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Ex-Mainichi worker, 90, can never forget Pearl Harbor attack headline

Yasuhiko Nishimura speaks of his war experience as he holds the archived article of the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun published on Dec. 8, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- "Japan declares war on U.S., Britain at dawn."

    This is the newspaper headline that Yasuhiko Nishimura, 90, will never forget.

    It was for the front-page top story on the Dec. 8, 1941 evening edition of the then Osaka Mainichi Shimbun that covered Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Nishimura, who was working at the newspaper company as a 15-year-old pageboy to assist editing work, was surprised to see the banner headline written by a page editing staffer. It was the beginning of the Pacific War that dragged on for three years and eight months.

    "It's strange. There have been many events that happened after World War II ended, but most of my memory is filled with that war, including this headline," Nishimura said, as he holds a book archiving newspaper articles that says "December, Showa 16 (1941)" on its spine.

    Nishimura was born in Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture. After graduating from a senior elementary school in the former Japanese education system, he worked at the newspaper while studying night classes at an engineering school in Osaka.

    At around 9 a.m. on Dec. 8, 1941, right after Nishimura arrived at his office, he noticed something unusual at the editorial department which was located on the second floor of the then head office of the newspaper in Osaka's Dojima area. Usually, not many people would be at the office at that time of day, except for some workers who were taking a break and smoking after their night shifts. On that day, however, stenographers were glued to telephones and writing away. Manuscripts written from stenographers' notes were being thrown to page editing staffers. Reporters, meanwhile, were silent, creating an unusually tense atmosphere.

    "Here," a page editing writer raised his hand, with a piece of paper with the headline. It was a pageboy's job to deliver headlines to the plate making department, so Nishimura took the paper and ran. The initial headline that Nishimura was given, before being revised to the final version, was a screamer using a large font, which astounded the then 15-year-old boy. Nishimura had thought that Japan would go to war with the United States someday, but it was actually happening now.

    The front page of the evening edition that day was filled with stories related to the start of the war with the U. S. and such headlines as "Promulgation of Imperial rescript on war declaration" and "Deadly air strike on Hawaii" appeared. Nishimura, after the evening edition was published, sat for classes at his school.

    Despite people's expectations that their typical lifestyle would return after the Pearl Harbor attack, all of Japan subsequently became dragged into war. The Imperial General Headquarters announced false outcomes of battles and newspapers eventually started printing stories about "honorable deaths" in suicide attacks. By 1945, the surrounding areas of the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun head office had burned to the ground in repeated air strikes.

    Nishimura was drafted in the spring of 1945, two years after he transferred to the print department. The then 18-year-old Nishimura was sent to the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese army that the newspaper glorified with the line, "Let's wipe out the enemy of Asia!" on the day when Japan declared war with the United States turned out to be pathetic. Nishimura was not given ammunition, probably due to supply shortages, so he went out to the woods to look for bamboo to make spears. One time he walked for two days from Mokpo, southwest of the peninsula, and arrived on a mountain in a coastal area and dug a hole to make trenches there.

    He heard the radio broadcast by Emperor Showa in August that year, and learned that Japan had lost the war.

    Three months after the war ended, Nishimura returned to Japan and soon after went back to work. Throughout the years Nishimura worked at the Mainichi Shimbun until he retired in 1986, there were the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, among other exciting events. But for Nishimura, the memory of the Pacific War that started with the banner headline has stayed in his mind.

    "War is like a black hole," Nishimura said, as he closed the book of archived articles.

    "I can only think that war sucked up all the memories of the 71 peaceful postwar years just like a black hole."

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