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KANOH Teruo interview, June 2011, part 1

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Yes, this is a map of the area at the time. My house was around here. I took this route when I fled. And here is the Kototoi Bridge. I was around here at that moment. Asakusa is around here. -- Is Asakusa situated in to the north? Is this northward? -- Yes, and the Kannon figure was around here. -- So you were just between those areas. -- That's right. I marked the place in which incendiary bombs were first dropped. At that moment, fire began to spread here and, when I ran away in this direction, the bombs began falling around here. Then the third attack was conducted over here. Therefore, enemy planes didn't invade all at once. They came one after another. Anyway, as the enemy bombers totaled over three hundred, they couldn't appear all at once. They came circling. The bombers left immediately after they dropped their payloads. Somehow they were turning round and round. Following instructions as whether to "bomb here" or "bomb there" they carried out their bombings, "3, 2, 1, go!" As there was a park around here, people fled there. Also, people on one side of the bridge tried escaping in this direction and others on the opposite side this way, thousands of people collided against each other and couldn't move at all. Everyone was carrying belongings. Jammed with carts and other things, the fires began. They burned the belongings and the people alike. Some couldn't budge and burned to death, and others jumped off from the bridge. Therefore the devastation that occurred on the Kototoi Bridge is without parallel. Therefore, people who ran away in these directions were saved. People's fate was determined by the slight difference of their judgements on which way they'd go. These are my paintings in arranged order. This one shows the situation in which I fled. Until then, the B29s had bombed at the altitudes of 8,000 or 9,000 meters and thus weren't that accurate. Here, they came down in altitude to around 2,000 meters. It was the first time that we saw the large bodies of B29s at that altitude. Besides, it was night then and the fire was spreading on the ground. So the brightness on the earth shined on the bellies of the B29s. They looked pink or red. We were quite scared of those bombers. The B29s looked so gigantic. We were utterly surprised, and fled upon being attacked from all sides. Someone escaped leaving his horse tied up behind. Wrapped in flames, a burning horse screamed. However, we couldn't rescue it. It was all we could do to escape to save ourselves. The next day we saw its charred body. When I showed this painting to a schoolchild, he said to me, "Mr. Kanoh, why did you not try to help that horse then?" The kid's question made me feel bitter. It was hardly possible for us to save the horse. It was as much as we could do to protect ourselves. The area ranging from the Sumida Park to around here was completely caught in an inferno. There was a wharf right here, where ships arrive. Stone steps had been built there. I jumped into there and thus I could survive. Those people who fled into the river all drowned. This painting shows the scene at the Kototoi Bridge, which I saw with my own eyes. As I was looking up at the bridge from below, I could see this. I saw people in the water, and those who were clinging to the railings of the bridge to avoid the heat of fire. Some jumped into the river due to the unbearable heat and others burned to death on the bridge. The original of this painting is fairly large. I've donated that to the research center. -- I am always moved whenever I look at this painting. -- -- Did you actually see this boy putting out his hand whose image you've created in this painting? -- Yes. -- It made an impression on you? -- Sure. He gestured, "Come here!" -- These two people look like a couple. Exactly. Although I only happened to see some persons just for a moment, their images are imprinted in my memory. Though about 60 years have passed since then, the shocking images cannot be cleared away from my memory completely. They'd flash in my mind occasionally. This is a picture in which I'd painted the burned figure of Kannon. The Kannon was built by order of the third shogun Iemitsu in the Tokugawa Edo period. At the time of the air raid, two hundred and seventy years had passed since its creation. The statue escaped being destroyed by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and Fire. However, it received a direct hit during the air raid. Now it has been finely rebuilt. This painting shows the stone steps where I could escape death alone in the morning of the following day. Expecting that I was the sole survivor, I looked around and thought I saw someone with a kid on his/her back passing right before my eyes. Now that nearly 60 years have passed since then, I'm not sure if I actually saw them. My memory was confused then. Though I've painted those figures in my work, they might be some illusions and thus I've added these lines like this. This is the work which I submitted to an exhibition related to air raid bombings which was held in the Roppongi Hills, Tokyo. At the exhibition, I gave a lecture on my air raid experience and, after that, a man in his fifties or sixties came uo to me and said, "This figure of your painting must be me." "And this is exactly my father." He also explained that they were saved because they were in the river then. According to his reflection, there were some stakes for fastening the boats, and he and his father were holding on to them. Just then the tide was coming in. As it rose higher and higher, people around him rushed for the stakes to grasp them. As many people held on to the stakes simultaneously, they broke. Then his father kicked or pushed away those persons and they fell into the river and were swept away. Finally, only he and his father were saved. He told me that he had been kept that secret in his heart for 60 years after the war. He even couldn't confess that to his wife. However, he explained to me that the memory just came to himself clearly when he saw my painting, and cried. I was also surprised. The man's confession proved that I had actually seen the father and the son whom I painted afterward. He could take a load off his mind by confessing his secret to me. From that time on, we exchanged letters and phone calls. When I talked about him to newspapermen or television people, they became interested in interviewing him. Doubting if he would talk about his longtime secret to them, I let him know their request anyway. He answered, "If you say so, I'm willing to accept their request." After that, the newspapers or TV programs featured his experience. When he joins in my lecture meetings these days, he voluntarily explains to the audience, "This figure of Mr. Kanoh's painting is me." He's a famous ceramics artist. -- Really? Both of you are artists. -- For 60 years, he has been haunted with a sense of guilt that he and his father were saved by pushing away other people. -- But we cannot blame his father for that. -- Exactly. He did his best to save his son and himself. If he let all the people grasp the stakes of the bridge, they all, including he and his son, would have lost their lives. We should regard that it was quite fortunate that the two could escape death. However, he had to be afflicted with the fact that he's alive due to the sacrifice of other people's lives. Therefore, I can say that this painting has a hard fate. I've also contributed its original to the research center. -- Is that the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage? -- Yes. It's in Sumida Ward, Tokyo. This painting shows a view which I saw from above the Kototoi Bridge then. It actually doesn't look like this even now. I roughly sketched the scenery around the bridge of those days. The bridge itself has not changed so much since then. This is the situation on the bridge. As the bridge was crowded with scores of people, the fire engines couldn't proceed and were burned there. There was a river on this spot. People were undecided whether to dive into the river or to run away somewhere, and were finally burned to death one after another. This is a flight of stairs leading down to the wharf. I went it down then. In the next morning of the air raid, I saw the bodies of people who had just died this way. I was the sole survivor. I didn't actually see this figure on the spot then, but I knew him well. He lived near the Hachiman shrine in Fukagawa. At that time there were lumber yards around there and a number of rafts had been set afloat in the river. He jumped into the raft and was finally saved. At the same time, however, many people died as these parts of the rafts were burned with fire and snapped and thus the rafts sank to the bottom of the river. This is the bottom of the stone steps leading to the Kototoi Bridge. The fire engine was burnt down there. It was the next morning of that air raid attack. The colors of the victims' skins were different according to the time periods in which they were burned. Some people's skins were pink and others' were deep black, brown, etc. I couldn't clearly see around here due to the thick smoke. Also, I couldn't go forward because of the terrible heat. This also remains intact for the most part. At first I was under the bridge. If I remained there, I would also have burned to death with those victims. This painting shows the scene of the temporary burial. The charred bodies arrived on a truck and 300 corpses were interned in a hole at once. Therefore, the names and exact number of victims remain unknown. The government even didn't try to check where the bodies were buried. So we aren't sure of the number of casualties even now. These are the members of the engineer unit in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. The army corps was dispatched there. In this picture, I portrayed the soldiers who were trying to load the charred bodies on to their trucks on the bridge then. These figures are policemen. Policemen, civilians, and the soldiers worked together as they were utterly short of hands. Finally, even junior high school students were brought out to help them. -- Were men, not women, engaged in the burial work? -- Yes. I hear that the sex of those charred bodies were mostly not determined at the time. This work portrays the persons who were scooping up the hands or the legs of dismembered bodies. They collected those remains in the center. As they came to pieces and were scattered by the wind, the workers threw them away into the river. On the map, the Matsuya department store in Asakusa is here and this is the railroad bridge of the Tobu Line. As far as I could see, there were many dead bodies floating in the river. As I look back now, there might also have been my family members' corpses among them. At the time I never expected that, though. About a week or 10 days later,... -- Did you separate from your family on that spot? -- Just after I entered the park, there was a flow of crowds pressing into there. As the fire came surging upon us, we jumped to our feet and began to escape all at once. Though I had been joining hands with my family member then, our hands were separated like this and after that we never met again. Therefore, I continued to walk searching for my parents. As I was alive, I expected that my parents would also be safe. However, I couldn't find them though I searched for them for a few days. It had previously been agreed among my family members that we should come together in the countryside of Chiba Prefecture (next to Tokyo) in case of emergency. Believing that they must have gone there, I walked along the track from Ryogoku to Shinkoiwa anyway as the trains didn't operate at the time. The only food I could get in 2 days was a rice ball. Also, a number of bodies were lying around me then. Normally, we aren't quite inclined to eat in front of dead bodies. However, since my emotions were paralyzed then, I ate the rice ball walking by the bodies without turning a hair. It's unbearable for me whenever I remember that. I was completely insensible to seeing human corpses. --That's because of the terror you felt. -- Exactly. I was seized with terror then. This is the Ueno Park (commonly called "the Ueno Mountain"). The Sumida Park was packed with dead bodies. Most of them drowned in the river. Since their bodies were not so severely damaged and were identified by their names embroidered on their clothes around here, they were carried to the Ueno Mountain. There were too many bodies to be buried. Among those remains carried to the Ueno Mountain, my father's drowned body was found. His identity was established by his clothes and his name on that. -- Is that the place which is now a bus parking lot on the other side of a hotel? -- Well, it's behind the "Ryo-daishi" in which saints are enshrined, and is near the monument for air raid victims which was built by essayist Kayoko Ebina, a Tokyo air raid survivor. That place is not an open space now but,... (-- It's now a parking lot.--) Exactly. Men dug holes on the ground and buried in each the bodies of 3 or 4 people whose identities were established and put up a square post of this size and wrote down those victims' numbers and names on it. After the war ended, however, we suffered fuel shortage and my neighbor pulled the post out of the ground and used it as a fuel. So the truth is still unknown. I received my father's ashes, but I don't even know if they are really his. Anyway, it's the remains of someone who died with my father. Regarding it as my father's ashes, I consigned it to the grave. A large number of bodies were carried to the Ueno Mountain and people visited there to search for their relatives or acquaintances. This painting portrays someone whom I saw on a train. He got into it with a girl, probably his daughter, on his back. Perhaps he'd found his daughter's body on the street or somewhere. If he left her corpse alone on the road, it would have been carried somewhere by truck. So he didn't hesitate to carry his dead daughter on his back and boarded on the Yamanote Line, which was the only train operating at the time. Even in wartime, horror struck me when I saw the man with a corpse on his back. We didn't need to get any ticket for boarding trains and no station employee was seen then. Passengers were all surprised but, come to think of it, he'd probably bring his daughter's body home and cremate it by himself. I remember the father and his dead daughter well as they were unforgettably impressive to me. This picture portrays the Emperor Showa who visited Fukagawa to inspect the area a week after the March 10 air raid. At the time, the attendants on the Emperor mobilized the soldiers, policemen, and civilians to rid the area of all the dead bodies lying on the ground lest the Emperor should see the corpses during his inspection. Thus they dug a massive graves to hold all of the bodies. If they let the Emperor see the terrible scene just as it was, he might have changed his mind and war would have ended sooner. In talking about history, using the word "If" is something to be avoided, though. -- But the war continued for more 5 months after the Great Tokyo Air Raid. -- Sure. If the war ended at the time of the Great Tokyo Air Raid, the catastrophies in Okinawa, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima would not have happened. Most people should try to stop the war if they would actually see such a disastrous scene before their eyes. Therefore, such special arrangement for the Emperor by his attendants must have been unnecessary. It was an absolute principle that they should not let the Emperor see filthy or unpleasant things in those days. For me, the incident was quite regrettable. The attendants should have let the Emperor see the realities of the damages just as they were. It is said that Hitler hurried to the places where the enemy made the bombing raids in Germany and saw the disastrous sight before the day was over. On the other hand, the bodies were cleared off from the streets just after the air raid in Tokyo. As for the ruins of a fire, it couldn't be helped, though. I hear that the Emperor Showa, based on his experience of inspecting the theater of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, said to his attendants at the sight of the bombed areas, "It seems to me that this time Tokyo has damaged a little more badly compared to when it had suffered in the Great Kanto Earthquake." He had little understanding of the damage from the air raid. That's too bad. I feel some fear when I think about that. If he decided to end the war at the time of the March 10 air raid, the situations would have fairly been different for both sides of the U.S. and Japan and the number of deaths must have been quite smaller. By the way, this painting shows the aircraft-engine assembly facility which was in Higashiyamato City then. The B29s, the Grummans, and the P51 fighters attacked that factory. The facility building with bullet holes on its outer walls remains as a monument today. At that time, girl students were also mobilized to work there and not a few of them were bombed. The building is annually opened to the public to show its interior. It's now used as a substation. However, only some monumental panels are displayed there. The building is opened to the public once or twice a year. That's something like the only vestige of the air raids which remains today in Tokyo. This work portrays the Yunohana Tunnel which had been built on the railway running from Takao, Tokyo through to Yamanashi Prefecture. About 10 days before the end of the war, this P51 fighter attacked the train on which soldiers, miners, and civilians were and nearly 60 people were killed, if I remember right. Among the machine-gun attacks toward the Japanese people, this incident killed the largest number of people. The memorial service for those victims is also held on August 5th or 6th every year. These are collected in this. I first created these and then someone wanted to see the originals of my work and to listen to my talk on that. So far I've made lectures nearly 100 times in various places.

Video Details

Duration: 21 minutes and 26 seconds
Year: 2011
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: None
Views: 1,130
Posted by: japanairraids on Aug 18, 2011

Part 1 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

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