Because we lived inside the gulag, we were not really acquainted with how the Soviets were living in general, but it was obvious that Soviet fought seriously exhausting wars-- all the young men were taken to the war, and the ones remaining were children, old people, and the ones who were returned due to the injury in the war.
The same conditions are probably found in any other countries, but any need for the army is the priority during the war, and the way of living for the common people goes down to the minimum. I remember that in Japan, there was a famous phrase for everyone to remember during the war, “Until we win, we will not say we want something.” In reality, the life of the Japanese was already suppressed even without the need of remembering such a phrase. Gas for the cars was described as “a drop of blood,” so it was never available for common people. We were also encouraged to scrape off the pine trees to gain oil from the roots of the pine trees.
I could tell the life for the Soviets were also extremely poor. They barely had access to bread, but meat, fish and sugar were truly difficult to find.
Children running around the gulag were saying, “I will become captives when I grow up.” They said so because they were envious of the Japanese who were receiving meat and sugar. When we went to the store in the gulag, there was nothing we really wanted to buy, but I used to find many things like perfumes to spread on the floor, which was totally unnecessary. I realized it was the result of the gap between demand and supply in the system of planned economy. Vodka was extremely expensive probably because the manufacture was limited. It was priced as 100 rubles per 1 litter. We really tried so hard to obtain Vodka in such a circumstance.
This is what we did: we secretly carried a canteen under the fur coat at the time we were going out to receive food for our units, and just when we went through the gate, we handed the canteen to a vendor of the store. Then the next time we went through the same gate, we received back the canteen full of Vodka. However, one day, one of our group members was caught as he was carrying the canteen. He was taken to be kept in a guard house for heavy equipment. Since he was not given any food, my friend Yamaguchi and I quickly manufactured a copy of the key,which a guard loaned us, in order to take food for him.
Many of the Soviet women were slender and pretty in their twenties even though they did not seem they had much available in their lifestyle. However, after that, most of them began to gain a lot of weight. Their arms seemed strong enough to take care of men’s work. Underneath the fur coat, they wore clothes as thin as summer clothes. I really wondered if it was warm enough for them, but they seemed okay.
Many houses had walls made of logs. There were double windows and inside was warm because they warmed it by pechka (Russian stove). So when we looked at their house from outside, it looked very pretty. They seemed to have enough bread and potatoes, but seemed they could not get meat or fish as often.
In February of 1946, twenty of us Japanese were made to walk in the snow from our gulag to the Kizunnel station. One night, while we were staying over at a villagers’ home, I woke up to go to the bathroom and heard some noise as if somebody was eating something in the kitchen. I wondered what it was and peeked at the kitchen. What I found was the mother making her children lick the bones of the herrings that we did not finish. There must have been some more left to eat. It really made me realize they hardly had any fish to eat and how the life of the Soviets was tough as well. The salted herrings were what we took from the gulag.
There was one channel of the cable broadcasted radio. It was not a time of TV yet. Inside the gulag, there was a factory of wood. The army unit specializing in manufacturing was working to repair buildings there, and at the same time, they were making chests of drawers and chairs for the military officers in the administration bureau.