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26th March 1945

While the Asahi revealed that an American fleet had bombarded the Ryukyu islands on the 23rd and launched heavy raids on Okinawa in particular on the 24th, the Mainichi worried “that there may be some who are so weak-willed that the are unable to place any reliance on the mere expression of determination by the government.” It was probably in answer to similar “weak-willed” fears and gossip that the minister of agriculture and commerce was forced to make still another assurance on the rice ration at the diet yesterday. It will be maintained, he insisted. “A considerable amount of foodstuff was lost in the latest enemy raids but few of the places where large amounts of food were stored have been affected by the raids.”

At least as far as Tokyo is concerned the food problem is being relieved by the quickening tempo of evacuation. Only four millions of the pre-war seven now remain in the capital, according to official estimates. So many household goods are being shipped out that the railway has stopped accepting them temporarily to give preference to those whose houses have been torn down in the compulsory clearing of fire-breaks. Hearing that these unfortunates were hastily selling what they could not take along, we went sidewalk shopping in Shibuya, one of the districts affected just now. Every condemned house was marked with chalk but its lot was envious enough from the pile of odds and ends in front of it. They were all for sale to the passerby although there were few who seemed inclined to add to their burden of possessions.

Old women mostly were in charge of these impromptu junkshops. None seemed to be particularly depressed; on the contrary they seemed happy enough to be able to escape with notice instead of being force to flee in the middle of some cold and stormy night. One particular heap of bottles, vases, lamps, and other household debris was in the charge of a group of children who were obviously enjoying; themselves playing shop with real goods and real money, for keeps. They were doing a particularly brisk trade in bottles; everyone in Tokyo needs empty bottles because it is impossible to get shoyu rations, or beer and sake issues, without bringing one’s own bottle. And even mouthwash, perfume, anything liquid, cannot be bought without an empty bottle to be filled or to be exchanged.

Walking past the drab untidy heaps, I understood why it was that only the very old and the very young were out there selling these scraps of home. The children had no memories and the old had learned to despise and distrust them. But for the rest, the in-betweens, it must have been too painful to hand over to a stranger, or even to show to a stranger, a casual passer-by, unknown, slightly contemptuous, coldly scrutinizing, to show and hand over to a haggling stranger that stained silver picture frame without the old familiar face, or that teapot with the spout slightly dented where the baby dropped it, or that elegant new fan that had never been used because the war had come so suddenly.

I met only one of these shy hidden possessors. Anita wanted a nail file and we went into a beauty parlor that was being torn down. The shop was empty when we entered, almost bare except for a mirror on the wall and a litter of colored bottles on the floor. We called out and a woman came, her hair wrapped up in a handkerchief, a broom in her hand. When we told her what we wanted, she asked us to wait a moment and disappeared in the back. She returned with an envelope full of cardboard nail files. We said she was very kind and made as if to pay her but she shook her head. No, she insisted with a little twisted smile, she did not need them anymore and we could have them free.