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by Rachel Toyer, student writer


“I remember it very vividly” she said. “I was 15 years old at that time.”

Fujioka was born in the United States, where she and her family—father, mother, and eight siblings, of which she was the oldest girl—lived in Liliha on North King Street, in a predominantly Japanese neighborhood.

Fujioka attended Kai‘ulani Elementary school in Kalihi where she learned to speak English. When her parents decided, early in 1941, when she was 11, that she needed to experience her Japanese heritage, they announced they were sending her to Japan for secondary school. She needed to learn to speak Japanese. (She had only a few years of brief one-hour tutoring sessions in Japanese.)
To prepare her to enter secondary school in Japan, her parents sent her and her younger sister to their home village of Saka, a few miles from Hiroshima, to live with her maternal grandparents, who were farmers, and study at a Japanese school.

The Japanese school was in Hiroshima, which at the time, was a military city. Fujioka went to school by train every day and when she wasn’t in school she helped her grandparents work their farm.
“ I never had to farm before,” Fujioka said. “They (her grandparents) used a tool that seemed so impractical to clear land.” She added that “In school one of our classes was to teach us how to farm land. Imagine something like that here in the U.S.”

Fujioka prepared for a year and then had to undergo three days of testing in order to be accepted into high school in Hiroshima. Two days consisted of writing; the last day was a physical exam.
“ I was more afraid to take the physical because I had never had P.E., and I was worried I wouldn’t make it,” she said.

But make it she did. Fujioka was admitted to Japanese High School in Hiroshima City.

After Pearl Harbor the conflict between the United States and Japan escalated into war and Fujioka found herself stranded in Japan. She recounted an experience of a male classmate who would whisper to her in English, “Let’s hope we can go back to Hawai‘i.”

“ School became harder to attend during the war times,” she said, explaining that Japan had manpower shortages as a result of its ongoing war with China. “We were sent to work in factories because there was no one else to do it.”

Because she was an American citizen, Fujioka was given janitorial work to do. On the “fateful day,” as she calls it, she remembers riding the train from Saka into Hiroshima, to work at an office building on the city’s outskirts, to which she had been assigned. She recounted that she and other office workers saw a B-29 fly across the sky. She said it was unusual, because there were usually more than just one. Many thought the plane to be a reconnaissance craft searching for something. Many of the residents of Hiroshima at that time had been instructed to stay clear of buildings and to lie flat on their stomachs should anything serious happen such as a bomb attack.

“ We saw a flash of light and then a huge cloud of smoke. The city was like an inferno. There was an eerie boom, and the whole earth shook like it does when there is thunder.”

The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was nicknamed “Little Boy,” because it was the smaller of the two atomic bombs dropped in Japan. It was dropped from a B-29 called Enola Gay. The bomb exploded above the city, killing everyone within a two-mile radius, including about 2,000 Japanese Americans who were attending school.

In Japanese, the nuclear survivors are known as hibakusha. Fujioka is hibakusha.

Fujioka was to remain in Japan for three more years, due to political issues with her citizenship, before returning to Hawai‘i.

She will never forget that day. She will never forget running away from the blast and lying down flat on her stomach in an open field, covering her eyes, ears, and nose to keep the toxins out of her system. She will never forget the many burn victims who came to seek refuge in her office building, only a few the first few hours, and then by the hundreds.

After the atomic bomb was dropped, Fujioka remembers an increase in hostility from her neighbors, who resented her being an American, saying it was her country that killed their sons.

Fujioka began teaching advanced Japanese in 1990 at Hawai‘i Loa College. In 1992, the two campuses merged into HPU. In the intervening years, Fujioka has endured the loss of a husband to a heart attack, the loss of a son to drowning, and the loss of a daughter to breast cancer. She now lives in Kailua with her remaining five children, all but one of whom live a few houses away.

“ I think that experience in Hiroshima prepared me for the heartache I was to endure later on in my life,” she admitted quietly. “I think had it not been for that, I would not have been strong enough to endure my losses.”

 
 

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