TOTTORI – World War II was a painful experience all around, but it was especially cruel for the weak and physically impaired who were treated with contempt by the Japanese soldiers wielding power, according to one 87-year-old female survivor.
“Japanese society was especially unkind to women, children and the physically disabled during the war,” said Noriko Nishio. “This type of society is unacceptable.”
While most of her classmates were mobilized for wartime labor, Nishio, who graduated from a girls high school in the city of Tottori in the spring of 1945, was sent to a local regiment’s recruitment office.
She was deemed unfit for regular service because she had lost her left thumb in a powerful earthquake that struck the city on the Sea of Japan coast in September 1943.
Nishio, whose office was located in a school for blind and deaf children, assisted in the conscription effort, sending out call-up notices for the Imperial Japanese Army. It was staffed with several soldiers who often yelled at the children and treated them with disdain, she said.
One incident in particular stood out in her mind, she said.
Without fail, someone would play the organ in a second-floor room of the school in the late afternoon, but one of the soldiers who was bothered by the music told her to have it stopped.
Quietly climbing the stairs to the room, Nishio found a boy around the age of 10 playing the organ. But when she approached him, the boy was surprised and stood up, dropping something on the floor with a clang. He had dropped a tin plate of music scores written in Braille.
Every day he played the organ with his right hand while reading the scores with his left. Nishio left her job at the office shortly thereafter, so she does not know what eventually happened to the boy. She can only presume that life during the war for him — dealing with feelings of inferiority — must have been especially painful.