In a memorial service with only 10 people in attendance, Tokyo on Tuesday marked the 75th anniversary of the firebombing of the city by U.S. forces during World War II that killed an estimated 100,000 people, making it one of the most deadly air attacks during the war.
The service at a hall in the capital’s Sumida Ward where the remains of many of the unidentified victims of the tragedy are placed was downsized to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The event is normally attended by about 600 people every year.
Crown Prince Akishino, Crown Princess Kiko and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike also canceled their attendance this time round. And a separate commemorative ceremony that was to be hosted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in the afternoon was also called off.
Koike instead sent a condolence message, saying the peace in Tokyo must be carried on for future generations.
“We have the responsibility to prevent the tragic memories of the war damage from fading,” said Masami Higaki, chairman of the organization hosting the memorial service, while asking for people’s understanding for the limited attendance to prevent the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus.
Many family members of the victims who could not attend the Buddhist service waited outside the hall during the service, entering afterwards to offer prayers on their own.
Kikuko Hata, 85, who was in elementary school at the time of the attack, came to the hall to offer prayers. She lost nine of her family members in the air raids, including her mother and siblings. Like many other schoolchildren at the time, Hata herself was sent away from the city to live in the countryside to escape bombings during the war.
“The bodies of my mother and others were never found, not even bones. But I believe they were placed in this hall, so I come here on this day every year,” she said, adding that she still remembers seeing the red sky of fire coming from the direction of Tokyo from where she was staying in Ibaraki Prefecture.
In the early hours of March 10, 1945, some 300 U.S. B-29 bombers dropped incendiary bombs on parts of Tokyo, particularly on densely populated areas, destroying an estimated 270,000 houses and buildings overnight.
The United States attacked other cities and towns across Japan after the March 10 raids, eventually dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. Japan surrendered just days later on Aug. 15.