Hiroshi Suenaga, a survivor of the Nagasaki nuclear bombing who accompanied Mr. Saotome on these trips, including a visit to the home of a Chinese man who had been forced to work in the coal mines in Hokkaido during the war, said in an interview that Mr. Saotome was “very gentle and calm on the surface, but he had an unyielding spirit inside of him”.
In addition to his volumes of survivor stories, Mr. Saotome has written the account of an American B-29 pilot whose plane crashed in Tokyo and was taken prisoner, as well as multiple novels and war-themed children’s books.
As a survivor of the Tokyo firebombing, he openly protested against all wars. As recently as April, he wrote a message for an audience that had gathered outside Tokyo to watch a film based on one of his novels, “War and Youth,” about the search for a wife for her child, who had disappeared during the war. .
In the message, read by his daughter, Mr Saotome expressed his disappointment at the Russian invasion of Ukraine and said seeing news footage of women and children trying to escape war recalled the Japanese victims in Tokyo 77 years ago. “I seem to see scenes of many wandering Japanese people trying to escape right before my eyes,” he said.
Katsumoto Saotome was born on March 26, 1932 in Tokyo, the youngest of Katsuma and Rin Saotome’s four children. The family lived in the eastern part of the city, known as shitamachi, or “lower town”, a series of neighborhoods where poorer residents were concentrated. Her mother was a seamstress and her father worked as a barber, street vendor and theater promoter, among other jobs.
When war broke out, Mr. Saotome’s older brother was drafted but his father, an alcoholic, was deemed too frail to enlist as a soldier. Her two older sisters worked in a factory.