Escaping the Red Winds
Ishikawa's account of his escape from the fires.
Ishikawa, Kōyō (1904-1989)
Movement is everywhere in his account. While most had little recourse but to escape on foot, those with official duties often had access to cars and motorcycles that delivered them into, but seldom out of, the flames. Noteworthy, too, is the persistent interest among survivors in gaining access to the tramway and subway system on the Western side of the city. The ultimate goal for those residents lucky enough to escape were the trains departing from Shinjuku station bound for outlying prefectures—the last best hope for escape into rural areas so far unmolested by American B-29s.
If Ishikawa’s entry graphically conveys the social chaos on the ground—what American war planners had called “social dislocation”—it also offers glimpses of coordination, cohesion, and resilience. At nearly every turn, Ishikawa encountered reminders of the fact that air raids had long been a lived reality for Tokyoites. That he followed strict air raid procedures, encountered wardens shouting through megaphones, and discovered bodies that had perished in the midst of carrying out their fire-fighting duties reveals the extent to which air raid procedures had been drilled into the rhythms and routines of everyday life (Johnson 2017; Weisenfeld 2014).
But whatever their preparation, few could have imagined the intensity of the “red winds” (akakaze) that swept across the city. To traverse the Sumida River was to cross the River Styx into the depths of hell. Like so many other survivor accounts, Ishikawa’s entry is littered with apocalyptic references and infernal language—demonic planes above, perdition below. Of particular interest to Ishikawa, as so many other survivors, are the thermodynamics of this inferno. While he may have been struck by the “countless futons and other belongings” that were “turned into balls of flames and swept along” Tokyo’s streets, this was precisely as American engineers and material scientists at Dugway had predicted. Their experimental incineration of futon, drawers, and other household items—in residences described as “workers quarters”—underscores the fact that, official rhetoric to the contrary, American planners were targeting homes.