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"Grandpa! Your leg! What happened?"


2.Pursuit of hapiness


Apprentice to a barber

The name of our neighboring area, Nishigo-Karimata, changed to Nishi-machi. The Urakami area, which had been flattened into a charcoal field by the A-bomb, was slowly turning into a new residential area with large and small houses. The ruin was disappearing little by little. Houses were being built along a new road in Nishi-machi, too. Around this time I had to finish junior-high school and start working. My academic achievement was poor, so there was no way to go to senior high school. I tried to find a job that might help me to be independent throughout my life. First, I went to a sushi bar asking for a position. "We deal in food. Therefore, we cannot have a person wounded by the bomb." I was stunned by the reply. Discrimination. I wanted to believe that discriminating is a childish behavior seen only in elementary school. I hated to admit that there could be discrimination in society, among adults. A teacher was accompanying me at the sushi bar. He said, "Komine, don't be disappointed. Don't give up. Keep on searching and you'll find a job." I replied, "Please leave me alone. I'll be on my own." I just wanted to leave that spot.

"How was it?" my mother asked me when I got home. "Well, as I anticipated. They believe those who were wounded by the A-bomb are contaminated and dirty." I replied cynically.

"Were they that harsh?" My mother looked angry. "Yes, they were." I replied.

In those days, we were much better off, because we had sold our vegetable field. Real estate buyers came one after another, despite our negative response. My parents looked a little sad, probably because they had to give up the land that they had cultivated for so long. We all had to face the reality, in any case. And I had to admit that it was hard for a Hibakusha to find a decent job. I visited a dry-cleaning shop, and found that the job was not for me, because I could not ride a bicycle with my deformed foot.

One day, when I was walking in Sumiyoshi-machi Street, I found a note on the window of a barber shop, saying "Trainee wanted." On the following day, I asked my father to accompany me to the shop, Shoji Barber's. The barber said, "If you are really ready for this, you can come." We decided on the spot that I would be a trainee for 5 years and one year of apprenticeship, that I would work there for a total of 6 years.

The day after finishing junior-high school, I started living and working at the barber's. My father was so stern that he would not give me a single day off. The barber, his wife, his parents and three children lived together, and there was one employee ahead of me. We had to call the barber "Sensei" (literally: "older and wiser person," is a general term for a teacher, doctor, congressman or anyone with a title). I was quite impressed that a barber was sometimes called Sensei. I remember they still had something feudalistic, and I always had to obey and serve. We started working at 8 in the morning. There was no rule about closing time. When it was busy, lunch was indefinitely delayed, and there was no knowing when we would eat any meals until very late. It was hard to remain patient with hunger, as I was still very young. Monday was the day off. I was paid 100 yen per week, in addition to meals and accommodation. On Mondays, I would go downtown, spending 10 yen for the roundtrip tram ticket and 55 yen to watch three movies at a movie theatre, 30 yen for six pieces of Kaitenyaki (pancake with red bean paste), 95 yen in total. I admired Sensei for giving me nothing more than just right amount of money. Some other barber trainees had a harder life. Some complained because they were kept busy with nothing but child-care for a year or so.

It was what you can call an outdated apprenticeship. Also I had to remain standing while somebody else was working. In other words, I was allowed to sit down only during lunch and while in the toilet. My legs hurt and became swollen in the evenings for the first 3 months or so. Before the New Year we were very busy, and my hands and arms to my elbows were sore because of endless use of shampoo. Job training is hard, no matter what you learn. I knew that only those who go through such hardship can become professionals. For barbers, reception and service may be more important than the skill, because you have to work for each customer for about one hour. Sensei scolded me repeatedly before I learned to say "May I help you?" properly. I realized that I had had little chance to really communicate with other people.

In 1956, I entered the evening course of Nagasaki Prefectural Barbers School. I thought I was dreaming when I commuted from Sueyoshi-cho to Suwa-cho by tram.

Most of the students were older than I. Several among a hundred classmates were of my age. I usually took the tram together with two of my classmates, Arikawa and Sanaka. We talked a lot about what we would do in the future. "I will surely have two or three shops with about seven chairs each." Sanaka would always say. When he was near some girls of our hairdressers' course, he spoke louder and an octave-higher, which made us laugh. Sanaka was an interesting boy, but he could not make his dream come true, because of illness. Arikawa later had a shop in Hamano-machi.

While on duty, I often got very hungry in the afternoon. One day, at about 3 p.m., I was starving, and felt as if my stomach was being squeezed. All I could think about was eating. Sensei told me to guide a customer onto the chair. I was so vain that I thought I heard him say "Time for lunch." Replying "Yes, sir!" I was going into the dining space. Then I heard Sensei say, "Stop! Where are you going? Who told you to eat?" Everyone in the shop laughed. I had to laugh at myself to hide my embarrassment. That is one thing I will never forget.

The other employee at our barbershop was only one year older than I. He was a nice-looking guy who looked like a movie star. He attracted many girls. He later had a shop in Osaka. I have not heard anything of him since then.

The six-year trainee period was a long hardship. I had some good times and some bad ones. I thought of quitting many times. Each time I tried to remind myself that other trainee barbers were working under similar conditions, and to think of my future as a skilled barber earning enough money to live on. I was so very happy to receive the success notification of the governmental license test of barbers, in July 1959. I was 18.

During the 6-year trainee period, I did not have to think about myself as a Hibakusha. Nobody spoke out about that. Though my job was hard, I was happiest and my life was fullest, in that I was able to forget what I wanted to forget.

The Atomic Bomb Youth and Maidens Association was established in 1956. One day a woman who had also been wounded by the atomic bomb in my neighborhood invited me to a meeting, saying: "Hide, why don't you come? It's fun." I joined the association, and took part in some meetings, but stopped going, partly because the members were much older than I, but mostly because I had been assigned the post of its secretary, which was too difficult for me. I was not able to write formally using correct Chinese characters.