TOKYO (AP) — Katsumoto Saotome, a Japanese writer who collected the stories of survivors of American firebombings of Tokyo during World War II to raise awareness of mass civilian deaths and the importance of peace, has died. He was 90 years old.
One of his editors, Iwanami Shoten, confirmed his death. He died Tuesday of organ failure related to old age at a hospital in Saitama, north of Tokyo, state broadcaster NHK reported.
Originally from Tokyo, Saotome was 12 when he narrowly survived the city’s firebombing on March 10, 1945, which turned the Japanese capital’s densely populated downtown into hell. “I ran for my life as countless cluster bombs rained down,” Saotome recalled in one of his storytelling events.
It is estimated that more than 105,000 people died and a million were left homeless in a single night, but the devastation was largely eclipsed in history by the American atomic bombings of two Japanese cities several months later.
After the war, Saotome continued his writing while working in a factory. His first autobiographical account, “Downtown Home” was nominated for the prestigious Naoki Literary Prize in 1952.
In 1970, Saotome began visiting firebombing survivors to hear their stories and make their voices heard.
He established a civic group to document the firebombing and collect documents and artifacts about the attack, which led to the establishment of a museum, the Tokyo Raids and War Damage Center , in 2002. He was its director until 2019.
As director of the museum, he published magazines about the firebombing, while continuing to write books for children and young adults to raise awareness of the tragedy.
“We need to pass the baton to the younger generation” to continue telling the story, he said in a 2019 interview with NHK.
Many firebombing survivors feel they have been forgotten by history and by the government.
Post-war governments provided a total of 60 trillion yen ($460 billion) in welfare assistance to military veterans and bereaved families, and medical aid to survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but nothing to the civilian victims of firebombing.
Acclaimed filmmaker Yoji Yamada, known for his hugely popular film series “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo” (“It’s Hard Being a Man”), featuring a lovable wandering peddler named Tora-san, was a longtime friend. date of Saotome. He told Japanese media that he was “deeply saddened by the loss of his valued friend with whom he discussed post-war Japan, war and peace”.
Yamada often visited the firebomb museum. Sometimes Saotome would take him around the area, making him a big fan of the Shibamata area, which became the home of the Tora-san series.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.