“Getting aboard Tsushima Maru”

“Getting aboard Tsushima Maru”
Sumiko Horikawa, 84 years old
(Place of birth: Tomari, Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture)


Up until the first term of the sixth grade, we somehow were able to have classes at our school. However, after that summer break, the school building became military housing. Then, the evacuation started. While everyone else, including all my friends, already finished the formalities for the evacuation, I went to the house of the neighborhood association leader and belatedly finished the formalities. Not long after that, I would be boarding the Tsushima Maru would be sunk under an attack.


The Tsushima Maru left the port on August 22. Everyone was fired up with high hopes such as, “We can see snow,” “We can see cherry blossoms,” “We can ride a train,” and “We can enjoy boat rides.” These were the ideas we had. As we were told that we would be back home in March, we were not taking it seriously and said, “This is like going on a school field trip.” We had no idea how fierce and worse the war had become by then; although I remembered that the air-raid alarm went off and we evacuated to an air-raid shelter once prior to our departure.

I heard at later date that my mother was so worried about me prior to my departure, but I believe that she did not want to show me her anxiety.
She came with my elder sister to the port to see me off and she told my elder sister not to cry. She was trying not to show any look of anxiety in front of her daughter who was just about to leave home. She was suppressing her feeling of wanting to cry due to anxiety. I was told this story at later date.

(After boarding the Tsushima Maru)
Before going to bed, we were told to put on a life jacket as we were approaching to the most dangerous point, called Shititou-Nada. We, female students, obeyed the order faithfully, put on the life jackets and went to bed. However, none of the male students went to bed wearing a life jacket because they said that they wouldn’t be able to sleep well with the jackets on.

After sleeping for a while, I heard the voice of the female teacher named Chiyo Gushi. She was shouting “We were attacked! Everyone, wake up!” I jumped up to my feet and ran to escape while following the others. I somehow could get up to the deck, but there seemed to be many others who could not get up from the bottom of the ship. There were many people left at the bottom of the ship, I believe.


While I was going upward, I saw one of my friends named Maeshiro. She was on board with her younger sister. However, she let her sister sleep beside her teacher because her sister became seasick, so Maeshiro was looking for her sister. It was so difficult to find her in the chaos and the teacher told her, “I will look for your sister. You had better go up.” Then, we went up to the deck together, but it was too late. All the evacuation boats and rafts were already lowered. Not knowing what to do, all I could do was stand on the deck. Then, suddenly a massive volume of sea water crashed onto the ship and the ship was sunk. I was drawn into a whirlpool and hit by something although I was not sure if it was a person or luggage. I was turned around violently under the sea. Then, although I was not sure how long I was under the sea, the life jacket, which I put on before going to bed lifted me up to the surface and saved my life.

I felt that more adults were thrown into the sea than elementary school students because I realized the next day that many of the adults we had were gone. I wondered if they were swept away by a big wave and those who were hanging on to something to survive had gone under the sea after using up their strength.

I saw a male student who was one of my classmates drift away before my eyes at around 3 o’clock the following day. The scene still is still so vivid in my memory. When I found him, he was moaning because, I believe, he was injured by being hit by something. Then, after a while, at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I saw him drift away because he had no more strength left to hang on.

(After being rescued)
Just before sunset on the following day, we were rescued by a fishing boat. The plane flying over the area at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon sent a message to the fishing boat saying, “We found people who were shipwrecked. Please head for the south.” Then, we were rescued by the fishing boat. The man called Mr. Samejima, whom I met at later date, told me the story. We spent a night on the fishing boat. Then we went to the Fisherman’s Union at Yamakawa Port. We stayed there overnight and went to Kagoshima City on the following day. While we were staying at the Fisherman’s Union at Yamakawa Port, the women’s association members came over and prepared some rice gruel. Then, we headed to Miyazaki. Although we were called “the first party,” there was another party in Miyazaki called “the advance party,” which had departed before us. The teacher in charge of the advance party came over to pick us up and we all headed for Miyazaki.


After being rescued, we were taken to a Ryokan (a Japanese-style hotel), then we were divided to the student evacuation party and the general evacuation party. Then, we were taken to another Ryokan called Harumoto, I believe. That was where we met the teacher in charge of the advance party who came to pick us up. We stayed at the designated facility for the students for a while, but as soon as my aunt and uncle in Okinawa came to Kumamoto for evacuation, I left to live with them.

We lived in the mountainous countryside in Kumamoto for a year or more, which I do not remember clearly, until we returned to Okinawa. The life there was not easy, but we had enough food to survive. We ate various things such as pond snails, wild rocambole and bamboo shoots.

All school kids seldom went to school there because we were too busy with working in the wheat fields and transplanting rice seedlings.


One day, we all were transplanting rice seedlings under the school order in the rice fields belonging to a family who was away from home. Then, we were told, “Everyone, get out of the fields,” and taken to the place located a little further up from the shrine. There was a radio and everyone was gathered there to listen to the important radio broadcast by the Emperor. Soon after the broadcast began, a male teacher started loudly crying and I wondered what was going on. Although I did not understand well what the Emperor was saying, the male teacher was loudly crying. It was the most impressive experience to me.

(Withdrawing to Okinawa)
There was almost no information available on the situation in Okinawa, but when we had to return to Okinawa, the information became available a little by little. We were interned in Camp Innumiya-dui (Camp Castelo) at Kubasaki in Okinawa. As I was given the contact information of my family there, I was relieved and thought that everything would be OK.

We arrived at Naha Port first and we found pampas grass all over the port. Okinawa changed so much that it made us wonder if we were actually in Okinawa. There was pampas grass all over the streets and even at the place called Tondoh in Naha City. We were so surprised when we saw white people and black people standing there.

When we arrived at the port, our breasts were exposed and then we were sprinkled with white powder, the insecticide called DDT. Then, we were taken back to Kubasaki by truck. I was told that the information on my family location became available there. As my mother was tied up with something else, my grandmother came over to pick me up. I remember her coming out of a car in her shabby clothes and that she was skinny. The first comment she made was, “Why, you are smaller than before you left home for the evacuation!” She looked surprised because I became so skinny and small.

(Looking back at the war)
I still wonder if it was real every once in a while. Many things happened to me. Now it is peaceful and everything including food is bountiful.

There are many poor children. I often wonder why children always become the victims. I do not want the times of war to come again at any rate. We all should never go into war again anyway.