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TAN Nobuyoshi interview, 23 January 2011, Part Two

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When my mother and I occasionally went to the department store "Shirokiya," which was in Gotanda, we'd get on and off the trains at Meguro Station. At Meguro Station, there were always "decisive battle slogans" written on a bulletin board. Whenever I saw the slogans, I'd always think, "Ah, war is tough. We must win at any cost," even though I was just a kid. There were slogans such as "Luxury is our enemy" or "Never to cease fighting until the enemy is crushed." Since the air raids didn't start until October 1944, I was taken once to watch an animated film called "Fuku-chan's Submarine" at the cinema hall one night. In the film, a submarine manned by the character "Fuku-chan" sends U.S. naval vessels or battleships to the bottom of the ocean. Though I was just a kid, I was delighted by such scenes. -- Were you conscious of the war, even as a child? -- Yes. I had been very conscious of the war since early childhood. At the age of three, I trembled with emotion when someone let me hold a miniature aircraft. That's the kind of child I was. Also, I was already five or six years old by then, so.... It was just before I entered "citizen's school," which is what we called elementary school back then. ....just before I started school. Another thing which I noticed when I moved from Gunma to Tokyo was the "bucket relay." On the assumption that fires would break out if air raids occured the Japanese government ordered the people to have fire-fighting drills. Since young men were drafted for military service in those days, mostly women engaged in a fire-fighting drill called the "bucket relay." They formed a line and drew water from a tank with a bucket and had practiced carrying the buckets of water one after another to places where fires had broken out. We kids would sit and watch nearby. At any rate, as our area was crowded with houses, house-demolition work was carried out in every block. Houses would be chosen for demolition and relatively old men who were not conscripted would take charge of the work. Women cleared the debris on the site... Children watched them by their side. That's how we spent our days. I'd moved into Tokyo in April, and the demolition work continued until August or September that year. In my neighborhood, there was a shop that sold miniature aircrafts. I used to gaze at them enviously from the outside. Most customers were junior high school students in those days. Under the current school system, however, they would have been from junior high school students to the high school sophomores. Beside such students, adults would also frequent the shop. As I was just a preschool kid, I was totally disregarded as a customer. It made me so frustrated. As I said earlier, house demolition work had been conducted at the time, and the miniature shop was also chosen as the one which would be destroyed. I remember being terribly disappointed when the shop was torn down. Here and there, you'd see houses with poles flying the national flag. Even small houses had them. Anyway, these flags signified that the family had lost their father in the war. When I asked my friend living in such a house, "What's this?," he answered, "We put it up because my father was killed in the Second Sino-Japanese War." He and I were the same age. He was also born in 1938 or at the beginning of 1939. He never knew his father's face because the Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937. Such a child explained that his family had put up a pole in memory of his father's death in the war. After the Pacific War began, however, I never saw such poles in front of the houses where people had died in the war. It's because the nation had been ignoring the bereaved families as the war dragged on. On June 1944, I got the news that Saipan had just fallen and the Japanese troops were annihilated. Recently someone asked me, "How could you have looked at the maps when you were so young?" In those days, however, all families had large maps up on their walls. On the map, Japan's occupied territories, the mainland and other areas controlled by Japan were colored in red. Japanese children would think, "Although Japan's national land is so small, its occupation zones are very large. How happy we are." At first, Saipan had also been colored red on the map. When I heard that it had just been occupied by our enemy, I just thought, "Well, I don't care because it's such a small island." However, I also heard that the aircraft called B29s would be coming from Saipan and air raids would begin. --Even as a child, did you fully understand that?-- Of course. I was aware that there'd be bombings soon. But I never expected the attacks to be as cruel as they were. We took it lightly. I guess we thought the bucket relays would be enough. On the other hand, I knew that fires could be very dangerous and in the end, of course, the bucket relays were worthless. We escaped by the skin of our teeth. That's what the times were like. -- Did your parents tell you about the war situation? -- Yes. My father would often explain the progress of war for me because I was always concerned about it. He explained to me, "The situation in Saipan is getting serious. The enemy planes will be flying from there and the bombings will start." In the middle of June 1944, B29s flying from the Chinese mainland launched attacks on Kyushu, the western part of Japan. --Even children were pretty well informed, weren't they?-- As kids who lived through wartime, we were quite different from the peaceful kids of today. Even in appearance. The difference is tremendous. Besides, food shortages also make wartime children seem somehow older. It was similar to the children in North Korea. They talk precociously, don't you think? I hear that there is a theory that children become like that if they suffer from a shortage of food. By the way, when we moved to Tokyo, another thing that surprised me was the darkness at night. It was a total darkness that people today can't even imagine. Every household had to cover their lampshades with black bellows. They attached the bellows to them that were 30 centimeters...or 1 meter long at most, and, directly under that, the lamp would shine with only a only a radius of 1 meter or so. That was our daily life. We'd eat our meals like that too. Some people could remain cheerful, but others couldn't. Large families would have a variety of reactions. We lived in the dark, and the blackout made us feel gloomy. Therefore, when we removed the bellows from the lamps on the day the war ended, I remember being so impressed with the brightness and thinking, "Wow, I never knew an electric bulb were so bright!" Also, when we went outside at night in the winter, there were sheets of white paper attached at eye-level to utility poles in place of lamps. It would seem pretty useless but after it snowed, the surroundings seemed to be a little bright with the help of the white papers. However, I think it was nothing but an alternative measure for our consolation. Anyway, maintaining blackout was one of the most unpleasant things about the air raids. Nothing is more uncomfortable than blackout. Because I was a kid, I'd go to bed at 8:00 p.m. every night. After the air raids began, however, I'd often be taken out of bed in the middle of the night. I trembled...but as I put the anti-air raid hood on, I didn't feel cold. The situation was serious, though. Once the air-raid warnings started and the B29s began turning up... initially during the day... the sounds of antiaircraft guns and bombings were heard with loud crashes and explosions. To my surprise, birds in mid-flight --sparrows and crows-- were not sure where to go in such a situation. I was surprised to see that the sparrows and the crows would cling to electric wires and stay there in a row. Most people probably never noticed that. You'd think they'd go into the bushes or something. But from what I saw, the birds would just cling to the electric wires. During air raids, everyone was silent. Men, women, and children were taciturn. Preschool children would generally have been sleeping because most of the bombings occurred in the middle of the night. I never slept during the air raids, though. I remember being displeased with the lady next door. When the air raids began, she'd cry with her child in her arms or on her back. I thought she was a wretch. On the contrary, my mother had a strong spirit. At the same time, however, I also felt sorry for that lady. Whenever an air strike occurred, antiaircraft guns were fired. You could see them following the B29s with searchlights. So, the B29s were always visible. Each B29 had four propellers. You could see them spinning even at an altitude of about 1000 or 3000 meters. Anyway, antiaircraft guns fired big lumps of metal. They exploded before reaching the B29s, or after passing beyond the B29s, or near the B29s. After the explosions occurred, flak would fall to the ground. It made a metallic clanging sound when it hit the roofs. I also heard the clanging sound on the roof of my house. My father brought the shell splinter later. The fragment was small and it was about the size of a piece of "chikuwa" (a Japanese fish sausage). My father gave the fragment to me. When I showed it to my friend, he also had a similar one. On days following the large-scale air raids, pictures of downed B29s would always appear in the newspapers. I paid much attention to those pictures. I'd carefully looked at the pictures wondering if the B29s were shot down by fighters or by the antiaircraft guns. I heard that twenty-two B29s were shot down during the air raid on March 10th. I'm not sure if it's true or not, though. Anyway, it's certain that quite a few of B29s were shot down on that day, but it's not known if the number of the crushed B29s was actually twenty-two. I always looked forward to seeing those photos. I wondered why the Japanese fighters didn't fly in the sky of Tokyo and why there were only B29s there during air raids. When I asked my father, he explained it for me. "Well, it cannot be helped if the antiaircraft guns shoot B29s above the city, but if the fighters flew over us as well, we could suffer severe damage when planes crashed down. ...So our fighters just ambush the B29s as they approach and head back out to sea." That explanation satisfied me.

Video Details

Duration: 18 minutes and 6 seconds
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: None
Views: 232
Posted by: japanairraids on Jan 30, 2011

TAN Nobuyoshi, former civilian researcher with the Japanese Ministry of Defense, discusses his experience of the WWII air raids.

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