Life in Japan, Part 2

Here’s more from EW Correspondent Masaru Matsumoto and a continuation of my August 16 blog post.


Marking the Five Months Passing and the 66th Anniversary
Japan marked this day, August 15, 2011, its 66th anniversary of the end of World War II (WWII), in memory of the roughly 3.1 million people who perished in the war. At the same moment, Japan also marked the five months passing since the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011, to comfort the spirits of over 20,000 people who died and were still missing in the disaster-stricken areas.

A government-sponsored memorial service was held at the Nippon Budoukan attended by about 7,200 persons. About 60 % of those participants this year were in their 70s or older. Among them, about 140 people attended the ceremony from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were hit hardest by the March Earthquake. Prime Minister Naoto Kan delivered a speech at the ceremony. He said that Japan was able to rise from the post-war devastation and overcome many hardships; Japan must also draw on the said experience to revive areas hit by the March 11 disaster and the entire nation. At noon, the participants offered a one-minute silent prayer for the dead. Emperor Akihito said he sincerely hopes that the horror of war will never be repeated. He paid tribute to the war-dead and said he prays for world peace and Japan’s prosperity.

August : The Special and Unforgettable Month for Japanese

Obon Festival

Since old times, the month of August is special significance for Japanese because we hold memorial service, the so-called Obon festival for the spirits of ancestors and the dead during August 11-16 every year. This is a Buddhist event. Because the spirits of the dead are said to return at this time, fires are lit at the entrance to homes so the spirits do not lose their way, and, in addition, lanterns are lit inside homes. When Obon is over, the spirits are sent on their way. This is called the escorting of the spirits, and fires to send them on their way are lit at entrances of homes, and offerings are floated on rivers and the ocean. Many people receive company holidays or paid leave during the Obon period and go back to their hometowns.

In the Tsunami-Hit Towns

Japan’s Obon period in mid August is traditionally when the souls of the departed are honored. People from tsunami-hit areas in Iwate Prefecture are observing the Buddhist Bon festival with events for the victims of the March 11 disaster. In Ofunato City on August 15, a group of 12 students from elementary, junior and senior high schools visited “temporary housing districts” to perform a folk dance in memory of the victims. In Tanohata Village, a coming-of-age ceremony or Adult Day Celebration, which usually takes place in village, town, and city in the mid of January, was held for 20-year-olds, many of whom had returned home from other prefectures for the Bon holiday. After participants observed a moment of silence in memory of the disaster victims, the village mayor said he hoped the young people would work hard to assist local recovery. A representative of the new adults thanked the village for holding the ceremony at a time when it is still reeling from the disaster. He pledged that he and the others would do their utmost to contribute to the region.

People from regions hit by the March 11 disaster also attended the ceremony in Tokyo commemorating the end of WWII. Kimio Suzuki, from Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, was one of them. He lost his home to the tsunami and has moved with his wife to a temporary house in the city. Suzuki’s father died in WWII in 1944 on Tinian, one of the Northern Mariana Islands, but his body was never found. All that remains for Suzuki to remember him by is a single photo. Suzuki says he believes Japan can recover from the March 11 disaster just as it rose from the ashes of the war. He adds that he has renewed his determination to help rebuild the disaster zone after taking part in the ceremony.

Anniversary of Japan’s Surrender in WWII

On August 6, 1945, a uranium-gun-type device codenamed “Little Boy” was detonated over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Just three days after, on August 9, a plutonium implosion-type device codenamed “Fat Man” was exploded over the city of Nagasaki, Japan. These two bombings resulted in the deaths of more that 400,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, caused by the radiated heat and acute dose from the explosions. The memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki contain lists of the hibakusha known to have died since the bombings. Updated annually on the anniversaries of the bombings, as of August, the memorials record the names of more than 430,000 hibakusha — 275,230 in Hiroshima and 155,546 in Nagasaki. As commonly known in the U.S., the dropping of these nuclear weapons was the coup de grace that ended the war.

A little after noon in Japan Standard Time on August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito’s announcement of Japan’s acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration was broadcast to the Japanese people over the radio. This day is now called shusen kinenbi, or “the anniversary day of the end of the war,” and observances for the war dead are held in every area of the country. As the emperor announcement this year, it is also a day to renew the determination to convey the memories of the wretched war to posterity and not to repeat a war again. In this way, the month of August has become significant twice over significance for Japanese.

My Family in the Meantime
I was born in 1942 in the northern part of China, in what was then called Manchuria, a puppet state. My family and I were in a detention camp and were patiently waiting for returning to Japan. At that time, I was three-and-a-half years old. During the escaping journey, my two younger sisters died of malnutrition and dysentery in quick succession in the camp. My father, mother, elder sister and I finally landed on Maizuru port, Kyoto Prefecture in the end of July, 1946.

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