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NIHEI Haruyo interview, June 2011, part 3

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As I was badly burned, my body was swollen with blisters. My hair and clothes were all worn-out. In my impression, it seemed pitch-dark all around. As my eyes were also terribly swollen, I couldn't open them and hardly saw anything. It's probably because of my burns and the sooty smoke of incendiary bombs. However, my father recognized me and came up to me. At that moment, my 5 year old sister was crying, "My legs hurt! My legs hurt!" As I could see a little, I led my parents by the hand while encouraging my sister. We all walked through the area swept by the flames heading for our house. We walked in the direction of our house to search for my brother. The scene of the town was inexpressible. As I'm not a good talker, I cannot express it well. What I witnessed then was the heaps of bodies lying on the ground endlessly. The corpses were all scorched black. They were just like charcoal. I couldn't believe my eyes. Those dead human bodies had been lying about like the trash. We walked stepping over the bodies being careful not to tread on them. However, as my parents both had gotten burnt on their eyes, they stumbled over the bodies one after another. They untentionally treaded on some corpses. I particularly remember two specific bodies. They were perhaps the ones of a mother and her child. Holding her child tightly in her bosom, the woman was lying on her stomach. Carrying her kid in her bosom, the bodies of both mother and child were scorched black. I witnessed a number of charred corpses. I suppose the woman had collapsed with her child in her arms. She was lying on the ground this way. She was hugging her kid closely and never let go of her hold. She was holding her kid's small corpse like this. A large number of bodies like those ones were lying about. Also, a few small kids were lying close together beside a large body. It was presumably the corpse of their father or mother. They all were scorched black. There were also a lot of kids who were thrown out alone with the blasts. Among those kids, I particularly remember one whose upper half of the body was coal-black. However, his/her legs were pure white. That kid might have been crushed under something. His/her legs were stuck out and, the way, do you know haramaki (stomach band)? Mothers would knit wool into them for their kids to prevent from the chill in their stomaches. The kid had been wearing a haramaki and it was half burned. I also remember the band's color. It was patterned with a blue line and a pink one on a beige ground. The kid with a haramaki around his/her belly were lying on the ground. Meanwhile, I also found a small baby. Among the charred bodies scattered about all over, only that baby looked extraordinarily white. It was alive with his/her limbs struggling and kicking and was mewling lying on its back. Noticing that baby, I stopped short and my father said to me, "No." He caught my hand and pulled me. Being dragged by my father, I looked back like this. Then he said to me, "In this critical situation, you must leave it alone," and dragged me away from where the baby was. I can never forget the baby. I regretted later that I hadn't hug the baby then. I'm concerned for how he/she is doing now. My grandkids remind me of that baby. Besides, I also saw a boy. He was stark-naked, and had scars of the burn all over the body. His body was spotted with black, purple, and dark-red burns. Like a rabbit, the boy was hopping among the corpses in the ruins of a fire, and looked into the dead persons' faces. Though he had been injured badly, he was probably searching for his family members. He walked past before us and disappeared somewhere in an instant. After passing through the ravaged area, we finally reached around our house dragging my sister who was in great pain in her legs. Though we couldn't locate our house, we caught sight of a water pipe. Beside that, we also happened to see a chipped dish which we'd used the previous day, and so we thought, "Ah, this place was our kitchen," and, "Here was our home." When we managed to get there and turned on a faucet, water came out of it. I remember drinking water out of my hands. It was so tasty. It was the first time we had water after that air raid occurred. I remember my father had still been wandering about. Then, from beyond, a boy like a water rat turned up. His body was awfully filthy. He was really my brother. As we had expected, he had been mobilized somewhere, and he and his fellow could survive there. While they were smeared with muddy soil in a ditch, they encouraged each other desperately. And they finally managed to survive. My brother also searched for us and came back to where our home was. Then, at last we met him again in that place. Though my family members once got separated, we all fortunately could meet again in the ruins of a fire. Then we five headed for a refuge. It was only a site on which a ferroconcrete factory had been burnt. On our way there, we happened to pass by the air-raid shelter in which a woman had previously told me, "Stay here. If you go out now, you should be burnt to death." Inside the shelter, she and her family who had kindly put me there and their friends were all burnt to death. In the meantime, we arrived at the refuge. There were a lot of people there. They all were as limp as a rag, and we weren't sure if they were actually dead or alive. In the refuge, some people distributed rice balls to the evacuees. They were probably the members of a women's association. Those women were perhaps living in the area just outside of our burnt Sumida and Koto districts. I suppose they had been providing boiled rice to the sufferers. I remember they gave us each a rice ball. Though I surely remember they handed me a rice ball, I'm not sure if I actually ate it. There were a number of people who had got burnt, but we had no treatment for that. I'm not sure how long we stayed in the refuge. Across the river, there was the area named Komatsugawa. We walked there and found it was the only place to escape the fire. That boy, Masao-chan, who would crush the ices with a stick, was also missing in the ruins of a fire. His uncle had been living in Komatsugawa. In those days, the Shitamachi residents had been living in harmony and so I'd even associate intimately with my friends' relatives. As we heard that the home of Masao-chan's uncle had not burnt down, we headed for there. Dragging my injured sister along with us, we walked in bare feet for such a long way. When we crossed the large bridge, we saw a number of people who were senselessly leaning against the rails of the bridge. Dead bodies also lay scatter about. I remember arriving at Masao's uncle's home after passing through those devastations. The burning town was terribly noisy. On the other hand, after the fire subdued finally, the silence of the town came home to me. Somehow, only a monochrome world remains in my memory. The black-burnt people in a procession passed by in such a world. No one spoke a word. We also never talked even with family members. I just remember my sister crying, “My legs hurt! My legs hurt!” When we arrived at the home of Masao's uncle, we first begged to boil water, if I remember rightly. However, all my memory of what happened after that has been vanished completely. I never remember how we got through thereafter. I just remember heading for the home of my uncle. He lived in Shimousanakayama, Chiba Prefecture next to Tokyo. Our appearance was utterly terrible. I’m not sure how many days had passed since March 10th then, but it was probably the following day, March 11th. I don’t remember if I took train or walked from Komatsugawa to my uncle’s home. When we managed to get there, my aunt welcomed us saying, "Ah, ah, ah!" My uncle's family, however, had also been suffering from the hardships of life in wartime. We five were very dirty and worn-out, and called the uncle's family without notice. They treated us warmly only for 1 or 2 days. By the time 1 week had passed, however, they began to detest us saying, "You guys are dirty and stinking." As we were confined in a small room, my sister's burn on her legs grew worse and worse. We didn't have any medicine or ointment. My sister's legs were hurt not by being treaded upon by someone, but by getting burnt. She got burnt on her legs while my father was coming to my rescue. Her calves terribly festered because sparks of fire had gotten in the open wounds. They gradually decayed. Then her calves got infested with ujimushi (maggots). Do you know ujimushi? They grow in a large amount. Seeing the worms, my mother would be frightened and fall down in a faint. Anyway, mothers are tough. My mother picked up the maggots with chopsticks one by one. As the worms had cut in the muscles of the calves, my sister cried, "That hurts! That hurts!" As I couldn't bear to look at her, I once rushed out of the house. One day, as my sister was still troubled with festers, my mother carried her piggyback, and we brought her to a doctor. Looking back now, our destination must have been Ichikawa. It was next to Shimousanakayama and was nearer to Tokyo. I don't remember how we got there. Anyway, I accompanied my mother. When we got the clinic, we saw a number of burnt people. We waited so long, and at last our turn came. Then the doctor asked us if we had oil. We wondered what he needed it for. He actually meant cooking oil. He asked us if we had it, and my mother answered, "No." Then the doctor refused to examine my sister for the reason that he'd not be able to treat her without oil. My mother solicited the doctor for his help saying, "My daughter narrowly escaped death. Please see her to save her life! For God's sake!" and begged prostrating herself on the floor. However, the doctor resolutely repeated, "No," just because he didn't have any medicine. Doctors could only apply cooking oil to diseased parts of the injured. By applying that, some waste like rotten cells come to the surface of the affected parts. After that, disinfectant and oil are applied. That was all doctors could do for the wounded. However, they virtually had no oil for medical treatment. Therefore, doctors would only see the patients who'd brought cooking oil with them. They firmly refused to see the injured persons who had no oil. They explained it couldn't be helped just because a lot of people were waiting to be examined. As I recall, my mother wrapped my sister in a blanket and was preparing for going home angrily. Then a male patient, who had been waiting for his turn, gave us his cooking oil for his treatment saying, "You can use this." Though he was a total stranger to us, he had no hesitation in giving it to us. Thanks to a bottle of oil he gave us, my sister's life was saved. Actually, he was a perfect stranger to us. At that time, people couldn't think of others and, even of themselves. In such a hard time, the man gave his cooking oil to us though he'd never met us before. By his favor, we could really save my sister's life. I suppose my mother'd explain our circumstances to the man. He said to us, "You can come to my home," and actually put us up in his home. Though he had his folks, they weren't living there because they had been evacuated to countryside. As the man was living alone, some rooms were unused. Therefore, he let us live with him. (Where did the man live?) Ichikawa. So I suppose the clinic we met him was also in Ichikawa. His house was in Mama, Ichikawa. I don't remember how long we stayed there. In Ichikawa, there was the army's drill ground. drill ground. For that reason, the air raids grew more and more intense in Ichikawa. In Ichikawa, mostly the enemy fighters would fall from the sky, and machine-gun the residents. Our enemy would conduct such attacks. As the air raids grew more fierce, that man named Tanaka, whose name I still remember now, also decided to move to the place where his family had been evacuated. As we could no longer stay at his home, my mother desperately tried to find any acquaintance who'd allow us to live at his/her home by writing letters to some persons to ask a favor of them. Then she contacted with someone whom she owed when she was young. As that person lived in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, we went there. It took us a long time to get there by train. While living in Okaya, my sister would attend a hospital, and almost became able to walk again leaning on a stick or something. While we were staying in Okaya, the war came to an end.

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 58 seconds
Year: 2011
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: None
Views: 301
Posted by: japanairraids on Aug 19, 2011

Part 3 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

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