Akiko and her piano
This small upright piano was made by the Baldwin Piano Company in the United States. The owner of this piano, Shizuko Kawamoto, passed away peacefully at the age of 103. She went to the United States on her own after graduating from a girls’ school. During the Taisho era, women rarely had the chance, and the courage, to travel to the United States. Ms. Kawamoto married Genkichi Kawamoto in Los Angeles in 1922. Shizuko and Genkichi were Akiko’s parents. Genkichi died in 1988 at the age of 101.
Genkichi worked at an insurance company and made a practice of taking his wife, who he loved dearly, on company trips. But they were not blessed with a child for a long while.
The piano was a gift to Shizuko from Genkichi, who suggested that she take piano lessons. Shizuko had been a teacher at an elementary school before they got married, so she comforted herself in a foreign land by playing the piano.
Akiko’s arrival brought them great joy. To Shizuko and Genkichi, she was an angel from heaven. Genkichi wrote in his diary: “We’ve waited so long for her!” Akiko was born at Japan Hospital in Los Angeles at 1:00 in the morning on May 25, 1926.
Genkichi’s diary: “Our daughter was born with the help of Dr. Ozasa. Hope she will be smart.
Named her Akiko.” (May 25, 1926; 3129 Folsow Street, Los Angeles, California, USA)
They raised her with affection and care, as a gift from God. They watched her grow, sometimes with joy and sometimes with worry. Genkichi recorded her weight and height and wrote down every sign of her growth.
August 8, 1926 (Sunday): 76 days. First outing after birth.
September 6, 1926: Akiko is healthy and gaining weight. What a joy!
May 25, 1928 (Friday): 24 months. Uses about 150 words.
March 16, 1929: Nobuhiko (Akiko’s younger brother) came home from the hospital.
In 1932, Akiko returned to Japan with her family. They lived in Oko (today’s Oko-cho in Minami Ward) where Shizuko’s parents lived. Akiko entered Hiroshima Jogakuin Primary School and went there until the primary school closed. She sometimes went to school by taxi.
After she returned to Japan, she kept a running diary in notebooks and maintained this diary until about a year before she died. The first part of her diary, which has been preserved to this day, is written in katakana in a notebook for practicing Japanese.
Though Akiko spent the first few years of her life in an English-speaking environment, Genkichi and Shizuko did their best so that their daughter could learn Japanese.
Akiko’s diary, 1933
March 25, 1933: Today was my birthday. Played with Toshi, Yoshikazu, and Nobuhito. September 18, 1933: Had a piano lesson. Have lessons on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
September 19, 1933: Starting today I’ll have piano lessons every day. I didn’t know so I called Grandpa and asked him to bring me my piano music and my lunchbox. September 23, 1933: Dad bought lunch and we ate it on the mountain.
In 1933, Akiko’s family moved to a house located on Mitaki Hill in the northwest of Hiroshima.
At that time not many families had a piano at home. They asked her piano teacher to come to their house for private lessons. Akiko sometimes enjoyed playing the piano with her mother.
Akiko’s diary, 1933
May 15, 1937: Went to Ms. Hara’s house for a piano lesson.
After completing Hiroshima Jogakuin Primary School, she took the entrance exam for the regular course at Hiroshima Jogakuin. She then entered Hiroshima First Municipal Girls’ School (today’s Funairi High School). Meanwhile, she continued her piano lessons and calligraphy lessons. For her diary, she began to use a “schoolgirl diary” with a cute cover, instead of plain notebooks, writing down her thoughts through adolescence. The cover of her diary from 1942 is labeled: “17 years old. Born on May 25, 1922. Mitakiyama 65-1.”
However, conditions under the war grew worse. The family rented out a room of their house to an acquaintance and it became hard to hold the birthday parties they had previously enjoyed. The atmosphere of the neighborhood also gradually changed.
Akiko’s diary, 1942
January 27, 1942: I don’t feel like writing in this diary so much. Very warm in the morning. I learned “Soushun no uta” (“A Song of Early Spring”) in music class. I love this song.
February 4, 1942: I slept alone last night. It felt so good. I love to sleep alone.
March 8, 1942: March 10 is Shin’s birthday. We made white and red rice cakes.
March 9, 1942: Exams have started. I hope I get good grades. I’m studying so hard. Today were exams for home economics and chemistry.
May 11, 1942: We had a school reunion today. Shizuko Chiba sang, and Yasmin Okazaki played the piano. Ms. Okazaki’s piano! Her fingers moved so fast, with such grace! It was wonderful!
June 5, 1942: I wrote an essay for homework: “Women in the Future.”
June 6, 1942: Some people went to the piano recital given by Kazuko Kusama. I really wanted to go, but none of my friends would join me so I gave up the idea. What a shame! August 28, 1942: I want to pass the exam for Jogakuin Vocational School. I have to pass!
In 1943, she passed the entrance exam for Hiroshima Jogakuin Vocational School (today’s Hiroshima Jogakuin University). Many of the English classes became self-study classes. She disliked having to visit the Army Hospital as a volunteer, participate in air-raid drills, and help tend fields of vegetables. She could not study the subjects she wanted.
Akiko’s diary, 1944
January 1, 1944: I’m 19 years old. A sophomore in the Home Economics Department. One third or a quarter of my life has already passed.
March 19, 1944: I was the top student in the first semester. Ms. Okamoto was the top student in the second semester. I’m the top student for the school year, though, which seems odd. April 9, 1944: Dad wants me to keep going with my studies, but Mom doesn’t. This makes me confused. Is it a woman’s job to spend all day preparing food? If so, what is the purpose of my life? I would have no time to study, and that would make me miserable.
In 1944, she began to worry about Genkichi’s health. She tried to eat less so that her brothers could have more to eat.
Akiko’s diary, 1944
May 3, 1944: My measurements from the third period: height 159.1 cm; weight 51.5 kg; chest 73 cm. I’m .5 cm taller than last year, but I lost 1.5 kg and my chest is 3.5 cm smaller. I feel bad, but I’m the only one trying to cut back on rice.
Because she and her classmates had to help tend fields of crops, she had no time to study. This made her feel frustrated and she wrote about this frustration in her diary.
Akiko’s last diary, 1944
July 8, 1944: Another air-raid warning last night. No plane was seen over Hiroshima. But a plane was seen over northwest Kyushu. The nerve of them! We have to be prepared.
July 13, 1944: I went to help serve food at the Miyajima sanatorium. I met Mr. Oguni on the train.
This is where Akiko’s diary ends. After this she was unable to write over the year that followed, until her death. Circumstances prevented her from writing more.