People tend to look at me with a rather confused look on their face when I tell them I have a Japanese grandmother. Taiko might not be my grandmother by blood, but she married into my family. When she used to babysit me as a kid, she'd give me a gallon of ice cream and a spoon so what more do I need to call her "grandma"? I can't say I agree with her all the time, but she's my family and I think her story is an important one to tell. It's not too often you meet a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, after all.
This interview was filmed last October and a transcript can be found here. For more information on Taiko and her amazing life, keep reading, but be warned that the video as well as the paragraphs below contain graphic descriptions.
Along with her, Taiko’s immediate family survived the bombing of 1945, although her father died a few years later due to related complications. Taiko survived the blast through sheer fortune of being blown between a wall and nearby bushes, protecting her from the worst of the damage. Other members of her family survived by seeking shelter, although some still suffered from chemical burns. One of her siblings survived only because the father of the girl she had been playing with mistakenly grabbed the wrong child, leaving his own daughter outside in the darkness.
In the aftermath, Taiko was recruited to help care for survivors. Unfortunately, many of those who survived the initial blast did not receive the medical care they needed. Unable to bury the large numbers of victims, the people of Hiroshima were forced to burn many of the bodies. The playground outside Taiko’s school was one spot where bodies were gathered for disposal and she, along with her schoolmates, found themselves in charge of burning the corpses.
As mentioned in the interview, Taiko’s brother enlisted with Japan’s military as a Kamikaze pilot. While he was obviously not expected to survive the war, news of Japan’s surrender reached him the very day he was scheduled to take flight.
When the war ended, Taiko and her siblings made lives for themselves in whatever manner they chose. For example, Taiko’s Kamakaze brother went on to be one of the founding members of the Toyota Motor Corporation. Another of her brothers became a high-ranking mob boss with the Yakuza (who made sure his family wanted for nothing).
Taiko, on the other hand, went on to (accidentally) become the first woman to sail around the Japanese islands. To support herself and her family, she trained U.S. soldiers in the art of Judo while also acting as a bouncer for a local bar. Said bar was where she official met her future husband, Lloyd (Dee) White, after she was forced to throw him out of the establishment. Eventually, they wed and moved to the U.S. finally settling down in Kentucky with their son and daughter after many years spent traveling from naval base to naval base around the world.