Rebuilding Lives

I bought an audio version of The Street of a Thousand Blossoms to listen to while driving (I am an avid reader and listener of books).

Gail Tsukiyama’s novel starts before World War II and concludes years after the war ends. The story is about the violent rebirth of a nation and its people through war and defeat told mostly through the eyes and emotions of two brothers.

Because I served in Vietnam in the US Marines as a field radio operator, my focus has been on what combat does to soldiers—not noncombatants. However, after reading Tsukiyama’s novel, it is easy to see that civilians that experience the horror of war may also suffer from the trauma of PTSD.

To get an idea of the destruction and suffering, more people may have been killed or injured in the firebombing of Tokyo than from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki near the end of the war.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department reported that almost a 100,000 were killed in addition to a million injured with 286,358 buildings and homes destroyed. There were a million left homeless.

In comparison, it is estimated that 150,000 – 246,000 were killed from the atomic bombs, and if Japan hadn’t surrendered when it did, the US would have had seven more atomic bombs ready to drop on Japan’s cities before October 1945.

What led to the war in the Pacific?

Some of Japan’s leaders wanted to rule over East Asia, including China, and that quest for power cost Japan dearly and the nations it invaded.

However, in defeat, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Japanese civilians were killed in addition to 2.12 million military. In comparison, in all of World War II, the US lost 1,700 civilians and 416,800 military. At Pearl Harbor, the US lost 2,402 military and 57 civilians.

What is not well known is that the decision to attack the United States was not unanimous in Japan’s government or military.

“Military control in prewar Japan was exercised by the War and Navy Ministers and the General Staffs of the Army and Navy, not by the civil government.” Source:

In fact, “Higher Navy officials in Japan were against bombing Pearl Harbor, but the fleet commander, Yamamoto, threatened to resign unless given permission to launch the strike and the Navy staff reluctantly permitted it.” Source:

“To the conservative admirals of Japan’s Naval General Staff, a direct confrontation in the central Pacific Ocean between their navy and the Unites States Navy was unthinkable.” Source: Pacific

In addition, Emperor “Hirohito said he was powerless to stop the militarists because any dissent on his part would have led to his assassination.” Source: Net

Then Japan’s Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoe attempted to avoid war with the United States, and when he failed, he resigned from office on October 16, 1941 – six weeks before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.”  Source:

Hiroshi and Kenji are the main characters in The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, and what they experience during the war is often worse than that of soldiers in combat. The sense of helplessness is acute because the characters in the novel cannot fight back as bombs are dropped on them or as Japanese police force them to comply with harsh wartime regulations.

Hiroshi dreams of becoming a sumotori (a Japanese form of wrestling) while his younger brother, Kenji, is obsessed with the craft of carving wood masks worn by the actors of Noh Theater, a classical Japanese theatrical form—one of the world’s oldest.

Before the war, the brothers’ parents drowned in a boating accident, and they are raised by their grandparents in the Yanaka district of northeastern Tokyo.

The war interferes with the boys’ dreams and rationing leads to hunger and the struggle to survive.

Because we are either with Hiroshi or Kenji during the horrific fire-bombing of Tokyo, and they also experience the iron fist of the city’s police to control the people while Japan is losing the war, we discover what it must be like to live in a nation that is being defeated.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ends the war, but the emotional wounds are slow to heal. However, Hiroshi and Kenji renew their passions and through them we see the healing of a defeated nation. It is a bitter sweet story that I highly recommend—a story of resilience and rebirth.


Gail Tsukiyama was born in San Francisco, California to a Chinese mother from Hong Kong and a Japanese father from Hawaii. She attended San Francisco State University where she received both her Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Master of Arts Degree in English with the emphasis in Creative Writing.

Discover Stanford Study shows effect of PTSD trauma on brain


Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

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3 thoughts on “Rebuilding Lives

  1. The story basically takes place in and around Tokyo. It begins with a tragedy resulting in the grandparents raising Hiroshi and Kenji. Of special interest is Tsukiyama’s (author) use of Japanese words which lends authenticity; her descriptions of the household, customs, archetecture and surroundings. All of this seems to personalize the story and paints a more complete picture of Japanese life.There is an attempt before the war breaks out to get into the psychy of the Japanese: their blind devotion to the Emperor; respect for authority; and their discipline. She devotes a few pages to the war, mostly to the devasting March 1945 Firestorm which claimed 1000’s of lives. It affects the families of this story. Few of us are probably unaware of the secret police and system of informers used against their own people. They made life imbearable and went against the very humble, trusting, loyal nature of the Japanese people.Postwar JApan and the 7 year occupation by the American forces is revealed through the hardships endured by the families. This section is quite informative when one starts to comprehend the difficulties they experienced. We also see a trend of dissent towards the gov’t. The two boys’ lives take different paths and considerable interesting knowledge is gained about sumo wrestlers and Noh mask use and making.The author is careful not to be seen writing an historical cultural text but the lives of the famiies are interwoven into these events. Who of us live in a cocoon? We are products of our family, society and history. These events, historical and cultural, expose typical family life influenced by them. ANyone interested in Japanese life exhibited through the lives of a few families, must read these novel.

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