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Saotome Katsumoto interview, 10 August 2009, part 4

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So that's how we fled on the night of March 10 until we eventually reached the Sumida River. Of course, we ended up losing all the belongings that we'd loaded onto the bicycle cart. At least we were safe... All of us. Mukojima just happened to be slightly away from the center of the attack. The areas that were most damaged are in what is now called Koto Ward--the vicinity of our historical center. In those days it included two wards: Honjo and Fukagawa. Other affected areas were the Joto, Asakusa, and Nihonbashi wards. Mukojima was fifth or so on the list. Just a bit off center. In the end, perhaps we shouldn't even have run away because our house didn't burn down. It didn't burn down, but it was one of a small handful that stood there looking like an island among the ruins. Everything else was gone. The area had been reduced to a burned out wasteland. Crowds of refugees made their way on the main thoroughfares. My house faced one of these big roads. The refugees would always look back at our house with a rueful expression. You could hear them saying, "That one didn't burn down..." It made us feel guilty for simply not having had our house destroyed. I was even scolded for looking out at the refugees from the window on the second floor. Lots of things disappeared. When I say "disappeared" I mean that they were stolen. The refugees had nothing. They'd come asking to use the toilet and take some sandals or something when they left. You really couldn't blame them. They were walking barefoot. There were three such large-scale raids. The first was March 10. The next targeted the western side of Tokyo and came on the night of April 12th and 13th. Finally, there was another major raid targeting everything that was left in the city on May 24-25. All in all, Tokyo was bombed over one hundred times total. But that third major raid in May was particularly dangerous. The raid lasted for two days. Just as the number of B-29s to participate in the raid was much greater, so was their payload much higher. Between those three rads, roughly 50% of Tokyo's area was destroyed. The May attack really was much worse. We had to once again flee among the hail of incendiaries smashing down around us. Sometimes the bombs would fail to ignite, but this was rare. The bombs always destroyed everything in the vicinity where they landed. So you had to run between the explosions and fires in search of spots that had already burned down. By that time there were plenty of such areas. The red-light district in Tamanoi was also consumed in the flames. When running away from our "island house" pretty much everything around us was a sea of destruction. You'd think you could be safe just by reaching such areas, but you weren't. The fighters now being launched from aircraft carriers started strafing with their machine guns. When there's strafing, what you really need is a place to hide. So by fleeing to desolated areas, you could actually end up endangering yourself even further because there was nowhere to take shelter. And everyday life was reduced to wandering around the ruins trying to find things that could still be used. For example, if there was a canning factory or something you could maybe find some charred goods that were still edible. Another thing we did was visit the Sumida River. There were bodies floating all over the surface, but among these you could sometimes find a clump of wax. I think the reason is that there was a shipyard somewhere upstream. The shipyards would use wax when sliding the ships to the water. I think all this wax had melted and washed downstream. We were just kids, so we'd scoop the wax out with a net, take it home, and make candles out of it. It's more difficult than you'd think. You have to thread string through the center to act as a wick. We'd use a nail and pieces of bamboo that had been split in half. You put the nail over the top like this, then tie the string to the nail and let it hang down into the bamboo canister... ...all the way to the bottom... Then you pour in the melted wax. After it hardens, you can open up the two halves of the bamboo that were held together with another piece of string. If you did it right, you'd then have a candle. There was no electricity. It was always dark. So you could take the candles around the neighborhood to sell. Actually to exchange for other goods. That was our daily life. Of course, I really didn't expect to live very long. Our teachers told us we could expect to live twenty-five years, but I didn't even expect that. Within the next few years, either something miraculous would happen to destroy America and save Japan... ...or, failing that, the entire nation would perish like Kamikazes. Those were the only two paths I could see. But even as a child, I knew there wasn't going to be any miracle....

Video Details

Duration: 7 minutes and 39 seconds
Country: United States
Language: Japanese
Genre: None
Views: 298
Posted by: japanairraids on Sep 14, 2010

Saotome Katsumoto interview, 10 August 2009, part 3

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