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Kiyo-oka Michiko Interview, 21 November 2010, Part 2

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The night of March 10 finally came. The wind was very strong that night. My sister and I commented on what a horrible night it would be for an air raid as we were going to sleep. But it did finally come. My father was head of the neighborhood firefighting association so he woke up first and went outside. I heard him cry out, "Incendiaries are coming down!" I was surprised. "Incendiaries?" I ran outside myself to see the planes. They were so big. It looked like you could reach out and grab them. They looked like a swarm of fireflies passing overhead one by one. And they were dropping countless incendiaries. My father saw that and knew that bucket relays were not going to be enough. He said we had to get away. Each of us was carrying a futon under both arms... We knew if we lost those there would be no replacements. The four of us together headed for Sumida Park. Unfortunately, the park ended up being downwind. At the time, however, there weren't that many people in the streets yet. We made good time as we ran. And once we'd reached the Kototoi Bridge, my father had us take shelter under it. I wanted to go somewhere else, but my father was afraid we'd be hit directly. So, anyway, we all got under the bridge. Once we'd put down our baggage I felt relieved. But then wave after wave of people arrived. The area under the bridge was soon full. Everything was burning all the way up to the sides of the river... Sparks blew through the air. We'd say, "Hey, you're on fire!" and pat out each other's flames. But soon enough, huge flames like those of from a flame thrower bore down on us all and my father cried out, "Get into the river!" as he pulled by mother's hand. We left our belongings and hurried to the river's edge. At the time, there was a concrete wall, but there were open spaces that connected to piers in the river. Those were the only places from which to reach the river. So everyone was rushing there. Everyone wanted to get into the water. I walked down the center of the steps and fortunately there was a jetty at the edge of the water. There was a mooring pole jutting out of the river there as well. I had intended to sit in the water on the jetty. But people were pushing so hard from behind that it was all I could do to not get completely pushed in. Somehow I was able to hang on. But my upper body was still exposed to the flames. I had to use my helmet to scoop water onto my body otherwise I'd catch on fire. Even so, my face did end up getting burned. I had a bonnet us well that I just kept wetting. My hands got tired and I could hardly even continue lifting them. On my left I could see that the Kototoi Bridge was now just an arch of flames. Thousands of people died there. People from the Asakusa side were trying to cross over... But they collided on top with those from the other side and no one could move at all. So many people died. I saw many jumping off the bridge. As I was watching I couldn't help thinking, "Ah, I guess i might die too. Maybe it's not even that bad..." But eventually it started to get lighter. The flames died down and became mostly smoke. I thought I'd die if I stayed there any longer so I stumbled back up onto the bank. There were corpses everywhere. I was so cold now. And my overcoat was soaked. I saw something still burning under the bridge, so I headed for that to warm my body. As I was warming by the side of it, I realized it was a smoldering mass of corpses. Bodies have oil, so even after the houses and everything had stopped burning, the corpses kept smoldering like that. As I was warming myself there, I saw an arm sticking up like this and I saw someone's nose holes in the pile... But by then I was numb to it all. I had to find my parents and sister, so I left the bridge. Dawn had come, but the wind was still strong. The smell of burning flesh was horrible. For a long time I couldn't eat fish. The smell of cooking sardines was too similar... And the smell had permeated my overcoat. It took a long time for it to wear off. The sounds, the smells, the things I saw... It's all seared into my memory. So I started searching for them. There were charred corpses, half-burnt corpses... Someone's lifeless body was leaning against a drum can... this here... There were so many types of corpses. I looked at each one, but I couldn't find my family. There were several people collapsed at the top of the stairs we had initially descended. I found my mother among them. She was soaked and unconscious. I called to her, "Mother!", but she didn't answer me. I wanted to get her to the fire to warm her. But I was wet, she was wet, she wouldn't move... Fortunately, two men in gaiters and carrying a fire hook passed by. I asked them for help. "This is my mother." One of them placed his hand on her chest and said, "Her heart's still moving. You've got to get her some warmth." They carried her to the spot under the bridge. And they brought some still unburned pieces of debris to add to the fire. They also found a scorched futon to put over her. ... Once morning had finally come, my mother was able to answer me. She immediately asked me, "Where are your father and Hatsue?" I went out to look for them two more times. I searched each body again, but still couldn't find them. I tried to encourage my mother. "You were okay, so I'm sure they managed to survive too." Eventually some military police came and told us we couldn't stay there. "You've got to go to Asakusa Elementary School." That had been my elementary school. The area around it had been cleared of buildings to serve as a firebreak. So it was all clear there. And the building remained standing because it was made of reinforced concrete. It was the designated refugee center for our area. They told us to go there. My mother was still shaky, but I supported her and we made our way to the school through all the corpses. each classroom was marked with the name of the neighborhood it was designated for. We found our room, but neither my father nor my sister were there. My mother wanted to check back at the remains of our house so we headed there. Again, we couldn't find them. My mother described how the three of them had entered the river together. She thought that they'd both likely died there. When I asked her why, she said that they'd descended the stairs on the right edge. In that spot there was no jetty and you had no choice but to enter the water. My sister was a good swimmer and reached a mooring post. She clung to it, so the water must have been up to here... Fortunately, my mother and father did eventually find a bit of concrete submerged in the water that they were able to stand on. They stayed there with their backs to the concrete wall behind them. The water was up to here for them as well, but they managed not to drown. They were like that until morning. My father told my mother she'd freeze there and to get out. My mother managed to inch her way toward the stairs and called out for help. Someone pulled her up with a fire hook. She remembered clinging to it, but nothing after that. Before she escaped, my father used a barrel that floated downstream and tried to go save my sister. He tried to reach the mooring post, but my mother said she saw him floating on his back. He probably just couldn't move anymore. Apparently, my sister called out, "Father!" and tried to reach him... Anyway, they both sank into the river like that.

Video Details

Duration: 9 minutes and 22 seconds
Country: United States
Language: Japanese
Genre: None
Views: 570
Posted by: japanairraids on Nov 25, 2010

Kiyo-oka Michiko Interview, 21 November 2010, Part 2

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