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KANOH Teruo interview, June 2011, part 2

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In a word, I was very ordinary as a schoolboy and a junior high school student. My school record was mediocre. Painting was my only special art. So I hardly thought about what I'd like to be in the future then. At best I wished to be a painter. My ancestors are the artists of the Edo Kanoh School of painting. It had 19 schools in its best days. Four of them were the head houses and were under the direct control of the Tokugawa shogunate in the Edo Period. And there were 15 branch families. Therefore, they totaled 19. My lineage is a branch family and my ancestors lived around Odawara-cho, Tsukiji. The Seiroka Hospital is there now. My family line was called "Tsukiji Kanoh" then. Baisetsu Kanoh is a family ancestor. I'm the 13th or the 14th generation. As the samurai families disappeared with the advent of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, my ancestors also lost their jobs. In short, the Kanoh School created paintings on such things as fusuma (sliding doors) and hanging scrolls for samurai families. Following the disappearance of the samurai class, the artists of the Kanoh School lost the justification for their existence. Also, those who began to pursue new styles of art were expelled from the Kanoh School. Therefore, the students of the Kanoh School including Iccho Hanabusa were expelled just because they started a new mode of art. -- Doesn't the Kanoh School still exist? -- Yes. But it's not the mainstream group in the Japanese-style art world. They've been continuing their activities on a smaller scale. Anyway, those students including Okyo Maruyama struck out a path of their own art after learning the style of Kanoh School. So at least they could master the basics for their art in Kanoh School. It just forbade them to pursue the new mode of art. The School clung to its own tradition and decided to expel the students who didn't follow it. That's why the Kanoh School didn't develop fully. Their current mainstream has switched to the new style of Japanese art which was first advanced by Tenshin Okakura and Taikan Yokoyama after the Meiji Restration started. Also, there isn't big difference between the style of the Kanoh School and the one of oil paintings today. -- Has the trend of Inten (the renowned Japanese Art Institute Exhibition) changed in recent times? -- Yes. After all, painters try to create something new while overthrowing the formerly established style all the time. Technically, it would be impossible for the contemporary engravers to create the sculptures which are superior to the ones of the Greco-Roman age with such an excellent expression. The sculptures of the Greco-Roman period are perfect. The paintings created during the Renaissance are also the best in terms of artistic techniques. Their use of oil colors is also the finest. -- You mean the Greco-Roman art is the consummate perfection as a form of art? -- Yes. Its pictorial method must be unparalled in the art world. Thus we should adopt some different expressive styles from now on. Therefore, the Kanoh School has collapsed just because it excessively persisted in its own tradition. At that time I wished to learn new art in art school. As the war grew more intense, however, I would have been branded a traitor to declare that I wanted to be a painter. Every man was forced to be a soldier as a matter of course. So I could never tell those around me about my dream. At best I had been considering to take some art school's exam after the war would end and thus had been preparing for that with my artistic fellows. Anyway, if someone asked us, "What do you want to be in the future?", it should have definitely been unpardonable for us to answer openly, "I want to go to art school." I kept silent about my dream for fear that people would call me a "traitor." I actually hoped to become an artist, though. -- Do you remember the air-raid drills well? -- Yes. They began as I was the third or the fourth-grade pupil. The drills were held on the assumption that one or two incendiary bombs might be dropped on the schoolyard and the corridors of the school building. And the fifth or the sixth-graders would rush to the classrooms of the lower-class students and hide under the desks with them. At the signal of the evacuation order, the higher-class students would move to the school basement accompanied by the lower-class pupils. In the meantime, teachers would rush to the schoolyard or the corridors with some buckets, straw mats, and the imitation of incendiary bombs emitting the colored smoke and would perform the fire-fighting drill there. Therefore, only two or three imitations of incendiary bombs were used per school at most. Besides, as these versions only emitted smoke, covering them with straw mats easily put them out. And then the warning would be canceled. Our air raid drill was just like that. Each local neighborhood association ("tonari-gumi") would also conduct air raid drills. A tonari-gumi consisted of 14 or 15 families in the neighborhood. From each family, more than 1 person had to join in the air defense drill, or the family wouldn't be allowed to receive rationed goods or food. So they'd take part in the drills unwillingly. They first used the imitation incendiary bombs that emitted colored smoke just in front of some houses. Then they had the exercise on the assumption that they should extinguish the fire by bucket relay shouting, "The incendiary bombs have just been dropped!" It was all we could do for our drills. -- Did the kids also participate in the bucket relay? -- The upper grades were obliged to join it and I also did that. I physically remember how to pass the buckets filled with water to the next person. The knack is quite useful in carrying things in cooperation with others now. We stand face to face in a row, not side by side. Then we pass things to our vis-à-vis saying, "Here, here,..." For me, the bucket relay practice might be helpful for carrying things now. Therefore, we never expected that more than ten incendiary bombs would be dropped on a house then. Then when on March 10th we faced the severe situation of more than ten fire bombs falling on each home, we were completely at a loss what to do. We found our air raid drills utterly useless. So we decided to run away before everything else. -- Were you sleeping when the air raid began on March 10th? -- Yes. March 10th was "the Imperial Japanese Army Commemoration Day" at that time. It was the anniversary which would commemorate the Japanese Army's occupation of Mukden, China at the time of the Russo-Japanese War. Though we annually commemorated the event, that year we were mobilized to work in factories. If I remember correctly, the U.S. bombers dropped leaflets from the sky two days before March 10th. The handbills urged us to evacuate to the surburbs immediately because they'd be planning to make a large-scale attack on our area on March 10th. Some pupils picked up the leaflets and showed them to their teachers at the factories in which they had been mobilized. At that time there was a rule that such leaflets should be delivered to policemen or teachers. Our teacher read the bill and said to us, "This must only be our enemy's plot. But, anyway, you should be careful when you'd go to bed on the night of March 9th so that you could get up immediately in an emergency." So I put a shirt and trousers on, wrapped a pair of gaiters around my legs, and put my jacket, satchel, steel helmet and shoes close to my pillow before I slept. -- Did you make such preparations every night? -- Yes. I did so because there were air raids almost every other day at the time. -- At which time of 1945 was that? -- It was about the beginning of 1945. The enemy's attacks grew more fierce around the end of November the previous year. Then, at the outset of 1945, air strikes occurred on relatively large scales on January 1st as New Year's Day and one day in February. As I'd heard that a terrible attack would happen on March 10th, I actually went to bed with my clothes on. When I went out of bed, the windows looked red with the fire outside. I could rush out of my house just because I already had my clothes on. No one would sleep in pajamas at that time. We'd have clothes on so that we could run out of our home any time in case of emergency. -- When the air attack started on that night, where did you head for just after you dashed out of your home? Did you rush to the air-raid shelter? -- No, I didn't enter the shelter. It turned out to be a right choice for me after all. As the fire came so near to us, I thought it should be dangerous if I'd enter it. -- Did others think the same? -- No. As I got up later, my family members had already gone to the shelter and entered it. Since I saw the fire was furiously getting near us, I cried to my parents and sisters, "The fire is approaching to us. This is no time for remaining in the shelter!" As they'd already made all preparations including the knapsack packed with daily supplies or food for emergencies, my father said, "Ah, we should run away from here at any rate." At that time, citizens were fined if they ran away from fire without trying to extinguish it. I don't remember how much it actually was, though. They were required to pay large amount of money, probably about 300,000 yen (appro. $3,700) in today's money. That's because a considerable number of people lost their lives in the fire. -- They just thought, "We should put out the fire!" Yes. At the time, however, the district headman who was in charge of fire prevention in our community shouted while walking, "Today's air raid seems to be pretty different from the previous ones. Get away, everyone!" And people stopped their firefighting and decided to evacuate. Also, some groups were already trying to run toward where there was no fire. Therefore, the stream of a group of people headed for the Sumida Park. -- Was the Park an evacuation area then? -- Sure. There was no other place to take refuge. The park was surrounded with a considerable number of trees in those days. There were many more trees than there are now. As there was also an anti-aircraft emplacement, the park was the off-limits area in ordinary times. At that point in time the emplacement made no sense to us, so we entered the park. Anyway, the park was the largest open space in that area. We had no other choice than to go there. -- You've mentioned your sister earlier. How many brothers and sisters do you have? -- I had an older brother and four younger sisters. My brother and two sisters had been evacuated to the home of our relatives in Chiba Prefecture and thus they were saved. As my youngest sister was too small to live apart from our mother, she remained at home and lost her life eventually. All the kids above the third grade were ordered to evacuate to the countryside then. Some pupils were collectively evacuated with other schoolchildren, and others were moved to their relatives' home personally. Our relatives lived in a fairly large house in our hometown. They were a large family and accepted us to live with them temporarily. So we went there. Therefore, my brother and two sisters didn't know the terrible air raids in Tokyo fully. It was not until I'd started to talk about my experience long after the war ended that they knew that. When I had an opportunity to give a lecture at the Kudan Hall in Tokyo, they came to listen to it. After nearly 60 years have passed since then, they said to me, "That was unexpected." When I asked them, "Haven't I ever told you my air raid experience?", they answered, "No. This is the first time we've heard that." Though we even lived together once, we didn't try to talk about our wartime experiences in detail. -- People didn't want to talk about it? -- Exactly. We'd only talked about being separated as we fled the flames. I was totally surprised when my sister said, "Now I see your air raid experience just as I listened to your talk at the Kudan Hall meeting." I'd never told my air raid experience to my siblings, to say nothing of speaking about it to others. For me, it's not easy to explain to make people understand fully. My story might bore some people, and I don't want to force them to listen to it. Also, I don't even want to remember my hardships of those days. That's why I haven't told my experience to people. -- If you don't mind, can you please tell us about your air raid experience a little more? -- Ok. -- After you arrived at the evacuation area (the Sumida Park), how did things go? -- When I entered the park, it had already been packed with a considerable number of people. As I explained earlier, many trees had been planted around the park and they protected us from the fire. People expected that the trees would keep the flames from advancing into the park. Therefore, they were rather calm. Then we sat down and continued to see how things were going. At that point in time, the B29s had already dropped all the incendiary bombs they had, they were returning to their base and thus our situation was not so strained. However, the fire approached the park rapidly and it burned the large trees instantly. Though people had been squatting on the ground believing that they must be safe there, heat assaulted them all at once and sparks of fire rushed toward them like a snowstorm beating our cheeks. Then they all jumped to their feet due to the heat and thousands of people began to move all in one body. The park was thrown into utter confusion and some fell down. At the moment, I fell down with my hand twisted like this. Then about 10 people swarmed over me and stumbled. In the meantime, my family members joined in a stream of people and went with them. They might have gotten down the stone steps by the wharf and jumped into the river as the fire bore down on them. I kept still on the ground until those who had been hanging on my body moved off. When they stepped aside, I saw sparks of fire flying all over. Those sparks looked deep-red and hit my face. We all had been wearing the anti-air raid hoods like this. -- Did men also have the hoods on? -- Some had their hoods on while most men covered their heads with steel helmets. As the hoods were made of clothes and cotton was used inside them, we didn't notice even if they caught sparks of fire on our backs. When cotton catches fire, it first continues to smoulder and, once it begins to burn, it goes up in flames in an instant. The clothes were wore also suddenly burst into flames. Then people's bodies were enveloped in fire. In a panic, they broke into a run screaming in terror. There was nothing others could do for the burning people. They also had to protect themselves from the fire. Therefore, the anti-air raid hood has both merits and demerits. While it's useful for avoiding the things dropping from overhead, it also can't stand the heat. Someone soaked his hood in the water tank for fire fighting before he wore it but it got dry in a minute. Some other person died due to being covered by flames just because he couldn't notice the spark which fell on his back. People ran elsewhere, mostly toward the anti-aircraft emplacement or the river. Given that the conflagration consumed oxygen, I found is hard to breathe. I instinctively dug a hole on the ground and thrusted my head into it expecting that some oxygen might remain there. I could inhale some oxygen and it helped me a lot. However, the ground of Sumida Park was pretty hard because people regularly exercised there and tread on the soil. I dug the surface of the ground with my bare hands. Lately, someone of the TV crew (probably of the NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation) asked me in the park, "Can you please try to dig the ground a little now?" In wartime, I managed to dig a hole as I was desperate for oxygen. I couldn't dig the solid ground now. At the time of the air raid, I could do that just as I was so frantic. Well, lack of oxygen made me feel like I was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. Things got fuzzy and I no longer felt the heat. If I had stayed in that kind of trance, I would have been burned black by the fire. At that moment, I lowered my body as best as I could and lay on my stomach. Then I looked straight ahead and saw a great many people around the river. And I thought, "Oh, I also should go to the river." People instinctively to rush to water is when assaulted by fire. I ran toward the river with the last of my strength. When I dove, instead of water I hit some stone steps. The steps were with a crowd of people, and I jumped into them without knowing it. There wasn't any room for me, though. It was as if I'd squeezed into a jam-packed train. I couldn't move any more. The flight of stone steps was like this, so I expected that the fire would spread this way. Unexpectedly, however, the fire came up this way and licked up the stone steps in a second. Therefore, it made no difference whether I was sitting on the stone steps or on the ground. The flames violently scorched my back and then advanced straight over surface of the river. In the river, there were many drowned people with burned faces. That's because the fire advanced on the surface of the water and scorched them. They finally drowned. Some say that the water must have boiled with the heat, but it was impossible because the river flowed incessantly and the flames advanced burning up the surroundings. Then I couldn't help myself in such a terrible condition. I don't remember how much time had passed but, then, sparks of fire fell from the sky and people cried, "It's hot! It's hot!" At that time, the shallowest point in that river was about this depth. Someone removed his steel helmet and scooped the water with it and splashed it on me from below. It helped me a lot. The cool water calmed the burned areas on my body. In the meantime, I might have lost my consciouness and memory temporarily then. After a while I could breathe and the sky was growing light. I glanced at the people around me. They looked pale, and their faces were cold to the touch. I understood that they had died. Before long the sun rose slowly. Since there was an anti-aircraft emplacement around there, some soldiers came to see the disastrous scene. On the upper part of the flight of stone steps, there were some casualties who were still alive and weren't completely charred by the fire. They groaned with pain and cried for help. The soldiers stood on the steps and shouted down, "Are there any survivors? Come up here!" I was the sole survivor and climbed up over the dead bodies. The soldiers said to me, "You are the only survivor." After that, however, I found that I wasn't the only survivor because someone with a baby on his/her back passed before me. That's what I saw just after I climbed up to where the soliders were. Then I wondered what the situation was like on the bridge and looked at the foot of it. As I showed you earlier, there was only one burned fire engine there. All were burned around there, and there were charred bodies all over the bridge. I realized that those who had been on the bridge were annihilated after all.

Video Details

Duration: 22 minutes and 48 seconds
Year: 2011
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: None
Producer: JapanAirRaids.org
Views: 412
Posted by: japanairraids on Aug 19, 2011

Part 2 of an interview with KANOH Teruo. Born in 1930, Kanoh grew up in in Tokyo's Asakusa Ward. During the March 10, 1945 firebombing of Tokyo by the U.S. Army Air Forces, Kanoh lost both of his parents and two sisters. He later devoted his skills as a painter to illustrate the civilian experience of the air raids. His work can be viewed at JapanAirRaids.org.

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