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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 1-10
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There's a song my mother used to sing when she was seven or eight years old, part of which goes like this:
Bought rice cakes in Nagasaki
Got some fire in Himi
Cooked them at Yagami
Cooled them off at Koga
Gobbled them up at Kuyama
This fragment from childhood has stayed with her; she sings it even now, gazing into the sky. Perched on the edge of the veranda, her rounded back swaying to the rhythm, she sings, Gobbled them up at Kuyama.
She speeds up when she gets to that line, as though she's gobbling up the words. Listening, I can see a traveler popping rice cakes in his mouth before anyone finds out he's got them, and it makes me laugh. My mother laughs with me.
I don't know whether this song was popular throughout the Nagasaki region or just in the Isahaya region along the Honmyo River where my mother grew up. There's no telling how many generations of little girls sang it before it reached my mother and her friends, around 1907 or so, but it seems to have gone out of fashion. Children no longer make balls out of bits of cloth and string and bounce them to the rhythm of old songs, as they did when my mother was a child. Back then, girls would ask their mothers for brightly colored thread left over from sewing and would wrap them around and around a tight wad of old cotton or scraps of cloth until they had a ball. In temple gardens or by the roadside, they'd bounce these balls as they sang. With every line, there was an action to perform, each slightly more difficult than the last. They'd sing, Gobbled them up, and quickly roll their balls into the hems or sleeves of their kimono. When this move was perfected, they would go on to the next step.
Travelers on the old road from Nagasaki to Isahaya would stop at Himi, Yagami, and Koga on the way. In addition to describing this route, the song depicts their preparations for the midday meal: they would buy rice cakes in Nagasaki before setting out, then stop at a house to ask for some [End Page 1] fire from the hearth; after cooking the rice cakes, they'd have to roll them around to cool them off. The distance from Nagasaki to Isahaya was said to be seven ri (about seventeen miles), so a traveler starting out from Nagasaki in the morning would reach Koga around noon. The song describes the journey all the way to Isahaya, but my mother only remembers the lyrics for the part up to Kuyama. Now that there's a highway from Nagasaki to Isahaya, how those towns where the travelers used to stop must have changed...
But on 13 August 1945, the day turned to dusk along that old road.
Four days after I was exposed to the A-bomb, my mother dragged me by the hand along that route as we fled from my lodging house in Nagasaki to our home in Isahaya.
On 9 August, when I was in my third year at Girls' High School, I was exposed to the A-bomb while working in a munitions factory in Nagasaki. On the evening of 12 August, my mother set out from Isahaya to look for me. In March of that year, we had left Shanghai and returned to Nagasaki. Normally, we would have taken either the Shanghai Maru ship or the Nagasaki Maru, which made regular trips between the cities they were named for. We'd fall asleep listening to the engine, which sounded like a heartbeat, and in twenty-four hours, we'd be there. But in 1940, both ships had been sunk by American submarines, and there were few vessels left that carried passengers. Day and night, American submarines appeared on our usual route in the East China Sea, sinking any Japanese boat they could find. To get back to Japan safely, we would have...