The day of the Tokyo Air Raid, March 10, 1945, Yoshinari Okazaki (82) was a patriotic 12-year-old boy in the 6th grade of primary school (Volksschule), waiting for graduation in Asakusa, Tokyo. He, his elder brother, sister, and his parents were evacuated to a nearby primary school auditorium, but the auditorium caught on fire, and the evacuees started asphyxiating and burning. So his father made a quick decision to have his family jump into the school swimming pool to escape from the oven-like auditorium. His family possessions were nothing but an ancestral Buddhist tablet, a family album, and a small Japanese dictionary belonging to his sister, a precious item during wartime, all bundled up and wrapped in cloth by his sister. The bundle soaked in the swimming pool with them. They huddled together with a futon above their heads in the swimming pool for about an hour and a half.
Luckily all his family survived, but he lost his home, half of his classmates and some of his neighbors. His family spent two nights at the school surrounded by charred dead bodies. Later he found that people evacuated to the school air shelter had suffocated to death and those who had escaped to a swimming pool in another school nearby were mostly dead. It was a close call.
Okazaki became a junior high school Japanese teacher after the war, but he never talked about his wartime experiences to his students. He started talking about his war experiences to the public about six years ago, after his retirement. In 1996, he organized a graduation ceremony for the class of ‘45. About 50 alumni showed up and finally received their diplomas. He keeps the fragmented dictionary as a personal memento, so as not to forget his war experiences. At the end of my interview with him in his home at Asakusa, Tokyo, I casually asked him about the famous summer fireworks along the Sumida river. He said with a sigh, “You see, even today, I can’t stand fireworks because they remind me of the firebombing and the war. So I never go to see them.“ I realized that I know nothing about real war. (Taito Ward, Tokyo. 2014.11.06)
"In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It's a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn't, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the true incredible craziness. In other cases you can't even tell a true war story. Sometimes it's just beyond telling." - from " How to Tell a True War Story" by Tim O'Brien