The Daily Manila Shimbun


1945 Tokyo raid-surviving author keeps writing for peace

August 21, 2017

TOKYO- Katsumoto Saotome, an 85-year-old author and survivor of the Great Tokyo Air Raid, keeps interviewing other survivors and writing about the indiscriminative US firebombing on March 10, 1945, which killed an estimated 100,000 people in the Japanese capital.

During the raid at dead of night, Saotome ran around with four other family members trying to escape firebombs falling like rain. The two-and-a-half-hour attack by hundreds of B-29 bombers reduced to ashes not only Sumida Ward, where the Saotome family lived, but Koto and Taito Wards, all in eastern Tokyo, where many factories were located.

Saotome, then 12 years old, saw bodies of his classmates and neighbors pile up on roads and in rivers. "I felt as if they were saying to me, 'We'll keep your alive to tell (future generations) about us,'" he said.

On Aug. 15 the same year, the day of Japan 's surrender in World War II, Saotome was told by his mother in their nearly burned-down house that the war was over. "I'd never imagined I could survive to see peace," he said. "I was just happy to think that I can live life having nothing to do with war."

But he continued to see the calamity of war, on the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam. When Japan was enjoying an economic boom thanks to war-related procurement demand, Saotome, then 20, published his autobiography, in which he called on Japanese people to return to the "start point" of the post-WWII Japan.

In 1971, Saotome wrote a book titled "Great Tokyo Air Raid" based on interviews with eight survivors of the inhumane attack, including a woman who lost her husband and 12 children and a man who was orphaned, at the age 13. They initially were reluctant to tell their horrible experiences, but he eventually persuaded them into opening their mouths to record the havoc, after visiting them a number of times.

Saotome has so far written 150 books. In 2002, he established the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage in Koto Ward and became head of the resources center.

He still interviews survivors and spends hours at his desk every day. Besides, he keeps building his physical strength so he can travel across Japan to deliver speeches. Jiji Press