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Last Updated: 07/18/2014Memory of Toyama Air Raid (1st-2nd August 1945)
August 1st marks the 69th anniversary of the Toyama air raid, one of the forgotten atrocities of the Second World War. In this article, Takuo Namisashi comments on the history and commemoration of the air raid on Toyama city.
At the banks of the Jinzu River, which flows through the centre of Toyama city, a firework event is held every 1st of August. For the Japanese people, fireworks are typically a festive event, signaling that the summer has come. However, the fireworks on 1st August have a different meaning for the people in Toyama, as they are held in remembrance of the victims of the Toyama air raid and are an expression of the desire for peace.
As we approach August 1st, I would like to commemorate the Toyama air raid, which is often eclipsed by other major historical war issues in Japan, such as the Tokyo air raid and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Toyama city is the capital city of Toyama Prefecture with a population of 420,032 people, located on the Toyama Plain where it has a good farmland. After the Meiji Restoration (1867~), when Japan experienced rapid westernisation and modernisation, the heavy and chemical industries developed here, based on the abundant electricity generated by a hydro power station in the near-by mountains.
According to the mission summaries of the United States’ 20th Air Force, 182 aircrafts participated in the strike and dropped 1465.5 tons of bombs, damaging 99.5% of urban area of Toyama City, resulting in approximately 3000 casualties. This rate of damage is the largest among the rural cities, except Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were destroyed by atomic bombs.
The testimonies of air raid survivors are recorded in the War Testimony Archives by the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). These describe the bleak landscape after the air raid as an “empty and white world”, as all the buildings were burned out and turned into white ash within few hours’ air raid.
However, despite the scale of its impact, the Toyama air raid is not familiar among the Japanese and even among the people in Toyama Prefecture. I did not know about the background of fireworks at Jinzu River until I heard from my teacher in high school.
As the survivors are getting old, it is a challenge to pass down the memory of the air raid to the further generations. According to a local news article, there was a request by a civil society group for Toyama city government to construct a museum about the air raid, but the city’s disappointing answer is that they are “not considering” the proposal.
The air raid on Toyama City is a part of the hidden history under the symbolic historical war issues in Japan, such as the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the ground war in Okinawa, and the great air raid in Tokyo.
The “Mission Summary” I referred to above showed there were air raids in many rural cities, and in each city, survivors must have given their testimony. Often, focusing on major historical issues means that we may ignore the local histories, which equally need to be passed down to the next generation.
As one of the locals who was born at Toyama Prefecture, I will commemorate the air raid that occurred in 1945 by, among other things, watching the news of the fireworks at Jinzu River.
 Toyama City (2013). 2013 Toyama Shisei Yoran [Toyama City Information 2013]. Toyama: Toyama City, 2013.Retrivwed from http://www.city.toyama.toyama.jp/data/open/cnt/3/9072/1/youran-all.pdf
 20th Air Force Association. (2014). Mission Summary Mission Number 307. Retrieved from http://www.20thaf.org/missions/307.htm
(2013, July 22). Toyama Daikuysu: Kataritsugu Kai, Shi no Kaito ni Rakutan Myujiamu Kensetsu Kangaeteinai. (Toyama Air Raid: Kataritsugu Kai Disappointment to the Response of City -No consideration about the construction of museum). Mainichi Shinbun. Retrieved from http://mainichi.jp/area/toyama/news/20130722ddlk16040383000c.html
Takuo Namisashi is a Doctoral Candidate University for Peace.