Japan - The Emperor's Tram Girls

35 Mins

Fujii: When I moved the handle to one notch, I saw a flash. It came from the direction of Aioi bridge. It was a bright blue light. I thought… what on earth? I feared that the circuit had been cut. Then, it gradually became dark. 00’04’’

Narration: Over the radio from the United States came the announcement, that the deadly weapon was the Atomic Bomb. The first ever used in the world. As the situations quieted down, it became clear how fearful the bomb was. Fearful beyond the ordinary human imagination. The first casualty report, is the dead as 30 thousand, and the injured as 86 thousands. 00’30’’

Yoneoka: I am so proud of myself now. I don’t know anyone else who drove a tram at our age. We did not even have licenses! I'm so proud. I was living my life fully. I can say that only because I survived. But when I think of people who lost their lives, I still can’t help crying. 00’56’’

COMM: On the 6th of August each year, the girls who drove Hiroshima trams during the war meet for reunion at the Hiroshima Electric Railway Company. 01’51’’

Photographer: Look at me. Say cheese! Let’s take another one, OK? 02’00’’

Tram girls: Thank you very much. 02’12’’

COMM: The women had all attended the Hiroshima Railway Company School of Domestic Science for girls. Despite its name, the school was set up in 1943, with the specific purpose of training girls to work as conductors of Hiroshima's trams. The demand of the war had drained the city of male workers. Nowhere in Japan, could go every worked in terms of perform. 02’13’’

SUB: TERUKO FUJII Fujii: I came here with three other girls, but I was the only one who cried at the station. My mother In the village I came, from, only the doctor's daughters and girls from rich families could go to the girls' high school, after the 6th grade. Going to the Hiroden school sounded like a good idea. Instead of working in a factory like other girls I was lucky to carry on studying for another 2 years. was crying, too. 02’46’’

SUB: MITSUKO KURIHARAKurihara: I was a country girl, and I’d never been to a big town. Hiroshima was a big town, so I immediately applied. 03’30’’

COMM: Hiroshima was a military city. As important to the west of Japan, as Tokyo was to the east. It was a crucial staging post for sending troops to abroad to fight south east Asia. And it was also home to vital parts of Japan's war industry. Trams ferry troops and munitions workers between the port and city. 03’46’’

Fujii: When I went back to the country, I heard people talk about me. They said, "Look at her. She is a conductor!" Working on the trams was embarrassing. All students wore a name-badge on their uniforms. The school believed that would make us feel more responsible. We also wore a small pendant saying “Students serving the nation.” I made me very proud that people knew I wasn't just a conductor. They knew I was a student as well. I was also proud of myself for transporting soldiers. I never really felt like I was working for Hiroden, but for my country. 04’08’’

Fujii: I used to look in the mirror to see how good I looked. I was so proud of wearing the headband. 05’08’’

SUB: HATSUE ISHIKAWA Ishikawa: I wasn’t scared of anything. I wasn’t even scared of blowing myself up. That’s what the Kamikaze pilots did. They new they were going to die. And I admired them. 05’18’’

Fujii: They put a drawing of Truman in the road and we were told to stamp on it. We were educated to despise our enemies. 05’43’’

SUB: TOSHIE TAKEBAYASHI Takebayashi: When we started working at four in the morning, we walked to Hiroden together singing the song: “Toward Victory”, and it was really fun. More fun than studying! 05’59’’

Yoneoka: There is a lever there. There used to be a lever here. I could've explained better with that. This is how to operate. This is how you make it speed up. This is how I did it. 06’33’’

SUB: KEN KIMURA, Author of "The Chin Chin Bell rings over Hiroshima" Kimura: It normally takes a long time to become a driver. But these was an urgent need to replace male drivers. . It was like this: a male driver would be driving. saying to a schoolgirl next to him, "Watch carefully, now!" Then he'd say, "Try to drive a bit", and if she managed well enough, he'd say, "OK, you are certificated!" 07’00’’

COMM: Morino Nakamura was the first Hiroden girl who was taught how to drive. 07’28’’

SUB: MORINO NAKAMURA Nakamura: On my first time, I had to slow down way before to make sure I stopped at the right place. I thought the stop was about there, I started braking from here, but didn't get as far as the stop. My first run was from Hiroden company to Ujina, Koi, Hiroshima station and back to the company. When I came back, my legs were shaking. Driving by myself was terrifying. 07’39’’

SUB: CHIHARU YONEOKA Yoneoka: On my first day on my own, all my hair stood on end. I was so scared. 07’06’’

Nakamura: The tram were completely crowded, there was no space for the conductor! So the driver open the front window, and the conductor would stand on the coupler and hold on to the pole. When the conductor couldn’t reach the bell, so I asked a passenger to ring it! The bell was rung twice before departure, and several times in an emergency, so the tram would stop. That is the brake. 08’20’’

SUB: SUNAO TSUBOICo-chair of Japan Confederation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations Tsuboi: They had to turn a heavy wheel to engage the teeth of the brake gears. Trams then didn't have air-brakes. There was a knack to it. Sometimes girls stopped too early, other times they missed the stop and they shot past it. But nobody complained. We always thanked them. 08’55’’

Fujii: I was driving over Aioi bridge near the Dome. The tram speeded up because of a steep slope. A military truck pulled out in front of me. And then…bang! I hit it! I got told off by the boss. I had a student's cockiness and I didn't care what he said. He just sighed, “You and Ishikawa are always breaking trams…” You had an accident, too, didn't you? 09’40’’

Ishikawa: I was so small, that I couldn't be seen when soldiers were standing around me. Once someone at the back shouted, "That's odd. Where is the driver?" This was all they could see. 10’22’’

Ishikawa: Boys would hang around behind me when I was driving. They could have sat down inside! I suspect some girls had romantic crushes too. 10’39’’

Yoneoka: Well… I didn't! 10’56’’

Fujii: The trains were overcrowded. No, I didn't have a romance! Some passengers were riding even on a net in front. I told them not to, but they didn't care. I thought, “Have it your own way!” 10’57’’

Tsuboi: Boys used to ride the trams to watch the girl drivers! We had a secret ranking system like: Tram 101 for the prettiest and we tipped off each other. 11’19’’

Fujii: I was sixteen then. Even if I saw a boy I liked on the tram, I could never talk to him. If I had done, I would have been seen as a bad girl. All I could do was just look at him. That was what our youth was like. 11’42’’

Nakamura: At first, remembering those days was too sad, so I didn't keep in touch with anyone. But one day, a woman was talking about our school on the radio. I called the radio station immediately to ask for her phone number. It was Kkurihara-san. We had walked through the burnt fields together looking for our classmates. We cried on the phone and were so emotional that we couldn't talk. 12’15’’

COMM: Many of Hiroden girls have been reluctant to talk about what had happened during the war. Their attitude changed though, when they were approached by a school teacher from Tokyo, who wanted to write about their experiences to children. 13’01’’

Fujii: It's all thanks to Mr. Kimura that we meet each other now. He wrote a novel about what happened to us. 13’18’’

SUB: KEN KIMURAI was really touched that girls of only 14 or 15 worked not only as conductors but also as drivers. That is why I decided to write a book about them. 13’27’’
Takebayashi: Once I was on my way home with other students and I saw a drunken soldier swinging his sword around. I was terrified, I tried to run but my feet were frozen. I can't say how frightening it was! 13’43’’

Fujii: Waves of American B29 bombers started to fly over Japan, but our anti-aircraft guns couldn't reach them. I thought there was no hope for Japan. I used to say to my best friend, Ishikawa-san "Japan will lose the war soon" 14’05’’

SUB: August 6 1945 8:15 amCOMM: Teruko Fujii was about to finish her shift driving a tram when the bomb hit. 14’42’’

Fujii: I thought, nobody has ever taught me about this. I thought I must have done something wrong. Perhaps I had let the cable get cut off. 14’49’’

COMM: Akira Ishida was on a tram heading away from the centre of the city. 15’06’’

SUB: AKIRA ISHIDAA member of prefectural council of Hiroshima. My brother was taking me to the Miyajima shrine to pray our victory. It was half a mile away from the epicentre when I saw a flash. 15’11’’

COMM: Most of the students were still at the dormitory. They had been arrayed in the morning, a few minutes before they came. 15’33’’

Yoneoka: after breakfast, when the warden was about to pray, we saw a bright flash. Everybody stood up, and then the ceiling fell down. 15’42’’

Fujii: When my sight became clear, I found that I had a gravel stuck in my throat. And my headband was gone. 15’58’’

Eoka: I was under the desk, and after a while, I got out of it grabbing the hem of someone else's skirt. It was dark outside like midnight. We rushed to the shelter in the schoolyard. When I looked down at body to see if I was OK, I saw that I was all covered in blood and I fainted like this. 16’12’’

Ishida: Crowds of people had been walking beside the tramlines. There was not a trace left of them. All the walkers had been carbonised. Their shapes were contorted…not at all like humans. 16’50’’

Yoneoka: The fire was about to catch us. We were told to evacuate, I couldn't move. That tiny woman carried me on her back. How on earth she managed to I have no idea. We laugh about it now. (laugh) On the way a soldier told her. "That girl on your back is already dead. Leave her here" I tried to shout, "I'm still alive!" but I couldn't speak. I managed to pull his shoulder. He said "Oh, she is alive!" and gave me an injection. Those two injections saved my life. 17’22’’

SUB: AIKO SUEMORI Suemori: People with terrible burns begged me for water. They were all naked. I didn't give them any water because I was told it would kill them. 18’08’’

Fujii: I was going back to school to report that my tram was broken. On the way I heard a little boy crying under a collapsed building calling his mother. I couldn't get him out by myself. And so I asked some students on the street for help. We pulled away the rubble and he popped out. He told me he wanted to find his mother. You might wonder why I didn't take him to the police for help, but I was too busy looking after myself. In wartime you don't know what your enemies will do next. Afterwards I wondered what had happened to that boy. 18’21’’

Ishikawa: It smelt horrible. The smell of burnt human flesh. I stayed in the shelter for two days, I could only eat two rice balls. They had sand in them. 19’15’’

Nakamura: We went to the red cross hospital to look for our friends. There a little boy asked me to take him to his mother. The nurse asked the doctor what to do with him. He said, "The boy will die soon. Just leave him on the mat. " How cruel, I thought, but there was nothing we could do. Circumstances weren't normal. Everybody there was injured. 19’29’’

Takebayashi: I wish I could say more about it but it is so painful for me that the words won't come out. From the bridge, we could see floating corpses covering the river. I was lucky not to be one of them. Although it was a real struggle, in the end, I got to Jissen school. One of my cousins, who was also working for Hiroden was injured. Her face and body were totally burnt and covered with maggots. I tried getting rid of them but they kept on coming back. She looked really desperate, She kept singing, "I'm going to marry Taro-san." Then she died. 20’05’’

SUB: August 9 21’24’’

Sound of ding-ding tram Sound of tram moving 21’34

Ishida: The tram ran through a city that was like a desert. At first it just went a short distance between Koi and Nishi-tenma-cho. What is more, the driver was just a schoolgirl. I saw the strength of those girls. Watching them was like seeing the strength of the city returning. 21’40’’

SUB: YUKIHARU NAKAGAWA Retired Hiroden Engineer Nakagawa: When I saw that the overhead lines were cut and stripped, I thought the trams would never run again. The substation was totally destroyed. It looked hopeless. 22’23’’

Suemori: I can still see those derailed trams. They looked like skeletons. Almost all of them were burnt. 22’41’’

Takebayashi: There were a few trams left in the garage, but they were buried under trees and rubbish. It looked horrible. I helped clear those trees and cleaned around the tram lanes so that we could get the trams out on the tracks. 22’53’’

Nakagawa: we were Hiroden tram men, we saw it as our duty to get the trams moving. Nobody had to ask us. It was just natural for us to get on with it. Everybody even Hiroden office workers, helped out. I was not an electrician, I had to learn how to fix the lines by watching others. The wires were burnt to pieces. We had to make long wires by sticking short pieces together. 23’19’’

SUB: HARUNO HORIMOTO Horimoto: I was looking after the injured at Jissen girls' school. Some had maggots in their wounds. To ease their pain I tried to remove them. Then the teacher came and asked me if I could work as a conductor because the trams were starting again the next day. 24’04’’

Horimoto: the first tram was chaos, full of displaced people, the injured, locals and housewives. There were people everywhere. 24’27

Suemori: The strength of human beings is amazing, isn7t it? Everyone was delighted. It was thought that Hiroshima would be dead for decades. So it was marvellous that the trams were running. I was proud that the trams we looked after were moving again. 24’42’’

Nakagawa: the tram gave people courage and the belief they could have a future. 25’03’’

To keep standing up on the tram was a struggle for me. I had diarrhoea from radiation sickness. People were overjoyed to see the tram running. I was told not to charge those without money. I t really meant something to people. 25’11’’

Kimura: I think the nature of the railway is to connect people. On the first day there was only one kilometre of track but it was the symbol of hope for the people of Hiroshima and so was the sound of the tram bell. 25’40

Horimoto: by then I felt numb…I wasn't scared of anything. It was like living in a trance. One day I would be working on the tram the next I would be searching for my mother. I feared that even her bones had been burnt to ashes. I have no idea what happened to her even today. 26’05’’

Yoneoka: Make it longer here! 27’00

Fujii: Here you mean. 27’03’’

Kimura: I think they changed after August 6. Before they had all worked hard for victory. But after August 6 everything changed. They lost what they had believed in. I suppose that made their friendship even closer. It gave them solidarity. 27’14’’

COMM: As Hiroshima nearly came back to life, girls continued to work on the trams. As they were filled up with returning soldiers, the girls were told that they were no longer needed any more as drivers. Hiroden girls also lost the chance of finishing the courses. The school was burned down, and the decision was made not to reopen it. 27’52’’

Nakamura: I felt so sad after all our efforts. The school disappeared like a mirage. It started with us…and it disappeared with us. 28’17’’

Horimoto: I had gone through hell, but I had not cried once. When the school closed down, though, something broke inside me tears suddenly streamed out of me like a waterfall. We got together in a circle and sang a farewell song. And a senior student sang a song called "Coconut," That was the moment I started to cry. I have been crying ever since. Nothing makes me happy. 28’31’’

Fujii: I still feel terrible about abandoning that boy. 29’40’’

Tsuboi: Many died on August 6. But 6 months later the death tol had risen to 140 thousand. And I was totally useless. I saw a middle aged lady lying under a collapsed house, She calls for help… and I still feel guilty for not being able to help her. Every survivor does. We could not do anything to help Children…adults too…asked me for water… Even doctors couldn't do anything. Nobody could. I still can't get that guilt out of my heart. 29’47’’

One day I would like to take part in the ritual of "water giving" at the peace memorial ceremony. I didn't give water to the dying. 30’42’’

Fujii: I had thought no one would understand how I felt. Some had said I was lucky to be bombed. They were thinking of the benefit money I got. No money can bring back the health I have lost. 31’33’’

Ishida: At the museum you can see the famous photo of the shadow, that was burnt into the pavement where a soldier had been sitting. 31’54’’

Fujii: Now I realize there is nothing to be ashamed of. I have asked my children to pass my story down to their children. None of the other girls are losing weight as quickly as I am. I wonder if I will be alive next year, I might not be able to talk to Mr. Kimura's students again.
Nakamura: We survived hard times together. So we say "Let's meet up as long as we are alive, let's live as long as we can." We are comrades. We are more than just friends. We are frank to each other and get along well. 32’05’’

Fujii: I used to slow down the tram, every time I saw boys running to jump on. I always let them on. There was this one boy who was on his way to the training camp. He must have thought he would never see Hiroshima again since he was joining a Kamikaze base. He met a friend of mine at the station and said "Fujii-san slowed down her tram for me, she thought about me!" He grabbed hold of my friend and danced her around the platform! Just as if she was me! I was so moved to hear that. How I wish I could have met him. I made a stranger happy. You know… Our youth was coloured grey. 33’00’’

Fujii: If I was young again, I would drive trams. 35’20’’
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