23 October 2005

Diary of a Kyoto Civilian at New Year, 1945

December 31, 1944, Sunday
End-of-the-Year Thoughts

At long last, today is the last day of 1944, and when the new day dawns, we'll greet 1945, the Year of the Rooster. The enemy attacks are a daily affair, and there's no New Year's spirit. I got up at eight, but there were no sounds of tatami being beaten [in the traditional New Year’s housecleaning].

The crowing of the neighborhood roosters is pathetic, as though their lives were being sucked to the bone.

Toshie and Haruko [daughters] put on their clogs and cleaned the planks laid out over the mud. Up until two years ago, as a morning exercise, they polished the area between the Iroha [billiards parlor] signs with oil until it was smooth, but in no time, this area, which guests were once reluctant to walk on in their shoes, had become muddied and dirty. It was New Year's Eve, and not a single cent was owed me, no loans had to be repaid, no end-of-the-year gift to be given, and nothing coming in. When I thought about this strange, unprecedented sort of New Year's Eve, I simply accepted the fact that it felt good, and that was enough.

New Year's Day
Impressions of a Sweet Potato New Year

Wartime conditions have come to prevail with extraordinary speed, and the weak have become food for the strong. How will we survive in this harried world? The new year promises to be one filled with problems.

It was unusual, but even the enemy planes seemed to have some humanity. On New Year's Day alone, we're not worrying about air raids over our heads. First of all, although it was a small matter, there was mazetakimi rice, some bamboo shoots, and sake. I'm seventy-six, and although I'm of no value for the honorable country, today I realized my humanity, and it felt like an old-style New Year's.

It was a sweet potato New Year's. Otsuru [eldest daughter] must not be surprised. She went to a place about a mile east of Shimokameyama in Mie Prefecture to buy fifteen or sixteen loads of sweet potatoes. What made this possible was the fact that the potatoes were black market goods. We've developed good relations with the farm families, and we came to buy sweet potatoes at one kan [about 8 lbs.] for three yen; even with the train fare included, one kan cost only three yen, eighty sen.

When we eat glutinous rice [mochi], we have to sacrifice one month's worth of rice, and as a rice substitute, the honorable sweet potato is full of nourishment. Under the circumstances, while both [daughter] Toshie and I are in the house, it's strange for us, rather than Otsuru, to be searching for, and eating, food.
SOURCE: Leaves from an Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese, by Samuel Hideo Yamashita (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2005), pp. 108-109

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