Aikido Kobayashi Dojo

Aikido, My Way.

Part 2 End of the war and the Black Market

What changed our prosperity was the war. The country went to a wartime economy during the conflict with the United States, and it was no longer possible to freely buy and sell rice. Rice stores suddenly lost their independence and their own management. I remember the war even today, especially the bombing of Tokyo. In 1944, firebombs fell like rain from the American bombers. The elementary school I went to was reduced to ashes. I watched from the air raid shelter, looking up, the bombs were like beautiful fireworks that lit up the night sky. Our school was totally destroyed. My brother and I were evacuated with our school group to Fuji Yoshida in Yamanashi Prefecture. I suffered malnutrition there. Children evacuated to the Tohoku region up north were able to eat rice, but it was difficult to raise rice in this area of Yamanashi Prefecture, so 80% of our diet was soybean meal. We were hungry everyday, so to endure the hunger we squeezed bitter persimmon juice into our mouths and lived on raw corn maize. If you eat raw corn maize, you get violent diarrhea. Even this was better than starving and so we endured it. I also strangely recall my father handing me a page from a phonebook instead of a tissue because my nose was running.

The parents of children who were evacuated would come to visit from time to time. Then, if a child had grown particularly weak from malnutrition, the parents would take the child home with them. Because my brother had grown weaker, my father came to check it out and took him back to Tokyo. I seemed to be naturally strong so I remained there.

There was a school attached to the local temple, but we didn’t have classes as such; we spent the time helping plant vegetables and playing. The B-29s came flying across the shadows on Mt. Fuji every evening and would split formations with some planes flying left, others right. In one direction they were heading towards Tokyo, the other towards Osaka. Every night the sky in the direction of Tokyo would glow red. And so like this, August 15, 1945 finally arrived. In the blazing heat we children were lined up to listen to the broadcast of the Emperor’s voice on the radio. It was true for all the other children, too, but I couldn’t understand at all what he was saying. I remember all the adults and the teachers were crying. The war and our evacuation had come to an end.

The parents of the children who were evacuated came one after the other to take their children home and I was so envious of my friends who were going home with their parents. Alone I waited wondering "won’t my mom and dad come soon?" but the only parents that appeared were the other children’s parents. My teacher suggested writing a letter, but I didn’t know the address of their evacuation center. Finally only two other children and myself were left. The other two children’s parents had died in the bombings so had no one to come for them. Then, two months after the war had ended, my mother and sister came to fetch me. I vividly remember my sister wearing a red skirt. Just after the war’s end, they had become quite busy and had to put off coming to get me. Because of a food shortage in Tokyo, there was a limit on migration, so we couldn’t live together as a family. We went to my mother’s home in Sano City, Tochigi Prefecture where my mother’s family ran a warehouse business. At this time I was undernourished, so I could only sit around and not move much. My eyes were glazed over and I hardly had any energy to raise my voice. My complexion was extremely bad and my mother was very worried about me and took me to the doctor, who diagnosed me as malnutritioned. The evacuation center in Yamanashi Prefecture simply wasn’t able to feed us well and so I had declined in health. This was not only because there was not enough food. Anyway, I had my mother’s cooking everyday and I gradually grew better and I began to attend elementary school again in Sano City.

Rice was rationed after the war so my father couldn’t continue operating the rice store. My mother’s family had a large variety of goods stored and my father took these over to open a variety store. There were all kinds of goods people used in daily life. My father had my older brother mind the store and while he was working, he would study his school texts. This was an era where books and other things were scarce, so needless to say he became the top student. Like this my father and older brother thrived.

My family returned to Kudan after a year and a half when I was a fifth grader in elementary school. In this postwar period, things were still hard to come by. My parents were trying to raise five children and with the experience of running a rice store in the old days; we began to deal in black market rice. I went with my father to buy and sell this rice. Why did he take me, a young kid, with him to deal with black market rice? It was because he worried about the police seizing the rice. If he was caught in the act of dealing in black market rice, he would be fined and the rice taken, so my father thought that if he came to get rice with his child he wouldn’t be suspect. There were so many unforgettable times like when he got black market rice and I was along but the police spotted us. The policeman’s eyes fell on me because I was holding the rice. "Whose child is this?" he asked, looking around. My father was standing right next to me and I looked just like him, so I suppose the policeman could guess who was my father, but my father said, "I don’t know this kid." I imagine that my father thought the policeman wouldn’t go so far as to arrest a child, but to me it wasn’t a joke, it was very shocking. My father, whom I loved more than anyone, saying he didn’t know me hurt me so much and even though I’ve passed my Kanreki (61st birthday), I still have a small ache inside from that memory.

There were also times when I went to get rice on the black market by myself. We lived on the Keihin Tohoku line and there were black markets in Akabane and Omiya but we didn’t have much information about them. "They’ve confiscated rice in Utsunomiya. The price of rice is soaring. In Kofu, they’ve shut down the market; we can’t go there anymore." I heard adults whispering like this, would surreptitiously pass the money off, put the rice into a tote bag and return to our store. This is the way I learned, through experiences like these, not through book learning at school. These experiences later proved vital when I began running a dojo - what is business? How do you successfully work with people? - are all things I learned at that time.

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