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Interview with Toshiko Kameya

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I'm not sure how much time had passed since I fell asleep on that night when my mother woke me up saying, "We'll have a terrible air raid tonight." At that time, there was a store named "Suehiro Miso" which sold soybean paste in our neighborhood. They had a building with reinforced concrete. Concrete buildings were rare then. I don't remember how many floors the building had. Its basement had been designated as the temporary shelter for the residents in Shirakawa-cho. I'm living in Hongo now. The University of Tokyo has been designated as my evacuation area in an emergency. In the same way, the basement of the Suehiro Miso was the designated emergency shelter in Shirakawa-cho in those days. However, we usually endured the air attacks in our own shelter. That night my mother woke us all up saying, "A terrible air raid will attack us tonight.", and urged us to evacuate to the basement of the Suehiro Miso. By the way, my younger sister was born when I was 1 year and 2 months old, and thus I was breast-fed just for a while. I don't know if it is the only reason but even now I have low blood pressure and it is not easy to get up early in the morning. I often feel nauseous when I get up early or when I am short of sleep. Anyway, I didn't get out of bed pretending to be ill when my mother tried to wake me up. Unlike nowadays, we didn't used to wear pajamas at that time. Do you know "monpe" (women's work pants)? --Yes.-- We used to sleep having the monpe on so that we could get ready for the enemy's attack anytime. However often my mother tried to wake me up, I never got out of bed saying, "Sorry, but I'd rather die than get up now." At last my mother said resignedly, "I can't help it. You're really impossible.", and started for the Suehiro Miso with my siblings. Going out of our house, my mother grumbled, "Damn! They just gave an air-raid warning at this time. What a miserable state the military authorities are in!" Those were her last words I heard. Anyway, my family members ran away. At that time my father was 47 years old and my mother was 38. As young men living in the town were all drafted for military service, my father probably had to serve as a member of the neighborhood association. That night, therefore, he must have been wandering about the streets shouting, "All residents must evacuate immediately!" through a megaphone because it was rumored that a terrible air raid would start soon. When he got home, my father found me still in bed. He was surprised because he had just assumed that all his family members had already been evacuated. In disgust, he kicked me hard shouting, "What are you doing here? The fire is blazing outside! Come on, get up!" And he got me out of bed. Then we headed for the soybean paste store to which other members of our family also went for safety. While running, my father looked up at the sky and said, "Oh, has it started raining?" I answered, "Rain? Really?" and raised my eyes skyward. The innumerable stars and the moon were shining brilliantly in the whole sky. I thought, "How strange. It never rains." According to the data which has been kept in the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, the enemy scattered oil and fat before they dropped the incendiary bombs. Another possibility is that the incendiary bombs contained oil and fat. It seemed that the oil poured on my father's face. That's why he said, "Oh, has it started raining?" Then my father and I arrived at the the soybean paste store. As we had no baggage, we were barely allowed to enter the building. But it was packed with people from the basement to the first floor. We were finally permitted to enter the doorway. Ten or fifteen minutes after that, . . . Well, have you read my memoir? --Yes.-- As I wrote in it, I heard a fearful scream from behind. I was thirteen years old and was in the first year of junior high school then. Through the war years we had run short of food and thus, unlike today's kids, I was small in stature. I was jostled in the crowd of men and women as on a jam-packed train nowadays. Because I was physically small, I couldn't be aware of everything happening around me in the building. Just as I asked my father, "Dad, what's happening?" a windowpane began to melt and the fire probably rushed into the building. So, we heard a cruel scream from behind and my father shouted at everyone, "If we stay here, we should die!" and tried to open the door. However, a man of the fire company cried, "As the streets are also in flames, we can't get out of here!" and tried to keep the door closed. But my father yelled, "No. If we stay here, we all should be burned to death!" He forcibly opened the door and cried at the top of his voice, "Hey, everyone! Get out of here! Run away!" As he also shouted at me, I got out of the building. At that moment, I was blown away by a gust. And my father told me to lie flat on the ground. I followed his direction and managed to come close to him. Not so far from there, there was the Onagi River which diverges from the Sumida River. Beyond the river, there were some concrete buildings such as a schoolhouse and a fire station. Thus, there were few inflammable buildings around there. Across the river, the galvanized iron sheets of the housetops came flying toward us furiously. The winds were blowing strongly. Sparks of fire also came flying at us. My father told me to fight the fire with the sheets of tin roof. The sheets of tin roof, sparks of fire and what not came flying this way fiercely. In the meantime, my work pants started burning. Fighting with the blaze, my father first tried to put out the fire on my work pants with his hands. But soon he stopped. I thought, "Oh, is Dad dead?" Suddenly my father said, "Come this way," and took me somewhere and threw me up behind a wall. It was almost as tall as a door which was about 2 meters high. My father threw me up behind the wall and I found that it was the site of a munitions factory. There were piles of iron scraps of wire fences or something like that on the ground. I landed on the ground with a thud unscathed. My father also jumped over the wall. The sheets of tin roof came flying toward us again and we struggled to defend against the sparks of fire with them. And I casually asked my father, "Dad, what if the wall collapses?" He replied, "Well, you should evacuate to a safer place." The wall fell with a thud the moment I moved to a lower place. So I spent the night being crushed under the collapsed wall. The next morning my father removed the rubble for me and I stepped outside. I saw a number of bodies on a wide street called the Mitsume Street. I think not all of the dead people were the ones who tried to run away from the Suehiro Miso and eventually died. Anyway, there were piles of bodies on the street. As we got smoke in our eyes, tears came falling every time we tried to open them. At the moment, we were walking barefoot probably because our shoes had been burnt away. The ground was still hot. We walked stumbling over the dead bodies. Diagonally opposite from where I was standing, the frame of the building of the first floor of the Suehiro Miso was still burning. As the first floor of the building was in such terrible condition, we couldn't possibly go into the basement. However, I somehow thought that my mother and my siblings might have survived because they must have been in the basement. Then my father told me that we should take turns in going to the air-raid shelter that escaped the fire to find our family members. He said, "If they are alive, they should come back here. So, let's take turns waiting here." Then my father first went off to some spots such as the fire station or the elementary school which had been designated as temporary shelters. One or two hours later, he came back. He couldn't find any member of our family. Then he said, "It's your turn now," and thus I went. However, I also couldn't find my mother and my siblings. As we would probably not get any food, there was no point in staying there that day. So we went to the company named "Asano Slate Co." which was my father's workplace. The building was located in Takabashi. It was also entirely destroyed by fire. So we headed for its parent company "Asano Cement Co." which was on the foot of Kiyosu Bridge. The building remained unburnt because it was a cement factory. We slept there bundled ourselves up in hemp sacks in the early hours of March 10th. The next day, my father wrapped my bare feet with the hemp sacks so that I could walk safely. And we went to the fire-ravaged district again. We searched for our family members around there during the day. But we could not find them. We could do nothing about that. Suddenly, my father told that we should go to Shibuya because Shibuya was an evacuation area for the residents of Fukagawa district. It was March 11th. That day my father and I decided to walk to Nihonbashi expecting that the subway would be running from Nihonbashi to Shibuya. Walking on and on, we saw a wide stretch of burned ruins. It even made me think that Tokyo must have totally been destroyed. It was just like the disaster areas of the Great East Japan Earthquake which occurred on Match 11th, 2011. I thought, "Ah, Tokyo must have been annihilated." At that time there was a department store named "Shirokiya" on the corner of the street. A fire broke out on the third or fourth floor of the building and continued burning. As my father said, the Asakusa Line, which is a subway now, was running from Nihonbashi to Shibuya. So we went to Shibuya by the Asakusa Line and headed for an elementary school. Although I was concerned that Tokyo might have been annihilated, I was somewhat surprised to see that the streets of Shibuya were undestroyed. Anyhow, we arrived at the elementary school. At last, we could get rice balls there. --Was the elementary school in Shibuya a temporary shelter?-- Yes. The schoolhouse seemed to have been designated as a shelter for the victims of Fukagawa district. So we went there and got rice balls. At the moment I was just like a fool. I felt as if I was on the verge of going mad. I had almost totally lost my thinking power. I just acted according to my father's directions. I had entirely lost my feelings of anxiety, frustration, or the sense of taste. I was numb. I was not sure if the rice ball tasted good or if it filled my stomach then. I ate the rice ball as I was told by my father. That's just about it. At that time, my uncle was living in Shinjuku. My father said to me, "There is no use staying here. I'll go and see how things are going in Shinjuku. You're staying right here." I answered, "OK." Nonetheless, I still had no fear that my father might be killed by the air attack. I remained there just because he told me to stay put until he comes back. My father came back in late afternoon. He said, "Shinjuku also hasn't been destroyed. Let's go to Shinjuku now." So we started for Shinjuku. When we arrived at our relatives' home, my cousins said to me, "You stink! You stink!"

Video Details

Duration: 12 minutes and 30 seconds
Country: United States
Language: Japanese
Genre: None
Views: 95
Posted by: japanairraids on Jun 16, 2013

Interview with Toshiko Kameya, who experienced the firebombing of Tokyo on March 10, 1945

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