After the Inferno

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After the Inferno

by Donald Richie


In this installment of a series, Donald Richie recalls a poignant post-war moment with Nobel Prize-winner Yasunari Kawabata

It was 1947 and the Sumida River, silver in the winter sun, glistened beneath us. Yasunari Kawabata and I were on the roof of the Asakusa subway terminal tower, looking out over downtown Tokyo, still in ruins, still showing the conflagration of two years earlier, the burned concrete black against the lemon yellow of new wood.

This had been the amusement quarter of Tokyo. Around the great temple of Kannon, now a blackened, empty square, had grown a warren of bars, theaters, archery stalls, circus tents, peep-shows, places I had read where the all-girl opera sang and kicked, where the tattooed gamblers met and bet, where trained dogs walked on hind legs and Japan’s fattest lady sat in state.

Now, two years after it all had gone up in flames, after so many of those who worked and played here had burned in the streets or boiled in the canals as the incendiary bombs fell and the B-29s thundered over, the empty squares were again turning into lanes. Tents, reed lean-tos, a few frame buildings had begun appearing. Girls in wedgies were sitting in front of new tea-rooms, but I saw no sign of Japan’s fattest lady. Perhaps she had bubbled away in the blaze.

Was that what he was thinking? I wondered, looking at the avian profile of the middle-age man standing beside me, outlined against the pale sky. tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #274 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.

Written By:

Donald Richie

Donald Richie is first honorable visit to Japan took place in 1947. Since that time he became a celebrated film critic, author and composer, not to mention a journalist of many talents recording the changes of over half a century of life in Tokyo. Donald Richie contributed to the Tokyo Journal over the years and when asked about times in the nineties, Donald replied, Frightening but exhilarating. I think everybody with a pencil should be out there taking notes. Mr. Richie passed away in 2013.


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