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NIHEI Haruyo interview, June 2011, part 2

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The shelter was pretty small and could only accommodate about 10 people. When I entered it, several persons of my neighbor were already there. My mother, sister, and I entered the shelter and stayed there. My father was outside the shelter and watched the situation around there. My older brother was sent somewhere because the mobilization of junior high school students had been in force at that time. We didn't know where he was then. I remember huddling with others and staying still in the shelter. -- How long were you staying in the shelter? -- I'm not sure. Inside the shelter, I heard the sounds from outside. They grew louder and louder. Although the sounds were not so noisy at first, the bumping noises, the bursting sounds, and the incessant footsteps overhead grew more violent. I also heard a mother crying somewhere. She might have been calling her child's name. I just heard some screechy voice, though. The sounds like the wails of kids grew intense more and more, and those vibrations reached our shelter. I was fearful. I remember stopping my ears and staying still in the shelter. Therefore, I don't remember how long I stayed there. In the meantime, my father, who'd been watching the situation outside the shelter, said to us, "Hey guys, get out of there!" "If you're staying there, you'll be roasted. Hurry up and get out of there!" So my mother, sister, and I got out of the shelter one after another. Then a woman next door, who had been in the shelter earlier than us, and who was my playmate's mother, pulled the hem of my clothes and said, "If you go out now, you'll be burnt to death. You should stay here." However, as my father told us to get out and my mother and sister followed his direction, I also went out of the shelter breaking free of that woman. Her family remained inside the shelter. When I went out of the shelter, I noticed that the state of our town had changed completely. It was quite different from what I saw before entering the shelter. A roaring fire enveloped the Keiyo Road which was near our house. A number of people were running in a stream toward the Kameido Station with their belongings or babies on their back, or leading their kids by the hand. No one went in the opposite direction. The wind was so strong that they might have been drifted off with the wind toward the station. I can say that they were running from the west to the east. Sparks of fire came flying at us from the side furiously. People were running amid a shower of falling sparks. I don't know what to say, but sparks of fire were not small. As houses were on fire, large pillars, tatami mats, something like blankets and other things were burning and flying toward us, gliding on the wind. All those things hit the persons who were fleeing from fire. I was especially shocked to see a baby who had been carried on its mother's back. That mother, with her baby on her back, was also leading her kid by the hand. The sparks of fire must have hit the baby. The baby was burning on the mother's back. The mother was frantically running probably because she was not aware of her baby burning on her back. At that time, there were a great number of kids in Japan. It may be due to the national policy that encouraged people to have many children for making our country stronger. Under such situation, parents led their kids by the hand, and those kids also joined hands with their siblings. Not everyone had shoes in those days. We'd slip on sandals or wooden clogs, and, with anti-air-raid hoods on, had been running through the blazing flames as if we were dragged by something. Sparks of fire also hit the kids and their bodies caught fire. Kids can easily fall down on the ground. They'd often trip over at the time. As they were already surrounded by flames, kids screamed in terror and rolled over the ground, turning into human torches and burning alive. I couldn't grasp the situation and did nothing but watch the terrible scenes before my eyes. My family, including my father, also tried to run away. This is only my guess but my father might have judged that we wouldn't be able to go on. We temporarily took refuge on the bank on the opposite side of the Keiyo Road which I mentioned earlier. I remember staring at the town in which our house was being destroyed by fire. As our residence was just a two-storied fragile wooden house, it burned ferociously. In those days, I'd often go to a dagashi-ya. Do you know dagashi-ya? It's Japanese cheap sweet shop. At that store, candies or rice crackers would be sold singly at a low price. It was a haunt in which kids used to spend their time happily. The store was also on fire. When I was a kid, I was constitutionally weak. I was often brought to consult a children's doctor named Ohi. He'd examine patients at night time, too. His clinic was also burning, and so was a fish shop. I had been staring at those burning houses absent-mindedly. I don't remember at all if I felt heat or pain physically under such situation. Those feelings must have gone completely then. I had just been watching the houses on fire. I clearly remember a few unforgettable scenes which are imprinted into my memory. There were a number of horses at the time. Automobiles were probably taken over for our army. Unlike today, there were not many automobiles then and horses were used for carrying loads. The horses were somehow frightened at the fire. They went crazy and started to run frantically. They burned and fell one after another. In such situation, a horse was treading through the fire from Kinshicho toward Kameido. That horse was accompanied by a packhorse driver. It kept on treading, led by the driver. However, just before the bank on which I was standing and overlooking below, the horse was stalled and couldn't move any more. It stood still with its four legs stretched tightly. The horse had been drawing a cart on which a huge amount of loads was packed. The packhorse driver had been holding the horse by the bridle. When they were standing, the fire spread to the load first. It burned with ferocious speed. Then the horse caught fire. However, it never became violent. It might have lost consciousness. Anyhow, the horse didn't grow restive and was just burning on its feet. Just then, the fire spread to the packhorse man. Even so, the horse never abandoned him. Standing still by the basket attached to the horse, the man also eventually burned holding the reins or something like this. I continued staring at such terrible scenes. A lot of firemen arrived before long, and set out to spray the burning houses with water hoses. However, only a little water came out of the hoses. I heard afterward that the fire engine had been burned off then. At that time, the government had issued a rule that fire fighters should never leave their post during working hours. As they were not allowed to run away, the firemen had to continue hosing water. And then the fire also spread to their clothes. Hosing water, they were burning and fell down one after another. I gazed at those awful scenes on the bank. I don't remember having the human senses or emotions such as "hot," "terrible," or "painful" under the cruel situation. I just remember feeling uneasy about my dolls displayed in the Girls' Festival. A misgivings that they might be on fire crossed my mind. I truly loved my dolls for Japanese Girls' Festival in March 3rd. Though we put away the dolls on the 4th every year, we left the dolls on display that year. I only remember fearing that my dolls may possibly be burnt. In the meantime, the roaring fire reached the bank on which we had took refuge. My father suggested that we should get down the bank, if I remember right. Joining hands tightly, four of us descended from the bank to the Keiyo Road and rushed through the fire toward the station. As my anti-air-raid hood caught fire, my father cried, "Take off your hood!" He was grasping my hand tightly then. I remember the feel of his palm even now. Following my father's direction, I let go of his hold for my life, and unfastened the string tied like this. When I tried to untie the string and remove my hood, I was blown off by the violent fire and wind because I was just a kid and of small stature. I felt as if I was pushed by the dancing fire or was swallowed into the blaze. As I got separated from my family, I walked round and round alone surrounded by fire. I don't remember where and how I escaped. I suppose it was all I could do then to go back and forth in the blazing fire. I was only 8 years old. While I was walking, I happened to arrive at a corner where no fire could be seen. It was pitch-dark there. However, I noticed an enormous building before my eyes. If I remember rightly, it was of reinforced concrete. In a shadowy hollow place of the building, someone kept standing and burning with flames on his/her body. I thought momentarily, "I must put out the fire on that person's body." In those days, teachers or parents would often say, "You don't have to fear the incendiary bombs." "Whenever you see them dropped on the ground, put them out immediately." As I somehow thought that I should put out the fire, I approached the person. I tried to brush away the sparks of fire from his/her body with some thing. At the time, however, I had lost my anti-air-raid hood and my knapsack containing my valuables. I should have been wearing an overcoat I got as a hand-me-down from my brother, but I'd lost it, too. I had nothing then. As I had nothing for brushing the sparks off the person's body, I tried to do so with my hands. When I put out my hands, the person stretched out his/her left hand to me like this. like this. I don't know why the person did so. The person might have been signaling me not to come closer to him/her. The person reached out his/her hand this way, and some flame rose from it into the air. The fire didn't look red to me, though. It somehow looked green. The greenish flame was flickering like this. It looked like a beautiful long-sleeved kimono. I approached nearer to that person to try to put out the fire on his/her body. Then a woman spoke to me from behind. She said, "You'll die if you go there." When I heard her voice, I came to myself and stepped away from there, if I remember right. Just at that moment, I ran into something. I probably staggered myself and bumped against some object. That was awfully hot. It was not until then that I became aware of heat. It made me recover my senses and I looked around me. Then I found the object was a telegraph pole made of iron. It had just remained there. The pole has melted by the fire and was deep red. It was crooked like this and lifted its head into the sky. I felt burning hot because I bumped into the melting iron pole. Maybe I came to myself just as I felt hot. When I looked around, I just found nobody was there. My parents and sister also weren't there. At that moment, I just became fearful and didn't know what to do. Not a soul was to be seen. Then, all of a sudden, someone grabbed my right arm strongly and led me through the fire with all his strength. I asked, "Are you my dad? Are you my dad?" However, I couldn't hear any answer due to the sounds of blast or roaring fire. Anyhow, I remember crying repeatedly and frantically, "Are you my dad? Are you my dad?" There was no answer, though. In the meantime, I almost lost my senses and fell on the street. I gradually became motionless and ended up squatting down. I faintly remember crouching and being unable to budge at that moment. I don't remember what happened after that. I must have been lying down and staying still there, being carried in that person's arms. Quite a few people were running away. Everybody was in fear in such a situation. When they saw any person behind the buildings, they'd huddle up in those places. Ten people or more seemed to have gathered around or above me. I'm not sure of the exact number, though. Pressed under the heap of people, I felt as if I was suffocating. Then I regained consciousness. Just as I came to myself, I also felt a pain with burning heat and the weight of people. While my mind was numb, I heard someone crying. It was a man's voice. He shouted, "We're Japanese! We're Japanese!" "You mustn't die! You mustn't die! We'll never die by such a trifle!" Hearing that voice, I lost consciousness again. And then I regained my senses and heard him shout, "We have the Japanese spirit! We're Japanese! The Japanese spirit!" Then I fainted again. When I regained my senses, I heard the man cry, "We're Japanese! We have the Japanese spirit!" I'm not sure how long I stayed pressed under the heap of people. As everytthing was burnt out around there, the fire was gradually brought under control and was finally put out. Afterward I knew that it was around 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. Therefore, I can say that I was pulled out from under the heap of people when the fire had been getting under control. When I was dragged out from under the heap of people, one of the men who helped me and called out to me was my father. I said to him, "Daddy!", but he didn't answer me. He just cried, "Stay here!", and disappeared into the burning flame in the twinkling of an eye. Following my father's direction, I was standing still there. Everything was burned out. Something like a white smoke or mist was just floating in the air. There was nothing left all over. Not a sound was to be heard. I just wondered where I was and what on earth had happened there. I casually glanced at the ground where I had been lying a little while ago. Then I saw a lot of people lying in a heap in the place where I had been some time ago. The persons on the top of the heap were all burned to death and their bodies became charcoal. Some were still burning. I remember muttering unconsciously, "Who could have expected that?" As I had been crushed under the heap of people, I was protected and saved by those who eventually died. The survivors would probably head for somewhere right away. However, most persons were burned to death close together. I was standing still there and, out of the smoke, some human figures came up to me. They were my parents and sister. Before he happened to see me in the fire and grabbed my arm, my father had left my mother and sister behind somewhere. Thus he'd probably gone searching for them. And then they came to find me together, but I couldn't tell who was who.

Video Details

Duration: 20 minutes and 27 seconds
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: None
Producer: JapanAirRaids.org
Views: 298
Posted by: japanairraids on Aug 19, 2011

Part 2 of a 2011 interview with NIHEI Haruyo, who as a young girl experienced the March 10, 1945 firebombing of Tokyo by the United States Army Air Forces. Posted by JapanAirRaids.org.

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