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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Post War Japan Photograph - Asakusa

I have no idea where my friend Michael got this photo from, so I'm pleading the 5th, which since I'm Canadian probably means some sort of booze rather than any constitutional amendment Americans claim.

The photo is purported to be from post-war Japan, 1946, Asakusa district in Tokyo, to be exact. It shows an ex-Japanese soldier with prosthetic legs playing the guitar on a street corner for what I would assume would be change, but who the hell knows. 

The photograph is remarkable on sooooooo many levels.

Interesting Fact #1 First, Tokyo (including Asakusa) was in March of 1945 fire-bombed and fire-bombed and fire-bombed by allied air attacks, whereby 

On March 9-10 via Allied attack plan ""Operation Meetinghouse", a total of 334 B-29 bombers took flight to attack Tokyo.

Although "only" 279 dropped bombs, it was a total weight of 1,665 tons (1510.5 metric tonnes) of bombs.

Most of the bombs were of the 500 lb (230 kg) E-46 cluster bomb variety... each one releasing a cluster fcuk of 38 napalm M-69 incendiary mini bombs known as bomblets.

Dropped from an altitude of 2,000–2,500 feet (610–760 meters), these M-69s had enough weight and momentum to smash right through Japan's thin building roofs and after impact explode three to five seconds later releasing a hot flame of napalm.

This bomb would and could do a lot of civilian damage given that it didn't explode for a few seconds after impact, and thus could hit the ground or floor of a building to provide maximum damage.

Another devious weapon in this weekend (Friday/Saturday) event was the inclusion of M-47 100-lb (45 kg) jelled gas and white phosphorous bombs (an incendiary), that exploded upon impact. While a nasty bit of business, these bombs would not puncture buildings before exploding - they exploded upon contact with buildings (or anything unsheltered).

Of course... shelter or not, the concussive force along with the flames was going to do a lot of damage.

How many people died? There has never been an accurate count. The lowest number offered was from the US Strategic Bombing Survey: 88,000 people died in this one raid, 41,000 were injured, and over a million residents lost their homes. The highest number comes from the The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, believing there were 124,711 casualties includes dead and wounded) 286,358 buildings and homes destroyed (which is different from the number above listing number of homeless).

Whatever the number, this bombing raid of Tokyo was pretty damn high.
Tokyo firebombing: 88,000 dead;
Hiroshima: by end of 1945, injury and radiation brought the total number of deaths to 90,000–166,000.
Nagasaki: roughly 39,000–80,000 people were killed - though it doesn't take into accounts of later deaths from radiation poisoning.

And I didn't even mention Toyama - a later blog, perhaps with a more detailed look at Tokyo during the war.

So... holy crap... Tokyo took it up the wazoo a lot harder than Nagasaki did, as far as loss of life is concerned.

Asakusa district Before WW2
Asakusa district after March 9-19 firebombing of Tokyo.
Interesting Fact #2 Although anywhere from nine months to 19 months later, this topmost photo is from 1946. Check out the shop behind the guitar player - it's a shop selling dresses or other clothing - well-stocked, clean - who has money to buy?

Interesting Fact #3 The guitar player has very interesting above-knee prosthetics. While I doubt they are comfortable and lack knees to bend, I would imagine the gentleman would have to wobble at the hips from side to side and then gain forward momentum to gain a few centimeters of of a stride at a time. Slow, but workable.

Were there no wheelchairs available at this point in time, or did he shun them to give the appearance of having legs and being able to see the world from his accustomed height?

What do you think? Is it possible the actual construction was homemade? 

Interesting Fact #4 Where the fug did he get such a nice-looking guitar? Seriously. It's 1946, and the war is over, and I would assume luxuries might include having enough toilet paper or meat for a meal. So... having a guitar? It must have been a gift from someone.

In my mind, while he is recuperating in the hospital waiting to have his above-knee amputation or is recovering from it, someone visiting him - and army buddy - or even a complete stranger coming in to cheer up the sick and wounded - plays on that guitar.

When our photographic icon hears it, perhaps he asks if he could strum a few chords, and instead wows the audience - including the owner of the guitar.

Did he play jazz? The Blues? Classical, Japanese ballads, American contemporary? Does it matter, except that it was a beautiful noise unburdened by the whistling of a bomb cutting through the air?

Perhaps now armed with a musical colleague and friend, the person who brought in the guitar earlier comes back on the day of discharge and presents THIS guitar to him.

Who knows... perhaps prior to being forced to enter the armed forces of Japan (either conscription or sense of duty and sense of honor), the guitar player in the photograph was a professional musician or a teacher of music.

I haven't touched a musical instrument since 1993, but besides being able to play all woodwinds, brass and keyboards, I taught piano and clarinet while in journalism school. I also coached women's soccer with my friend Rob while I was in journalism school.

Some books you just can't judge by their cover (I think you can judge a few books by their cover), and this guitar playing ex-soldier in a recently firebombed area of Tokyo.. this photograph speaks volumes.

Thank-you Michael, for sending me this photo. It certainly offers layers and a story to be told.

Andrew Joseph

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