Yukiko Nishino Porter

Introduction

By Denyce Porter Peyton

The following text was written by my daughter, Abeni, for a freshman Cultural course assignment on Suffering and Survival in April 2000. The basis of her story is my mother's life during World War II in Japan. My mother, Yukiko Nishino Porter is a Hawaiian born Japanese who married an African American Army officer after the war. She has endured many hardships; from the separation from her father in the late 1930's, her experience in Japan during the war, the subsequent challenges of an interracial marriage in the pre-Civil Rights era in the U.S., and finally raising bi-racial children.

Through it all, she has remained strong and focused on maintaining a close-knit family, whose members can always depend on one another for support. She has instilled a strong sense of spirit in her children and grandchildren. She and my father's strong sense of family has not only been emphasized to my brother and myself, but also to their four grandchildren. They have established a strong family legacy, from the strength of their ancestors and more importantly, their own teachings and examples in life. It is because of her example, and that of my father, that I began researching our family's history. After our father's death in 1985, my mother continues to hold fast to her belief in family and encouraging us to be confident, strong individuals. I think Abeni's essay displays the great impact that my mother has had, and continues to have on her family.


By Abeni Rei Peyton

Yukiko Nishino PorterMy grandmother told me her story of war times when the everyday luxuries that most people consumed such as complete meals and the full use of electricity were absent from her life, and when her family was in constant fear from the anticipation of the next bombings.

My grandmother was in the ninth grade when the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, on December 7th of 1941 occurred, which resulted in the entrance of the United States and Japan into World War II, and to the subsequent U.S. bombings of Japan. My grandmother recalled being in school when the announcement declaring the bombings of Pearl Harbor, was made over the speaker system. She remembered that week being the week of their finals. On that early afternoon, my grandmother and her classmates had finished their exams for the day, and were doing their daily cleaning of the classroom when the announcement came on. All of her classmates cheered upon hearing the news. My grandmother did not. She was born in Hawaii, and her father was living there at the present time. The onset of the war for Japan and the United States meant she would not be able to return to Hawaii for awhile. Her studies were also interrupted for the second time.

Mandatory newscasts required all residents to build shelters for times of danger. My grandmother's family built a shelter padded with straw and other debris. It was very small, only allowing enough room to crawl in, and then squat once inside. Inside the shelter they could store only non-perishable foods such as beans, water, and canned foods.

Kobe and Osaka were two cities on a bombing path targeted by the United States army. The United States' bombers would travel past my grandmother's city in order to bomb Kobe and Osaka. Wakayama, the city of Japan in which my grandmother lived, was a forty-five minute train-ride west of Osaka, and a thirty-minute train-ride to Kobe. The United States' planes never dropped bombs on Wakayama because it was not on the same direct route as Kobe and Osaka. My grandmother explained that she could see an orange glow from over the hills of her village, from where Osaka and Kobe were being bombed.

B-29 bombers would come out at night so as not to be seen while dropping the bombs. Every night, between eight-thirty and nine o'clock, Kobe, Osaka, and other cities would be hit. The bombings would last between two or three hours.

Before the arrival of the bombers every evening, the Japanese households were to turn off all of their lights. This was to prevent the houses from being seen at night, in order to avoid being bombed. They were to also place black curtains or paper in the windows to keep the light from escaping outside. People were even advised not to smoke cigarettes because that light, too, might be seen from the air. Because of this, my grandmother and her two sisters had to hurry through their dinner before the lights were turned off. Kerosene lamps and candles provided their light.

The worst bombings of the war, occurring in this region, were in the July of 1945, near the end of the war. "This was the heaviest bombardment," my grandmother explained. At this time, Kobe, Osaka, and the eastern part of Wakayama were destroyed. On one particular night in July, the number of bombers sent to Kobe and Osaka had doubled; they were now sent with the intention to destroy these cities. After this was accomplished, the bombers returned along the route unloading their leftover bombs. Eastern Wakayama was also badly damaged.

On that night in July, the Japanese capitol, city hall, and my grandmother's high school were bombed. However, no students were hurt because the schools were already closed.

My grandmother's grandmother lived in a house with her aunt and cousin, just twenty miles away from her. On this night, their house was bombed, and they stood in their pond, waist-high in water, watching, as their house burned. When I was younger, my cousin's house caught on fire while I was spending the night, and I remember the helpless feeling it gave me. I can imagine how horrible it must have felt to lose your house to a fire in the midst of a war.

In another incident, my grandmother and her family stood outside on the same night guarding their house. Hedges surrounded their house, and they feared they would catch on fire and spread to the house. My grandmother, at one point, sensed the on-coming danger of an approaching bomb, and pushed her sister into the hedges. Her sister told my grandmother that she had saved her life. My grandmother, however, does not remember pushing her sister. My grandmother's sister later told her that she believed she would have died that night, not from the bomb, but from my grandmother pushing her into the hedges.

When my grandmother visited the affected areas after the bombings, she saw the destruction of those cities. The telephone lines had collapsed and houses were destroyed from the fires.

A typical day for my grandmother during the war was to get up in the morning and put on her clothes, which included her monpe pants. These pants were especially for women during the war because women usually wore skirts or kimonos. In case of bombings, these pants allowed women to run easier than wearing skirts or kimonos.

Sometimes for breakfast my grandmother had nothing to eat before leaving the house. Instead of high school, she and her peers were sent to do office work in a steel mill turned-defense plant. This was mandatory for all high school and college students that were not drafted into the war. Students from all over Japan worked at the defense plant. My grandmother mentioned how she would often work with prisoners of war. She felt sorry for them, but she was not allowed to express her compassion because they were enemies of Japan. My grandmother worked at this defense plant her junior and senior years of high school. When traveling everyday to and from the defense plant, she and her peers would hope that they would not be bombed while riding the trains.

For lunch my grandmother would eat a hard roll, and maybe drink a cup of hot tea. She hoped each day that her family would have some dinner when she returned from the defense plant. If they did, it was usually sweet potatoes or wheat. My grandmother and her family would have to hurry through dinner and turn off all of the lights. Because there was not much light, besides the candles and kerosene lamps, there was little they could do in the evenings. In order to amuse themselves, and to get through the night, they would go to bed and pretend they were sleeping, and make silly noises. My grandmother and her peers did not have a social life. She described each day as a "dull, dull day."

My grandmother's biggest concern during the war was when she would be able to return to Hawaii. She was born in Hawaii, but when she and her sisters were born, their parents registered them as Japanese citizens. Because of their dual-citizenship, Japan was not able to take away my grandmother's American citizenship during the war. She and her sisters were American citizens, and so the Japanese government could not do anything to them. After the war was over, my grandmother heard that the Japanese secret service had been watching their house because they thought they were spies. My grandmother and her family were afraid to remain in Japan.

It was difficult for my grandmother's family to be American citizens in Japan during the war. It was difficult for my grandmother because she remembered her better life in Hawaii. The Japanese community knew my grandmother's family was Hawaiian. When her family first moved to Japan, about two years before the war began, my grandmother described their family as being a "novelty" to the Japanese community. They were interested to see a Hawaiian family in Japan. However, once the war began, the Japanese community was not quite as friendly. Parents told their children not to talk to my grandmother's family because they thought they were spies. My grandmother's family was very isolated from the rest of the Japanese community during the war.

Yukiko

My grandmother has realized that suffering comes in many different forms, whether it is beyond one's control, or self-inflicted. However, the one common thing among all forms of suffering is that with it always comes a decision that needs to be made: a decision of action or inaction, positive or negative thinking, giving up or to keep moving. When suffering, my grandmother believes there are decisions that need to be made that could either result in continued suffering, or survival and overcoming the situation. One must make a decision to be strong, to have determination, and to overcome the suffering.

Without me having to ask her, my grandmother explained that she believes the opposite of suffering, is survival. She believes that people have the choice to determine their future. You do not have to continue suffering. Or if you cannot stop the suffering, you can change how you think about, or react to it. The choice she made was to survive this war, the bombings, and to later strive toward a life free of restrictions.


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