

R. Komaki, MD

My father’s name was Mister Isao Ueda, that was my father’s name.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

And your mom?

R. Komaki, MD

My mother’s name, Yukiko Obata.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Did she work?

R. Komaki, MD

No, she did not work.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

She just raised all the kids.

R. Komaki, MD

No, [not only that]. She was just an incredible haiku maker and a cook, and she was a historian. She memorized all the histories, because my mother’s side was Samurai family and my mother’s grandfather was a secretary of the very famous Mister Takeda, Shingen. The first name [was] Shingen, [his last name was Takeda]. My mother’s grandfather was the teacher of the lord of the [Bizen] area, of the Hiroshima [Okayama] area.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

So this is a very educated family.

R. Komaki, MD

Yes. So, my mother’s father graduated from Tokyo University and he became Minister of Agriculture, and he had asthma and his job was to go all different prefectures to plant cedar trees, so they can prevent mudslides on the mountain. But because of his allergy to cedar trees, his asthma became so bad, that he had to quit [his job]. When he was 55 years old, he retired from that job and he became the secretary of the Lord Mister Asano in Hiroshima Prefecture. My mother, she read all the books in the library at home. [They lived in] a big, huge Samurai [ ] house. She read all the books when she was seven years old. She memorized all the history of Europe, China and Japan, and she remembered all those family trees of the royal family in Europe, and when we took her on a trip to Europe after my father died due to cancer of the bladder when he was 72 years old, my mother explained the whole [European royal] family trees to us. She just had incredible memory. She loved to read all the history of Europe, [China and Japan].

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

How did she influence you?

R. Komaki, MD

She taught me everything. Her passion was [to cook], plant [flowers], and write haiku. She made [almost] 30 different kinds of haiku every day, because when I grew up, it was just after the second war, and during second war, she was not sure my father will be back from the war. He was drafted. She was so concerned [about my father’s death, that] maybe she [would have] to raise all the children by herself. [She] had knowledge about the history, because she had a fear how she could raise the children if my father didn’t come back from the war. So, she decided to get three daughters to become more [more professional women learning] technical aspect, rather than [women who write, although] I liked to write, I loved to read. She pushed me to have something [to do technically], rather than [writing]. My older sister, two years older than me, she became a vet, veterinarian.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

What’s her name?

R. Komaki, MD

Noriko, and her married name is Koike, who lives in Nagoya. I became a physician and my younger sister, Hisako, she became a pharmacist. Her married name is Shintani and she lives in Hiroshima. She never moved from Hiroshima. That’s the [same place where] I grew up, in Hiroshima.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

What about your father, how did your father have an influence on you?

R. Komaki, MD

My father was the youngest among seven children and he was born in a small island in the inland sea, Minoshima. His father had sake brewery company, but when my father was ten years old, his father passed away, so he was—my father was raised by oldest son in the family. But the ship that was carrying all the sake barrels, was hit by a typhoon and the ship sank. Around that time, they did not have any insurance, so his family went bankrupt.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Oh my god.

R. Komaki, MD

So my father had to live with his oldest brother, with his wife, and he was [not welcomed by his oldest brother and sister-in-law]. But he had to live with them to go to junior high school and high school and eventually, while he was growing up with them in that family, they decided to build a small liquor store in Hiroshima, and my father had to deliver sake bottles to neighbors. He got a scholarship to go to Hiroshima University, Education Section, and he majored in education and he taught in a tiny, tiny village near Hiroshima area, saved money for four years and went to Kyoto University, majoring in economy.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

So he was really a self-made man.

R. Komaki, MD

That’s correct. That’s the thing he taught me. If you work very hard then you can get there. My father went to Kyoto University and then he was working in Han Shin, and he met—well, he got married with my mother, who came from samurai family, and according to my mother, always my father’s side family was below her class. In Japan, they still have this cascade; the royal family, samurai family, farmers and merchants, and so he was below her family rank [ ]. I came from my mother’s Samurai family but my father came from merchant, so there was kind of family difference. They never united, my mother’s side and my father’s side, they were not together.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

So it was always a bit of a conflict around that.

R. Komaki, MD

Right. But I learned something from my father, he was such a hard worker. The day after he went to Hiroshima, after the atomic bomb, he was exposed to black rain and exposed to a very high dose of radiation.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

And just for the record, when was the bomb dropped?

R. Komaki, MD

That was August 6, 1945. I was two years old and if we had been in Hiroshima, I wouldn’t be here, that was for sure. But because my parents, they were from Hiroshima, and usually, Japanese people, they don’t move around. But because of his job, we were living just outside of Osaka, which is like two hundred miles away from Hiroshima. [My immediate family] survived from the atomic bomb.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Now, why did your father go back to Hiroshima a couple of days—

R. Komaki, MD

[My father went to Hiroshima City on the following day after the atomic bomb had been dropped] to look for the family members, whoever survived. He had to look for them and to bring them outside, and that’s why he had to go inside of Hiroshima, where my grandmother, my mother’s side, and some of his own family, brothers, they were living in Hiroshima. [ ] In Japan, they always take care of family members, so he had to look for whoever survived. He had to take care of them.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Let me just ask you one question and clarify, because you said your dad was serving in the military during the Second World War?

R. Komaki, MD

Yes.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Okay. So you were living near Osaka and was he in the military service at that time?

R. Komaki, MD

No. He became ill and he was discharged.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Okay. Okay, so that’s how that happened.

R. Komaki, MD

That’s correct.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Okay, so he goes back to Hiroshima to look for family members. Now tell me about what did you hear about his experiences at that time, in the city?

R. Komaki, MD

He never ever really mentioned it. It was just so much disaster. And after, my mother’s mother

--she was in the middle of Hiroshima, very close to epicenter. And at that time, her husband --so my mother’s father, was dead due to asthma. But she was living in a huge, big Samurai [house] there, [where] she had a few maids and three secretaries, who were attending to college from their house, like college students. They were living in their house since the house was so big. The atomic bomb, it caused incredible blow [in the sky], the suction phenomena, [with the result that] the house was collapsed. She was underneath the house, but they dug her out and she survived.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Oh my god.

R. Komaki, MD

She had total body radiation, and her hair fell off and [she developed] nose bleeding and diarrhea. She had acute total body radiation effect but she survived. She was dug out and she was taken outside of Hiroshima, about six months, but she never had any leukemia or cancer. Eventually, she died of osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s, when she was like 72.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

Now you said your father never really spoke much about what he experienced in Hiroshima.

R. Komaki, MD

No, that was not only my father, [but also] my grandmother who was there and my aunt, my mother’s younger sister. They never told [us] how bad their experience [was], and what they saw, because they didn’t want to influence the children against Americans, who dropped the bomb. In Japan, they don’t want to talk about terrible disaster to the children, that will influence their mind, and they don’t want to create the fear. Maybe children, they might start to see nightmares or something [horrible] and they don’t want them to [be hostile toward] America. At school. When I was four years old, my father decided to move back to Hiroshima, to [work for] Hiroshima Bank, so he became a banker. He worked at Hiroshima Bank so many years. [Therefore} we had to move around wherever he became chief of the Hiroshima Bank. I had to move four times when I was in elementary school, with him, but my—yeah.

T.A. Rosolowski, PhD

But he came back to Hiroshima at that point. That’s two years, I mean there was so much devastation.

R. Komaki, MD

Yes.

Growing Up in Japan During WWII

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