SAOTOME Katsumoto interview, August 2009, part 1
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Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, became a battlefield from the end of November, 1944. Normally, a "battlefield" is a place where bloody soldiers fight the enemy. And since Japan is surrounded by ocean on all sides, up until that time all her battlefields had been in far away places. I suppose Japan was similar to England in that respect. With the advent of the B-29 bombers, however, these battlefields were immediately relocated to the home islands. This happened about the end of November 1944. From that time, and beginning with Tokyo, the eerie sound of air raid sirens never ceased ringing out in our towns. The war ended the very next year. I was twelve years old at the time. My family lived in the Shitamachi area and I was in my first year of junior high school. I was only twelve, but my birthday came early in the year. In reality, however, our education was finished. We never really went to school. Even children that young were expected to work for the country as part of the "Student Mobilization Program." I was sent to work in a steel mill. But there were air raids day and night so we couldn't really even work. That's how I spent my days until March 10, 1945. I have a picture here... This is me in the center. You can see how young I am. And this is my brother. He was a soldier. Pretty much everyone in their twenties was a soldier. Here's my mother and sister... There aren't many pictures like this, but anyway that's me in those days. --Where was your father at the time?-- My father was with us, but he wasn't healthy. He couldn't work most days. --What part of Shitamachi did you live in?-- We lived in the Terashima-cho neighborhood of Mukojima. It's next to the Tamanoi neighborhood, which was made famous in Nagai Kafu's novel "Bokutokidan." Tamanoi was completely burned out by the raids. Anyway, we lived right next to there in Terashima-cho. --Had you seen any B-29s before March 10?-- Oh, of course. The B-29s began to appear from November 1, 1944. There was a reconnaissance mission that day. The plane looked about the size of a fountain pen's tip. Kind of like this... It was flying very high at 10,000 meters. ...and flew straight on... The planes had four engines, so they trailed four clouds behind them. At first I thought it looked like four individual rockets. Reconnaissance missions like this were flown repeatedly for awhile. They were taking pictures from 10,000 meters in preparation for the coming attacks. At 10,000 meters, there was nothing the Japanese side could do. Anti-aircraft cannons and fighters were useless. All we could do was watch them fly overhead. Everyone knew actual air raids would begin soon, so during this time a lot of people moved to the country. Many houses were empty. We knew it was dangerous too, but there was nothing to do because we'd all been born in Tokyo and had nowhere to go. So we ended up staying in Shitamachi and experiencing all the raids that happened prior to March 10 as well as everything that came after that. Of course, most air raid survivors now tend to be even older than I am. Most of them have already passed on.... --Could you describe what happened on March 10?-- Well, it's difficult to describe simply. After all, 100,000 people died in a single night... I don't even like to say it so simply: "100,000 people died..." Each of those are individuals. Just a few hours before death, they'd all been talking and sighing with family members in their small homes. Each one of them had a unique life and personality. Never before in history... in the history of warfare... had such a large number of people been killed in such a short amount of time. It was truly an historically unprecedented event.
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