The sight of a U.S. airplane flying over Tokyo, apparently to check what damage aerial bombing had done to the capital, was the moment when Kimie Nemoto felt Japan was heading for defeat in World War II.
Nemoto, a student at a commercial high school in 1945, had been dispatched to a workplace under the government’s student mobilization program to make up for an acute shortage of labor in the closing days of the war.
Nemoto and her classmates enjoyed their youth despite the tough wartime living conditions, talking about boys they liked and listening to records. “I remember a professional singer visited us on the work floor,” she said.
While they heard the sound of sirens warning of U.S. bombing raids on Tokyo almost every day, the girls still “never imagined that Japan would be defeated in the war,” Nemoto, 86, recalled.
Early on March 10, 1945, however, Tokyo was turned into a sea of fire as a result of massive predawn air raids.
Nemoto was staying at her friend’s home near where she lived in Taito Ward that night. Following an air raid siren, she saw an unprecedentedly large number of U.S. bombers flying over Tokyo. She recalled an “unusual atmosphere.”
Nemoto barely remembers the night itself of the Great Tokyo Air Raids, saying she may have simply been too scared to take it in.
Walking along the Sumida River the following morning, Nemoto ran into her family, who told her their house had burned down. Her father told her that the family next door had died during the raids.
“My father did not allow me to return to our home because he didn’t want me to see it burned out and decrepit,” she said.
When a U.S. airplane leisurely flew under a blue sky, apparently to assess the effects of the aerial attacks on Tokyo, Nemoto and others looked up without a feeling of hopelessness. “The silver body of the aircraft looked beautiful in the dead silence,” she recalled.
Nemoto said that she felt resentment toward the Japanese government for the first time, wondering what it had done to protect the capital. “I sensed Japan would lose the war,” she said.
Her family fled to a relative’s home in Niigata Prefecture along the Sea of Japan and stayed there until the end of the war.
The happiest part of postwar life was no longer needing to shade lights with black covers at night so lights would not be visible outside, Nemoto said.
She also learned later that a large number of her classmates died in the air raids in Tokyo.
It wasn’t until half a century after the war ended that surviving members of the class received their graduation diplomas at a reunion.
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