Remembering the Great Tokushima Air Raid on the 70th Anniversary

By Austin Smith

An onsen in Sako in the aftermath of the air raid.
The Sako area of Tokushima in the aftermath of the air raid.

While the seventieth anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Battle of Okinawa and the firebombing of Tokyo have received international media attention, the war experience in Japan’s smaller cities has gone largely uncovered.

July 4th, 2015, marks the seventieth anniversary of the Great Tokushima Air Raid. Sixty-two percent of the city was destroyed by incendiary bombs dropped from low flying B29 bombers, approximately one thousand people died and about two thousand were seriously injured. The victims were mostly women, children and the elderly as most of the able bodied men had been conscripted.

An aerial photograph of Tokushima City taken by U.S. forces the day after the air raid, 5th July 1945.
An aerial photograph of Tokushima City taken by U.S. forces the day after the air raid, 5th July 1945.

Every July, the “Tokushima Air Raids Archive”, a low-key photographic exhibition, is held to commemorate the event on the banks of the Shinmachi River. The building in which the exhibition is held was one of the few structures in the area to survive the bombing. The photographs in the collection span the twentieth century history of Tokushima, including pre-war, wartime and post-war images. The Tokushima Air Raids Digital Archive was launched in 2013 and is available all year round and, last year, I wrote English explanations for the collection to coincide with the 2014 exhibition.

The former Takahara Building on the banks of the Shinmachi River, Tokushima.
The former Takahara Building on the banks of the Shinmachi River, Tokushima.

This year, a group of JET Programme participants, including myself, have been voluntarily translating a collection of fifty-nine Personal Accounts of the Tokushima Air Raid in time for the seventieth anniversary. This collection was compiled by the Tokushima City Government to mark the 65th anniversary in July, 2010. At that time, it was estimated that more than seventy percent of the population of Tokushima had not experienced the war firsthand. These accounts cover a broad spectrum of experiences from across the Greater Tokushima area. The contributors provide an insight into the lasting trauma caused by the air raids and subsequent war defeat; some of them were just children at the time of the bombings. These accounts are seen as the perfect complement to the photographs and descriptions provided in the Tokushima Air Raids Digital Archive and, together, these resources can provide a broader understanding of the event to the international reader.

In addition to these digital collections, there is currently an exhibition of art work by Iihara Kazuo, relating to the air raid, on display at the museum in Tokushima Central Park. This event will run until August 16th, the day following the seventieth anniversary of Japan’s surrender. Iihara Kazuo has spent his life working to preserve the history and culture of Tokushima prefecture for generations to come through his artwork.

The Great Tokushima Air Raid, Iihara Kazuo.
The Great Tokushima Air Raid, Iihara Kazuo.

The Tokushima Air Raids Digital Archive, Personal Accounts of the Tokushima Air Raid and the Iihara Kazuo Digital Collection can be found below with links to the full texts in both English and Japanese:

Tokushima Air Raids Digital Archive

Personal Accounts of the
Tokushima Air Raid

Iihara Kazuo Digital Collection

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