Progress from the War YearsVideos Testimonies of War Survivors During and After World War II

My Post-War Experience: Living with a Hungry Spirit

Ms. Michiko Uehara

Birth year:1935

Birth place:Itoman City

Evacuation to Yanbaru

My father was called to serve in the Defense Corps around October 1944.I was a third grade student in national elementary school at the time. We had a horse carriage and two horses at home. I often rode the carriage with my father, and we would go out to our field. I watched my father work and sometimes helped him. I still think fondly of those memories. Then evacuation training and our life inside the shelter started. The shelter was called Amansou Gama cave and located about 3 kilometers away from our home in Odo, Itoman. About 200 people in our village evacuated there.
On March 24, we received a notice that said to evacuate to Yanbaru (northern Okinawa) that day because there would be naval gunfire. I don’t remember exactly where the order came from. Around 9 p.m. on the 24th, we escaped by foot to Yanbaru, carrying luggage and various other things on our backs. My life was spared because we escaped. There were seven of us. My mother, us five children, and my grandmother on my mother’s side. Those who evacuated went to a small mountain in Afuso Nakama in Onna Village. The place was prepared to accept evacuees. During the day we hid on the side of the road to avoid being targeted by the naval gunfire. After 9 p.m., we headed for the evacuation area. It took us four days and three nights by foot. By the time we arrived, my feet were swollen and in grave condition.

From evacuation to internment

We were captured at Afuso Nakama in Onna Village. Three armed American soldiers on reconnaissance came around. At the time, we were staying in an evacuation shack. The women and mothers were in their 30s or 40s and were young and beautiful, and we had been told that they would be raped by the Americans. So they would smear their faces black with soot from pots called “nabinuhingu” and make their hair untidy to make themselves look old on purpose, and carry children on their backs or in their arms. All children were made to sit in the front of the shack. One day, American soldiers approached our shack, with their guns pointing at us. Then, they suddenly offered sweets to us and the children would “tuibaku” or fight over the sweets. The children were happy, but someone from the back of the shack said, “It’s poisoned. They are distributing poisoned sweets to kill you. Don’t eat it!” The kids were shocked, so they quickly threw away all the sweets. Someone with the American soldiers who could interpret our language said,“It’s alright,” and ate one of the sweets to show us. They told us, “There is plenty of water and food, so don’t worry.” After saying that, they gave the children plenty of sweets. The next day, four or five American soldiers came back and we were taken as prisoners of war. Instead of cord or rope, they used pampas grass braided to form a long cord. These were linked in about two-meter intervals, and were connected with a hand grenade. We were told not to touch these grenades because they were dangerous, and that we should not try to run away. We walked down towards an open area at the base of the mountain. It took us about one hour as we slowly went down the mountain. At the open space, we were made to sit, and they sprayed DDT (insecticide) that was in a white powder form. Boys were stripped above their waist and sprayed with DDT from their heads down. Girls had hair infested by lice, so all of our hair was disinfected with DDT. All sharp objects in our belongings were taken away and then they loaded us on trucks.

Life in Ishikawa internment camp

They took us to Ishikawa internment camp. Ishikawa internment camp was very large. It was surrounded on all sides by wire netting made with “barasen” (barbed wires). There were rows of tents, each tent was not meant for a single household. There was no blue tarp to lay on the ground, only the muddy ground. It was just good enough to stay out of the rain. Two to three households were put in a single tent. The ground surface inside the tent was messy with mud. We could not just sit on the ground since we had no blue tarp or anything to cover ground. We cut thatch ourselves and placed them on the ground. There, we were able to settle for the time being. We were then told to gather and receive rations and other supplies. I found out later after the war, what we received were field rations for American soldiers. The rations were canned, and there were all sorts of things inside. Things like powdered milk and even cheese. We didn’t have containers, so we received the food in our hands and carried as much as we could before going back to our tents. Back then, boys were very filial to their parents. Junior high school students worked the hardest at the time. The boys, after receiving their own rations, would take rations to the elders and mothers, and then line up again in the long queue for more rations. They appeared to be looking after their families in place of their fathers.

Back home from the camps

We were relocated from Ishikawa internment camp to the camp at Nashiro Beach in Itoman. We were in Ishikawa for about a year, and at Nashiro Beach for about half a year. Then, we relocated to Komesu/Odo. On our third relocation, we went back to my hometown. I lived in a house with not only my own family, but together with three households. We built housing units called “two by fours” and three households lived there. All houses in my hometown were completely destroyed and burned down. Two by fours were built gradually, one here and then another there. We waited at Nashiro Beach until the standard homes were built. As soon as they became available, decisions on who would move in next were made, and those families would move into the homes.
There was a garbage dump site for American forces near our settlement. When they threw trash away, we would all run over and collect scraps of blankets, military uniforms, and parachute scraps. We brought home what we collected as “war trophies.” Cans with leftover food would be in the trash too. We would bring back anything edible, then we added vegetables and ate it.

School life after the war

We studied in a miserable classroom on the dirt ground with tin sheets and thatch. There were no desks or a black board, and we simply wrote down what our teacher was saying on the ground. The school building was a U.S. military Quonset hut. The roof of the Quonset was round. Since there were so many children, not everyone could fit inside, some classes were held outside underneath a tree. Since we didn’t have chairs, we searched for roof tiles and flat stones and sat on them to study. Our art teacher would tell us to draw a picture of the tree we were sitting under. That’s what our open-air classes were like. Pencils were eventually included in rations, and our teachers distributed them to students. We had no white paper and used to cut brownish cardboard-like paper to use as our notebooks.
We attended Miwa Junior High School and had classrooms for the first time. But we had no textbooks. The music teacher made a lot of effort to teach us music and there was a class for drawing. In the beginning, we did not have Japanese class, but the system was gradually organized and we later received a supply of textbooks. Then notebooks were distributed too. Not many teachers at the school had a teaching license. The math teacher would teach Japanese and other subjects as well. During our time as students of Miwa Junior High School we were always hungry with just sweet potatoes for packed lunch.
One day on our way home from school, someone said there were a lot of tomatoes around Konpaku Memorial Tower. So, four or five of us decided to go and get some. We found ripe tomatoes growing there, and everyone was desperate to eat some. Two or three days later, I told my mother about the tomatoes. She said, “They’re that ripe because there are three bodies buried in the ground below.” She taught me that the bodies fertilized the soil to make them grow. That scared me, and I did not go back to eat tomatoes after that. The remains were properly dug up and placed inside Konpaku Memorial Tower.

From high school to college

In those days the idea of women attending high school was unthinkable. I was the first woman in the settlement of Odo to attend high school. There were some boys who went to high school, but most famed. Women assisted with military work to earn money or helped their family. I lacked devotion to my parents. I was quite small and did not have much physical strength to be useful for farming.
At the time, Mr. Touroku Oshiro was a teacher at the junior high school, and he was in charge of helping students advance to high school. Mr. Oshiro would come to villages in the evening and visit homes of students that were at ages eligible for attending high school. He enthusiastically persuaded parents to allow the child to attend high school. Since the teacher was making such effort, my mother said “You are not fit for farming, do as the teacher says and attend high school.” I proceeded to attend high school. Everyone around me told me that I was “not loyal to my parents”. I experienced many hardships. To attend high school and then go on to university would be too much of a luxury. I decided to earn my way to pay for the tuition for university. I washed shirts for four professors at the university, and cleaned three classrooms. That’s how I earned the money for school. I was able to support myself.

Becoming a local teacher after graduating from university

The teacher training program for female physical education took two years and I could be employed immediately if there was a need. I found employment at Miwa Junior High School.

A message for young people

We survived hard times, and now live in what we can say are good times. We were called “kanpo-nu-kue-nukusaa” (leftovers of naval gunfire). We were pessimistic at one point, but with a sense of appreciation and perseverance and a hungry spirit, I believe I can continue to live until I am 100 years old. What I want to tell you young people is that there cannot be any more war if we want to sustain a fulfilling life and make that everlasting.

Michiko Uehara became a junior high school and high school teacher and devoted herself to social education activities and peace education. After retiring, she continued to tell the real story of the Battle of Okinawa as a storyteller.