Toyama is an industrial city and the capital of Toyama Prefecture, which is about in the middle of Honshu, the largest island of Japan.
It is on the side facing the Sea of Japan, which the residents on the opposite shore have the audacity to call the Sea of Korea. During
WW2 it had a population of about 160,000 and was the center for aluminum, ball-bearing and special steel manufacturing. Toyama suffered
from the most devastating bombing attack of the war, except for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On the night of August 1, 1945, a total of 836 B-29 bombers dropped 6600 tons of incendiary bombs on 4 cities in central Japan. The
largest city and the highest death toll was in Toyama, with 2,149 reported deaths. This was the largest single-day bombing effort
for all of WW2.
Mitsuko Nishino was born and raised in the neighboring city of Takaoka but happened to be visiting a friend in Toyama on the night
of the bombing. The entire city was burned to the ground leaving only one building standing, called the Denki Building, which was
made of concrete and is still there today (denki means light - this was the electric power company building).
The Toyama bombing occurred at the very end of the war, since the first atomic bomb was dropped 5 days later in Hiroshima followed by
the second atomic bomb on August 9 in Nagasaki. Emperor Hirohito announced the Japanese surrender on August 14, 1945.
Mitsuko (at age 9 on right) & family
This harrowing first hand account of death and destruction was especially poignant as I traveled with my mother in Toyama and Takaoka
in October 2007. Here is her story...
Mitsuko's experiences during WW2
Mitsuko was the elder of 2 daughters from a fairly well-to-do family. Her father was a lawyer and a landowner, and
at times was also an officer in the Japanese army. He served in the war against China until he suffered a bayonet
wound through his shoulder, but later went on to fight in WW2. Mitsuko was 10 years old when her father fought in
China and 14 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, so her formative years were shaped by these wars. She was 18
at the end of WW2.
Getting into high school and college was very competitive since the workforce was needed for the war effort. Mitsuko
was fortunate to get into a good high school, but later her entire class (all females) was sent into forced labor
in a bolt factory in Toyama. They were housed in a nice hotel nearby. Since she had a cousin with some influence,
he was able to get her a job in the payroll department instead of the factory floor making bolts, like the rest of
her classmates. She handled the money, paying all the workers in cash on payday. She was confined to a small room with the cash and
had to ask for permission to leave to go to the bathroom. Besides being restrictive, the job was also very boring, so one day
she claimed to be sick and returned to her home. The Army soon came knocking on her door to force her back to work.
The complete destruction of Toyama
Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Fires raging in Toyama as seen from a B-29
Mitsuko was visiting a friend in Toyama on the night of the incendiary bombing of August 1, 1945. They lived on the outskirts of Toyama
near a rice paddy and she vividly remembers seeing the scores of B29s dropping their bombs on the city. The bombs lit up
the night sky, so she could clearly see the pilots and crew members in the planes as well as the string of bombs
falling from each plane. She spent the rest of the night in that rice paddy watching the city burn to the ground.
The next morning, it was clear the destruction of the city was complete, the US Air Force judging it to be 99.5%
destroyed. Many people tried to escape from the fires by jumping in the river, but the water was so hot they died
from the heat anyway. Mitsuko walked to her home in Takaoka, which was about 13 miles away. She saw what looked like
logs being pulled from the river and men with shovels throwing more logs into trucks. As she walked home, she
continued to see these "logs" on the road. She knew these were human bodies burned beyond recognition but put a wet
cloth over her nose and mouth to reduce the stench and told herself they were logs so she could make it home. She was
surprised that she did not feel a sense of fear during the bombing or even afterwards, instead she felt entirely numb
and disconnected from these horrific events. After she returned home, Mitsuko found out her parents had been
frantically searching for her all night, expecting the worse.
Alexander Hamilton Simpson Jr. was a sergeant in the US army and stationed in Japan from 1947 to 1952. He was one
of only 2 members of the US Military Government Team stationed in Toyama, there were also 6 officers in the CIC -
Counter Intelligence Corps. The other person in the US Military team was named Henley, who was 10 years older than
Al and released from prison so he could join the Army. He was in prison for murder. Both married local Japanese
women, as did their commanding officer. You can read the commanding officer's story here:
Military Occupation of Japan by Harry K. Fukuhara.
Several years later, I was born in Alabama and my father was not in town, but my parents agreed to name me after my father's two Army
buddies, Ralph W. Justice and Henley. The nurse did not understand my mother's accent and put on the birth certificate
"Henry" for my middle name, as it remains today. It's just as well that I am not named after a murderer.
Rebuilt Toyama Castle - Oct. 2007
The lifestyle Al and Mitsuko enjoyed was lavish by the standards of post-war Japan. Al worked in the Denki Building
(remember it was the only one standing) and the 8 officers and soldiers had housing constructed on the beautiful site
where the Toyama Castle once stood. The castle was originally built around 1543 by the lord of this region during the
shogun period of rule by samurai. Much of the castle was destroyed by fire in 1609 and rebuilt but was often damaged
by fire or earthquakes afterwards. The castle was home to the Toyama shogun until that system of rule was abolished
in 1867. After being destroyed in WW2, the castle was rebuilt in 1954 and has been used as a museum and park since
Since there were only 2 enlisted men in Toyama, they received the equivalent of officer quarters.
Mitsuko was even asked to go into town to select the furniture she wanted for her house. They all had their
own maid and Mitsuko was able to order all meals from a menu, even for visiting guests. She had a driver and jeep to
take her shopping, visiting friends and family, or to go to the beach. The driver would wait for her and take her home
when she was ready to return.
It took several years for the Army to approve the marriage, and their marriage certificate was finally signed and approved by General
MacArthur. Unfortunately, this marriage was never approved by Mitsuko's father.
Being the elder of 2 daughters, she was expected to carry on the Nishino family name. But Mitsuko not only married a US soldier who
her father fought against in the war, he knew this meant she would some day move to the US. So Mitsuko's father disinherited
her and would seldom speak to her again. Her father then arranged Mitsuko's younger sister's marriage with a family
friend who had twin boys. In Japanese tradition, the elder boy (by 5 minutes!) would inherit all the family wealth
and property so the younger boy was married off to Mitsuko's sister and he took on the Nishino name, inheriting the
Nishino family fortune. Their four children would have their college educations and first homes paid for by this family inheritance.
Al and Misuko lived in Toyama until the end of 1950 and then moved to Hiroshima, where Al was responsible for
training the Japanese soldiers. This was 5 years after the atomic bomb leveled that city and the long-term effects
of radiation exposure were not yet well-known. They were stationed there for about a year and a half, returning to
the US in the summer of 1952.
1953 in Ozark Alabama
Our house in Germany 1954-56 (picture taken 2007)
Al Simpson grew up in a poor family on a farm in Georgia, but tried to keep a similar lifestyle on returning to the US
as they enjoyed in Toyama. This was not easy to do on a sergeant's salary. By then they had a young daughter, Rita,
born in 1949 and me on the way. Mitsuko expected all Americans to be rich and have cooks, maids, gardeners, etc.
and was shocked to find that they could only afford one person to both cook and clean the house. A year and a half
later we all moved to post-war Germany, where US dollars would go a long way. We lived in a very nice home, had a
Mercedes and a boat on the lake.
By 1956 we returned to the US (Columbia South Carolina this time) and my mother finally had the realization that a
sergeant's pay does not allow for the luxury of servants and cooks and that not all Americans are rich.
My mother, Mitsuko Nishino Simpson, was born and raised in Japan. She met my father while he was stationed there after WW2 where
they married and had their first child, Rita in 1949. They moved to Fort Rucker near Ozark, Alabama in 1952 where I was born in March of 1953.
While my father was in the Army, including after he returned to the US, he continued to help his parents by sending a significant part
of his small salary to them each month. Despite this, my mother was able to save $700 while they were in Japan and kept this
in the "Bank of Sealy Posturepedic".
Family portrait in 1953
In the summer of 1954, my father was transferred to Heidelberg, Germany and moved there to find a
house for us and get things settled before we joined him. During these few months, he thought we should move into his parents home so
they could help my mother with her two young kids. Also, my mother was still learning English and did not drive or know her way around
this strange country.
So my mother, sister and I moved from Ozark, Alabama to my grandparents farm in Moultrie, Georgia. My sister was 5 and I was one year old.
What my father did not understand was the degree of animosity my grandparents had against my mother because she represented the enemy of
WW2, the Japanese. Also, the small southern town of Moultrie was not use to having Asians in their midst. My mother would have strangers
come up to her and touch her shiny, black hair or follow her as she walked in town. My mother related some of the cruel treatment we all
endured at the hands of my grandparents during these months. Besides the daily verbal taunts and threats, she was faced with other forms
of mental cruelty.
At meal time, the 3 of us would have to wait until after the rest of the family finished eating, then we would sit at the table and eat
whatever was left over, which was usually not much. For instance, they often had fried chicken and my mother said all we ever got was
fried liver and gizzards, which she was not familiar with but learned to like.
Alex and Emma Simpson
Sometimes, my grandmother would hand out candy or cake to the other grandkids in front of my sister and I, and would make a point of not
giving us any. My mother then had my uncle, Weyman, take her to the store to buy candy to give to us for such occasions. My mother is a
chocoholic and my father sent some money from Germany to his mother asking her to buy a nice box of chocolates for my mother as a gift. My
mother was given a bag of cheap, peanut-shaped marshmallow candy instead and only found out later she was supposed to have gotten some nice
My mother was receiving my father's monthly salary of about $160 and would give $60 to my grandfather each month. My father's generosity to
his family is evident in the letter to his mother below. One month, on the day after giving him $60, Alex Simpson Sr. asked my mother for
more money, saying that he already spent the $60. My mother explained that she needed the money to set up house in Germany.
When she asked how much he needed, he said $700! This was a small fortune for a Staff Sargeant in the Army in 1954 and was a suspicious request
since it was exactly what my mother had saved.
My mother would not turn over the money, so she was threatened by both of my grandparents, Alex and Emma. They told her it was their
son's money, so she did not deserve to have it. They trashed the bedroom the 3 of us shared looking for the money but could not find it.
One night, in the middle of the night, my mother could not sleep because she heard Alex and Emma in the adjoining bedroom talking about the
$700. Then Alex came into her room demanding the money. When my mother wouldn't tell him where the money was hidden, he physically assaulted
her, attempting to strangle her with his hands. My mother tried to fight him off, without much success and was close to losing conciousness.
At the last moment she decided to pry a finger between his hands and her neck. This allowed enough blood to flow that she kept up a lively
fight until Alex eventually gave up and went back to bed.
As soon as Alex got back to his bedroom, my mother heard Emma's excited question, "Did you do it?" She could not make out Alex's reply
but remained in bed petrified for the rest of the night. My mother felt Alex was truly intent on killing her if she did not give up the
money and feared he would return at any minute.
The next morning, Emma attacked my mother, chasing her down the street with a broom. My mother asked Weyman to take her to the doctor
because she was having a nervous breakdown. The doctor told Weyman to immediately rent an apartment for Mitsuko and do not allow her to go
back to the Simpson farm. We stayed in the apartment and my uncles Weyman and Herbert helped my mother get groceries, etc.
After we all arrived in Germany, my mother was finally able to tell my father what happened. My father quit sending money to his
parents on a regular basis but would continue to send money in emergencies to his parents and siblings.
As far as I know, we only saw my grandfather twice after this attempted murder. Once was in 1958 to attend my grandmother's funeral and
the second time was in the late 1960's when my father, brothers and I went to southern Georgia to take my grandfather fishing. My mother
went on the trip but stayed with one of our aunts or uncles while the rest of us spent the day with my grandfather. It was only much later
in life I found out why she did not see my grandfather.
My mother kept this attempted murder by her father-in-law as a family secret for over 50 years, only telling me after I created this
SimpsonHistory.com website in 2007.