Woman's picture book recalls how mother saved her in Tokyo firebombing

March 06, 2014

By HIROTAKA KOJO/ Staff Writer

Sixty-nine years ago, an estimated 100,000 Tokyo residents perished as a result of a massive nighttime fire-bombing raid by U.S. B-29s that turned the capital into a sea of flames.

One young girl survived because her mother sacrificed her life for her daughter.

Now, Chieko Tsukamoto, 75, wants others to remember the horrors. She has penned a picture book in a collaboration with her second son, Yasushi, an illustrator.

"My mother has been telling me about it since I was a child, so the images have been embedded in my mind," said Yasushi, 48.

The book, titled "Senso: Showa 20-nen, 3-gatsu, 10-ka: Tokyo Daikushu no koto" (War: March 10, 1945: about the Great Tokyo Air Raid), published by Tokyo Shoseki Co., is on sale for 1,260 yen ($12.40), tax-inclusive.

Yasushi drew the pictures for the book after confirming with his mother once again her recollections and also researching documents.

Chieko was raised by parents who operated a dry-goods store in Oshiage, Sumida Ward. When the fighting in World War II intensified, her father was drafted into the military. Her five siblings evacuated from Tokyo, but because Chieko had not entered elementary school, she alone remained in Tokyo with her mother, Matsue, and her grandparents.

Early on March 10, 1945, the U.S. bombers dropped their incendiary bombs on Tokyo. Because Chieko was only 6 at the time, her memory of the event is vague at times. However, she does recall being pulled outside of their home by her mother. Other people who were fleeing were carrying futon, which caught fire. Chieko thought the burning cotton blown about by the wind looked like fireflies.

Soon, her clothing caught fire. Even when water from the river was splashed on Chieko's clothes, sparks fell from somewhere else. Finally, Matsue pushed her daughter to the ground and laid on top of her.

By morning, Matsue had died from the fire. Chieko's grandparents were also killed, and their home was burned.

However, Chieko does not have any memory of crying or screaming.

"The huge shock that I experienced may have drove that from my memory," she said.

She was eventually reunited with her father and siblings, and they continued to live in Oshiage after the war.

Today, Oshiage has changed dramatically with the opening two years ago of Tokyo Skytree, the tallest free-standing tower in the world at 634 meters. Chieko has mixed feelings about the new Tokyo tourist hot spot, which dominates the local skyline.

"If the area is reborn in a much more flashy manner, it could lead people to think that nothing tragic occurred here," she said. "With close to 70 years having passed, it cannot be helped if people forget about the event, but there is no way that I can ever forget it."

As for Yasushi, he is concerned about the worsening relations with Japan's neighbors. He often comes across Internet postings that are disparaging toward China and South Korea.

"It does not take much to start a war," he said.

The plain title of the book reflects his belief that war is not the romantic version often depicted in movies or video games. It is simply more like the tragic night almost 70 years ago that separated a mother and child forever, as depicted in the book.

By HIROTAKA KOJO/ Staff Writer
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A scene from the picture book created by Chieko and Yasushi Tsukamoto depicts her mother protecting Chieko during the fire-bombing of Tokyo. The book says "My mother was very heavy, but thanks to her, the fire on my body was extinguished." (From the picture book "Senso")

A scene from the picture book created by Chieko and Yasushi Tsukamoto depicts her mother protecting Chieko during the fire-bombing of Tokyo. The book says "My mother was very heavy, but thanks to her, the fire on my body was extinguished." (From the picture book "Senso")

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  • A scene from the picture book created by Chieko and Yasushi Tsukamoto depicts her mother protecting Chieko during the fire-bombing of Tokyo. The book says "My mother was very heavy, but thanks to her, the fire on my body was extinguished." (From the picture book "Senso")
  • Chieko Tsukamoto and her son Yasushi stand near Tokyo Skytree, which was constructed in an area where Chieko's family once lived. (Hirotaka Kojo)

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