Japan celebrated victory after victory. Hong Kong surrendered on Christmas Day, 1941, Manila was occupied a week later, and Singapore fell into Japanese hands in February 1942. The spectacular success in this great thrust to the tropics was marred by the Doolittle hit-and-run raid on Tokyo on April 19. This was a reminder that Americans had the capacity to reach the imperial capital itself. In the far south the inhabitants of Dutch, British, and American territories were showing reluctance to cooperate with the Japanese forces and in many places were offering determined resistance. The war in China dragged on. Tokyo saw that a total mobilization of manpower was required throughout the empire.
It was announced suddenly that although preparatory school science courses would continue as usual, courses in the humanities and social science would be shortened by six months. At San-ko therefore we would have to be prepared to enter a university in the summer of 1942 or face the military call-up. This meant that I had to decide as soon as possible upon a university and a professional field.
As long as the sea-lanes leading southward past Formosa were open we could keep in communication with our worried parents at Takao. Their letters urged me to choose a career in medicine, the only career that promised a future in Formosa. They wanted me to abandon thoughts of the imperial universities and to enroll in a medical school such as my brother’s school at Nagasaki.
It was unthinkable that I should make such an important decision concerning my future without full consultation with my parents, nevertheless I refused to yield on this issue. My letters argued against a medical career. I wanted only to enter the Department of French Literature at Tokyo Imperial University and to turn my face away from Formosa and Japan and toward the Western world of arts and ideas. I was truly bemused by the French language, and at the age of nineteen I was repelled by the situation in which my close Japanese friends and schoolmates were expected to die beautifully following military orders. My parents now probably had reason to regret my years at the liberal Kansei Gakuin and at San-ko, where the motto was “Freedom.” They patiently observed, again and again, that French literature offered no livelihood and no future for me either in Formosa or Japan.
At last I offered a compromise. I would give up French as a major, and would enter the Department of Law or Political Science at the Tokyo Imperial University. I would become either a lawyer or a bureaucrat. After many letters had passed back and forth, they accepted this, but with regret.
I now had to work extremely hard to prepare for the imperial university entrance examinations, to be given this year in the early summer. They were the stiffest exams required in the Japanese system. When the time came I went to Tokyo, took a small room near the main campus, and sat for the two-day ordeal. It was well known that a Formosan applicant had to do far better than Japanese students if he was to penetrate this screen. Colonial subjects, Koreans and Formosans, were not welcomed into the imperial civil service. More than ten Formosans were sitting for examination at this time, but we knew that only one at most would be accepted, no matter how high the others’ marks might be.
When the results were posted I was the lucky one, standing rather high on the list of nearly five hundred applicants accepted for the coming session. I purchased the proper uniforms, found lodgings, and settled down to work.
One day it was announced that military service deferments were canceled for all students in the university’ humanities and social science courses. A majority of the young men about me vanished from the campus, including my friends from happier San-ko days. As a colonial subject I was not legally subject to conscription, but I had the privilege of volunteering. In Formosa, itself, thousands were being obliged to volunteer. A few were accepted into the regular military service, but the majority were drafted to form a labor corps sent overseas for duty behind front lines. At first Formosan students were merely harangued on the moral obligation and glory of service to the emperor, but soon the Formosan students at all the Japanese universities were summoned to the offices of the military instructors on each campus, where they were invited to sign individual applications for volunteer duty. On our campus the names of those who had been “invited” were soon posted in a prominent public place. My name appeared as the only one who had not yet presented himself.
I promptly left Tokyo to consult with my brother, then a student at the Nagasaki Medical School. We met with other students from Formosa and spent long hours discussing my situation. I could not imagine myself submitting to the mindless regimentation of military service for Japan. I was a second-class subject in peacetime, and I could not serve as a first-class soldier in war.
After a week I returned to the campus in Tokyo, attending lectures and continuing to read for my courses. My name remained posted as the only one who had not yet volunteered, and I began to fear arrest. I moved my lodging from time to time and went to the campus less and less often. Fortunately the Japanese university system permitted this, for we only had to pass our final examinations, and class attendance was not mandatory. Life in Tokyo was bleak. Consumer goods were scarce, rationing had become severe, and the black markets were flourishing. The government’s optimistic news reports were received with growing skepticism, for the public sensed that the military situation had taken a turn for the worse. The years 1943 and 1944 produced no victories to lift the public gloom and depression.
Fortunately for us, my father had made good financial arrangements. My brother was finishing his work in Nagasaki and about to take charge of a public clinic in the small village of Tameishi twenty miles to the south. My second brother had to give up his medical studies at Keio University because of ill health, and made his way back to Formosa to rest and recover before all communication with our island had been cut off. Allied submarines and planes were taking a heavy toll on shipping near Japan. Many died when the ships went down, and I lost several of my friends.
I left Tokyo at last, going westward to the beautiful old castle town of Matsumoto in the heart of the mountain country. It was far from any military targets. No one in Tokyo knew of my whereabouts, but I notified my brother in Nagasaki, and at Matsumoto found a cousin who was then enrolled at the local higher school. He had written me that the food situation was comparatively good, but my first lodging proved to be very poor. Although I had managed to ship my books to Matsumoto, most of them had to be left in their unwieldy boxes. I had little taste for reading now, for on leaving the university I plunged into a period of extreme anxiety and despair.
A few other students and one laborer shared my lodging house. As winter came it became very cold. There was little charcoal and no hot water in which to wash our clothes in freezing weather. This was snow country. The high mountains all around were brilliantly white and beautiful, but cruel and repellent to anyone born in the tropics. Then came word of the great Tokyo raids. We read the newspaper accounts with horror. Thousands had died in a single night, and the city was carpeted with fire.
The few young men remaining in Matsumoto were embarrassingly conspicuous and were stared at in the streets. When the weather permitted, I took long, lonely walks in the castle park or in the countryside. My first lodging house had become intolerable. The rooms were dirty and full of fleas seeking warmth. I found a better place and moved my ten boxes of books and my few other possessions into two upstairs rooms which I had to myself in the home of an old man and his daughter. These kind people took care of me, glad to have a little additional income in these hard times.
This tedious and lonely life continued for about six months. Now and then a letter came through from my parents, but my letters rarely reached them. Then came news that Takao city had been heavily bombed and my father’s hospital destroyed. The family had survived, however, and had moved out into the countryside. This was the last I heard of my parents until after the war.
I was at a loss as to what to do with myself. It was a useless life and my funds were dwindling. My brother had married a doctor, the daughter of one of my father’s classmates at medical school, and with their tiny daughter had moved to the fishing village, Tameishi, to take charge of the public clinic. We now agreed that the most economical course would be for me to join them there. Together we could conserve our dwindling resources while we waited to see what was going to happen to us all.
Japan was in full retreat at sea. Great raids were leveling the industrial cities and the ports, and the future looked hopeless. On April 1, 1945, the battle for Okinawa had begun. In desperation the Army organized suicidal kamikaze units which were sent out to strike the Allied fleet that now stood between Japan and Formosa.
In preparing to leave the old castle town, my first thought was for my beloved books which I shipped off to my closest friend of San-ko days, Jiro Nishida. He had gone on to study in the Department of Linguistics at Kyoto Imperial University. Because of ill-health he had escaped the draft and had returned to his country home in Kyushu. I wrote and asked him to take care of them. If I were alive at the end of tile war I would come to claim them; if not, they were to he his. Meanwhile they would be stored not too far from my brother’s place on the same island. I still don’t know whether he ever received them. I reserved a few books, my dictionaries and the works of Anatole France and LeMaitre, which I mailed directly to my brother’s clinic.
Train tickets were not easy to get. A reluctant stationmaster issued me a ticket from Matsumoto to Nagasaki when I pleaded that my brother was in a hospital, and my young cousin saw me off. It was an emotional parting, for he would be left entirely alone in cold Matsumoto, and I was setting out on a long and dangerous journey, a thirty-hour trip. The route passed through Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, and Yawata in northern Kyushu, cities and towns then being subjected to devastating raids. I had to change trains at the rail centers which were also major targets.
I reached Nagasaki station about five o’clock in the afternoon of a late April day. Since my brother’s village was twenty miles away, it was necessary to stay in the city overnight. On the next day I could choose to ride on a truck leaving rather early in the morning to cross the hills nearby, or I could board a small ferry at ten o’clock for an easier ride to my brother’s village. Although I invariably become seasick on any craft large or small, I decided on the latter. I could sleep late, and I was exceedingly tired after sitting up throughout the long journey in third-class coaches.
Although picturesque Nagasaki was an important shipbuilding center, it had not been bombed. The government had eased rationing there, and rice was plentiful and good. An extraordinarily beautiful girl brought me a delicious dinner, and sat and chatted with me in my room as I ate. After a quiet night and an excellent breakfast, I set out, baggage in hand, for the ferry pier not far away. A small ship of thirty or forty tons was waiting, just ready to cast off. About thirty other men, women, and children were already aboard, lining the rails or settling down on deck mats for the short voyage. It was a beautiful day, and I was happy to see that the sea was calm.
As I went aboard and looked about for a sheltered spot, I heard overhead the peculiar whistling sound of a plane gliding down. It banked and began a steep climb with a sudden roar of motors. An instant later I was knocked unconscious to the deck by a tremendous explosion.
When I regained my senses and opened my eyes, I was in the midst of screaming confusion and a scene of horror. I was covered with blood, and the deck was awash with it, and strewn with bodies, the shattered pads of bodies, and people writhing, moaning, and struggling to drag themselves away. I tried to rise, and found to my disbelief and horror that my left arm had been torn off at the shoulder and was hanging there by’ a few tendons and a shred of skin. The shattered bones were exposed, and blood was pouring out. “This is the end,” I thought, “I am dying here, and my parents and brother don’t even know I am here.”
The instinct for survival is powerful. With my right hand I seized my dangling left forearm, found it very, heavy and strangely cold and without feeling. It was an extraordinary moment. I was in a state of shock and felt no pain, although I was conscious that I also had a wound of some sort on my left temple, for warm blood was trickling down into my eye and across my cheek. Struggling to my feet, feeling so strangely off-balance, I managed to cross the slippery deck, get down to the dock, and stagger into the street, feeling immensely alone in a screaming crowd. Over and over I said to myself, “I must get to a hospital! I must find a doctor!”
Knowing nothing of the town, I tried to speak to people running frantically to and fro. Two or three looked at me and turned away in shocked revulsion, for by now I was drenched in blood from head to feet, and they showed a natural human reaction to such a sight. Suddenly one middle-aged man shouted at me as if in anger, literally cursing me. I was astonished and even in that condition angry and disbelieving. “Why? Why such a response to a man in such an extreme condition?” It was only long after the war that I understood. He was using a Japanese military technique, a shout, a blow, or a violent shake to create shock and tension to revive a person about to faint, but at that moment I was in no condition to understand. After what seemed an eternity, though perhaps it was only a matter of moments, someone directed me to a small clinic in the street near the wharf. As I staggered through the door I lost consciousness.
When I came to, I was lying on the concrete floor of a dark reception area, only one of a large number of victims being brought in. One doctor and one nurse were trying desperately to offer first aid to all while waiting for an emergency medical team from the Nagasaki Medical School nearby.
I was lying motionless, drifting in and out of consciousness, when doctors and nurses came in. To my astonishment I saw that one of them was an eye specialist, Dr. Yo, my brother’s classmate, and best friend, one of the Formosans who had counseled me on my previous visit to Nagasaki. This was a miracle! I tried to attract his attention each time he passed, kicking at his ankles and calling his name. I thought I was shouting, but I was probably speaking in a whisper. “Dr. Yo! Dr. Yo! This is Peng!”
He had passed me three or four times before he looked down and finally recognized me despite the blood and tatters. “What? You are here?” he exclaimed in shocked disbelief. In a moment, summoning a nurse, he gave me a hasty examination and first aid as best he could, an emergency stimulant twice, directly to the heart. The blood-loss was obviously great and my life in peril when he gathered me up and sent me off at once to the nearby hospital.
I have no clear memory of this interlude. When I regained my senses, I was on an operating table and the surgeon was completing the removal of my left arm, shattered at the shoulder-joint. I was alive but little more.
Somehow Dr. Yo had managed to get word to my brother. He had come to Nagasaki as quickly as he could, riding the truck over the mountain road. I was dimly aware of his presence and it was comforting. A fearful night followed. My brother had left me to consult with the surgeon, to attend to urgent business, and to get some badly needed rest. Although I still felt no pain, I developed a burning thirst. There were no nurses available, and once or twice I attempted to get up for water. My weakness from blood-loss and the strange imbalance of my body caused by the loss of my left arm, caused me to fall to the floor. Lying there in the darkened room I began to realize that this accident marked an irrevocable and fundamental change in my life.
My sister-in-law joined us in Nagasaki the next day, but they lived too far away and were too busy to come often thereafter. It was decided that I should remain as long as necessary in the Nagasaki hospital where I had a room to myself on the third floor. Since there were no trained nurses available to care for me, my sister-in-law engaged an old woman who began soon to complain of the flights of stairs and of my requests that she go out early each morning to buy the local papers, issued now in limited number. She had to be dismissed. To replace her we hired a girl of obscure background who did the best she could quite willingly but sometimes was given to odd behavior. We were plagued with mosquitoes, and to my embarrassment, when she had hung the bed-net each evening, she would slip in, bared to the waist, to sleep on the floor within its protective folds. In contrast, there was a very kind young nurse who used to come in sometimes on her off-duty hours to feed me and help me move. Whenever she came I was visibly in better spirits and cheerful, and this seemed to delight her.
All hospitals in Japan were undergoing a severe shortage of medical personnel and supplies of every kind, The dressings on my wound could be changed only every few days and the medications and equipment were not sufficiently sterile. When maggots were found in the wound, I suffered a psychological shock. Moreover, I began to suffer terrible itching sensations where my lost arm and hand should be, and there was nothing there to scratch. At times this drove me to the point of desperation. At last blood poisoning set in, because of unsterile dressings, and I developed an extremely high fever. The doctors almost gave up on my case. I needed a massive blood transfusion.
At that time the Japanese people were generally undernourished. There were no blood banks and no selling of blood. However I was extremely fortunate because several Formosan students at the Nagasaki Medical College heard of my need and volunteered. My blood-type is O, and four students saved my life by gifts of blood. One of these was a Pepohuan, an assimilated lowland aborigine.
It was now mid-June. Nagasaki was not being bombed very often, but when the alerts sounded, usually in the night, it was necessary for the hospital staff to carry all patients down into the basement shelter. After being in bed without exercise for six weeks or more, I was extremely weak. These midnight trips, down four flights of stairs, were very painful. Psychologically too there was great strain, for whenever we heard planes overhead while sheltering in the dark basement, we expected a bomb to drop. It was a nightmare to be endured every night. Bombs were falling on towns and cities throughout Japan, and the Americans had begun to shower leaflets over Nagasaki warning people to leave the city.
One day the hospital administrators were ordered suddenly to empty the hospital of all who could possibly be sent elsewhere to shelter. Only a skeleton staff would remain to care for air raid victims. My sister-in-law had been coming in once or twice a week to bring me food. We now agreed that I must go to my brother’s home. They could dress my wound, and since the food situation in the village was comparatively good, and seaweed and vegetables were plentiful, I might gain strength. The journey was an ordeal, however, for by now even the truck service was erratic. I would have to ride out of Nagasaki as far as I could, then walk for more than an hour over a steep and stony path to a point where another truck might be available for the onward journey to Tameishi.
On the day of that painful journey my brother was unable to come into Nagasaki, so his pregnant wife took his place. Without her valiant help I could never have completed the trip. More than two months had passed since my injury; nevertheless I was extremely weak and had no proper sense of balance. When at last we reached my brother’s home, exhausted, I cried as much from emotional relief as from pain, but I was overwhelmed by a black despair. Would my life be always like this?
Somehow my parents in distant Formosa had heard that I had been the victim of a bombing raid. They attempted to cable my brother, but no message came through. They were convinced that I was dead, and for weeks spent sleepless nights in tears and agonizing remorse. They blamed themselves for not having sent more funds to me so that it would have been unnecessary for me to make the fatal trip to Nagasaki. Such was their love for me. This had been a double blow since my beloved grandfather had died about this time. He had spoken of me so often by my nickname “Bin,” for I had been one of his favorite grandsons, and when he was dying he was heard to say, “My only consolation is that I’m going to meet Bin in Heaven!”
Little by little I regained my strength and began to recover my spirits. New great silver planes, the huge B-29s, flew over nearly every day on their deadly missions. The Japanese had lost Okinawa on June 18. Official announcements and stories in the Nagasaki press played up the story of heroic last-ditch resistance and patriotism, but the military significance of the island’s loss could scarcely he concealed from even the more uninformed Japanese.
It was a great psychological blow, for it was realized that an invasion of Kyushu must soon take place. The newspapers candidly told of massive attacks on the larger cities and the appalling conditions in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. Our little village was not bombed, although occasionally American planes bombed and strafed the fishing fleet not far offshore. We expected the enemy to land any day. Many women sharpened bamboo spears and practiced using them, and some women and children retreated to the hills.
July came. Sometimes the heat and tension seemed unbearable. As the weeks passed my wound began to heal satisfactorily at last, and my brother very, skillfully began to fashion a light artificial arm for me, using bamboo, wire and cloth. He felt that it would help me adjust psychologically to my new condition. I was suffering from severe digestive troubles, possibly induced by the unrelieved tension in which we lived. There was no news from home. Fortunately my precious selection of books, my dictionaries, and the volumes of LeMaitre and Anatole France, had come through safely by mail, but I had no further news of the larger shipments sent down to my friend Nishida. I was in no mood to read seriously, however, since I spent my days and evenings in long walks along the shore.
On August 8 the Nagasaki newspapers carried a brief official announcement, “Yesterday Hiroshima was bombed. The Americans have used a new weapon. There was considerable damage,” but no particular attention was paid to such a routine bombing announcement. As we were to learn much later, 150 thousand men, women, and children had perished in an instant when that first atomic bomb exploded.
Three days later I was indoors, glancing through the newspaper when I heard the drone of a plane overhead. Suddenly there was a blinding light, as if a huge photo-flashbulb had been triggered in the room. This was followed instantly by a tremendous metallic clanging sound as if the whole earth had been hit by a gigantic hammer. Our house shook violently. Something prompted me to cry out in Formosan “What is it?” as I looked out to see an enormous black cloud over Nagasaki. Then the great white mushroom rose above it. Later there was a sudden light shower in our garden, falling out of a clear sky.
Within an hour, my brother rushed into the house. He had received an urgent call. All doctors had been summoned to meet at a certain place for transportation into Nagasaki. Taking a quick lunch and gathering up his medical kit, he rushed away.
That afternoon we heard that Nagasaki had been destroyed, zenmatsu (“obliterated”). The Americans had used their new weapon again. It was rumored that everyone in Nagasaki was dead. When my brother returned, late that night, he was in a state of shock and nausea. He could barely speak and had to struggle for words with which to tell us what he had seen. The city as we knew it was gone. The whole area was dead,
He left again at dawn the next day to help search for and treat survivors who were dragging themselves out of the ruins. There were appalling injuries and incredible stories were told by the people who began to come into the village from the ruined city. Although my sister-in-law was in the last days of a second pregnancy, she did what she could at the clinic during my brother’s absence. He was overjoyed to find our friend Dr. Yo alive.
The effects of the blast had produced an irrational pattern of damage. Some concrete structures still stood, but all wooden fixtures and other combustible materials had been instantly consumed. It was said that in some classrooms only neat piles of white ashes marked the spots where students had been seated at their desks at the fatal moment. The heat had been that intense. A majority of medical school students had perished, and among them were the four young Formosans who had so generously given blood to me. It was a tragic irony that their useful lives should be snuffed out and that I should live.
One of my brother’s best friends, Dr. Lin, and his wife lived in the center of the city at the time of the atomic explosion. However, miraculously, they survived unharmed. Although they had not had children before the war, they had several normal children afterward.
It was midsummer. Soon the dead city gave off an intolerable stench. Relief work meant an extraordinary test of human will. There had been about 70,000 victims, and many injured survivors could be moved only a short distance. Within a few days a new horror appeared. Scores of survivors suddenly began to bleed from the nose and mouth, the hair dropped out, and soon many died. My brother and his fellow-doctors were at a loss with this new phenomena.
The government had made a brief announcement that Nagasaki had been destroyed but vowed that the nation would fight on. On August 14, it was announced that the emperor himself would address the nation. My sister-in-law and I were in the village street when we heard this unprecedented broadcast begin. Reception was extremely poor. We understood little more than that Japan had agreed to unconditional surrender. The nation was asked to “bear the unbearable,” but this meant that peace had come at last.
As Formosans we were not so awed by the high-pitched imperial voice as our Japanese friends about us; nevertheless, we were deeply moved. Our astonishment was followed by a sense of immeasurable relief. An era had ended. What would come next? What would become of Formosans in Japan? What would become of Formosa?