Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage
A museum about the conventional bombing of Tokyo
by the USA
, in particular in the massive air raid of 10 March 1945.
More background info:
While the destruction of Hiroshima
is common knowledge, it is for some reason much less universally known that Tokyo
was actually the target of an even more destructive attack – albeit by “conventional” bombs, when in the early hours of 10 March 1945 around 300 B-29 heavy long-range bombers dropped almost 1700 tons of mostly incendiary bombs on Tokyo causing an inferno that left an estimated 100,000 dead and another million people homeless. It was the single most destructive aerial bombing raid in history.
Tokyo had been a target before, beginning with the rather small-scale Doolittle Raid of 1942, which was more a propaganda event in retaliation for Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor
Other than by aircraft-carrier-based smaller planes, the mainland of Japan had been out of reach for the USA
until a) the new long-range heavy bomber B-29 “Superfortress” type came into service from mid-1944 and b) the US captured islands such as Tinian
and Saipan from the Japanese.
islands brought Japan
, including Tokyo
, within the ca. 3700 mile (6000 km) range of the B-29. Most of the bombing raids on Japan were subsequently flown from airfields built on these islands, beginning in November 1944, and 90% of all bombs dropped on Tokyo came from B-29s. This type of aircraft was soon recognized by the Japanese population as the new bringer of death and destruction to their homeland. There it became known, somewhat cynically, as B-San (-San being the honorific suffix in Japanese that you might translate as “Mr ...”).
B-29s first attacked Tokyo in February 1945. Initially the bombers flew during the daytime and at high altitudes, which was their best defence, as Japanese fighter jets could hardly reach such heights, or compete with the high speed of this sophisticated new type of bomber. The high altitude had the downside, however, of bombs being carried off-target by the wind.
So for the big raid of 9/10 March, which was code-named Operation Meetinghouse, the strategy was changed. This time the bombers flew at night, when Japanese fighter planes could not operate, and at a much lower altitude of only 2000 feet (600 metres), one at which ground-based anti-aircraft guns were less effective, but which for bombing was ideal.
Moreover, it had meanwhile become clear that regular explosive bombs were relatively ineffective whereas incendiary bombs caused havoc on the typical Japanese houses made of wood and paper. Hence almost all the bombs dropped in the 10 March raid were cluster bombs releasing incendiary bomblets. The initial wave attacked an area of east Tokyo (harbour and working class districts) in such a way that the fires created formed an X shape, which was then the target marker for the remaining bombers. The fire-bombing caused a massive conflagration that completely destroyed some 270,000 buildings over 16 square miles of the city (about a quarter of its total area), causing the aforementioned casualties and homelessness. The number of injured is especially contested, estimates given range from 40,000 to over a million. In addition some 50% of the city's industry was also taken out. The vast majority of the human victims, however, were civilians.
Whether such indiscriminate mass killing of civilians can morally be justified is unsurprisingly a question that was raised, especially after the war and mostly by historians. See also under Dresden
! Militarily this kind of “strategic bombing” was thought to be “inevitable”, given the ineffectiveness of targeted bombing of military infrastructure and Japan's unfaltering stance in the war.
Images of Tokyo
after this raid bear a striking resemblance to those of Hiroshima
after the A-bombing. In fact, unless you can pick out any unmistakable landmark ruin (like the A-Bomb Dome
) these images are practically indistinguishable from one another. This just goes to show that the scale of these attacks was on a par. However, while both Hiroshima
have large Peace Parks, countless memorials and state-run topical museums
, no such commemoration was put in place for Tokyo after the war. It was as if the city's officials simply wanted to forget and concentrate on rebuilding Tokyo.
So it was left to a local “grass-roots” initiative, relying on private donations, to start collecting records, artefacts and documents related to the raids (which began in the 1970s) and eventually the present museum was set up in 2002. It is mainly aimed at Tokyoites rather than foreign visitors, though these are also more than welcome.
When I first visited Tokyo
in 2009 I didn't even know about the existence of this museum, but in my preparatory research for my return visit in 2019, I stumbled upon a note about it, read up a bit and then built it into my itinerary. The museum staff seemed a little surprised to see a Westerner visiting the place, but made me very welcome, apologized for the lack of English in the exhibition, and insisted I watch a video with English subtitles (see below) and handed me an English-language leaflet. At the end of my visit they profusely thanked me for having visited. So I take it they'd like to see more attention from foreigners.
What there is to see:
The rather nondescript building in the middle of a bland residential part of east Tokyo
(right in the middle of where the worst of the bombing happened in 1945) wouldn't look in any way noteworthy were it not for a couple of sculptures outside. In fact it was those sculptures that made it clear to me that I had come to the right place. I saw no signposting en route and the sign and plaque outside the building are in Japanese only.
Inside, it at first looked like an office and library, but the friendly staff at the reception desk welcomed me, and the lady, who spoke slightly better English than her male colleague, took me to a room at the back of the building and set up a DVD player and video screen to play an excerpt from a feature film on the topic of the Tokyo fire-bombing as an introduction. The ca. 15-minute clip, with English subtitles, included some harrowing depictions of the blaze and the panic and despair of the women and children caught up in it, though I believe the true horrors must have been even worse.
The room that the video screen was in also had a few exhibits along the walls, and in particular photos, maps and charts showing the extent of the destruction inflicted on Tokyo
. Otherwise the room was more a meeting or lecture room. There was even a piano in one corner. Above the keyboard stood a Japanese-edition score book with works by German composer Franz Schubert. What the significance of this was, I cannot say.
The main exhibition is upstairs. At the top of the staircase a scale-model of a B-San (i.e. a B-29 bomber – see above) hangs from the ceiling, the actual exhibition rooms branch off to the side of a corridor.
The exhibition is very old-school in style. Just glass cabinets with artefacts on display accompanied by photos and documents and a few explanatory text panels. All texts and labelling, however, are in Japanese only. So unless the artefacts and photos in question speak sufficiently for themselves, you won't get all that much out of it as a non-Japanese-speaker. However, there were also a few American documents on display, such as excerpts of the US bomber command's mission report. So there was at least something in English.
The largest exhibit is a recreation of a typical traditional Japanese living room – all wood and tatami mats and paper windows. No wonder they went up in flames in no time in the fire-bombing.
Also on display is a replica of an M69 cluster bomb, the type mostly used in the raid of 10 March 1945 (see above). In addition some genuine rusty shells of the incendiary bomblets that these cluster bombs released are on display too.
Other than that there are gas masks, a semi-scorched wooden door, various singed items of clothing, rusty helmets, molten glass objects, personal belongings and plenty of Japanese text documents that for me remained silent. Some of the photos are pretty graphic, however, e.g. those of completely blackened, charred bodies.
All in all, even though the lack of English is a big drawback, I think it is still worth paying this small-scale private museum a visit, not least of all to simply honour their efforts at bringing such a museum about at all. Some of the displays are also sufficiently self-explanatory, so they illustrate the museum's topic well. But in order to learn the full story of this topic, you have to do your own homework independently. Unless you can read Japanese you won't get it here.
in the Kitasuna part of the Koto district of Tokyo
, some three miles (5 km) east of Tokyo Station.
Access and costs: A bit hidden and off the beaten path; not expensive.
Details: To get to the museum you can travel to one of the rail and metro stations in the vicinity and walk it from there, in ca. 15 minutes, e.g. from Nishi Ojima (Shinjuku Line) or Sumiyoshi (Shinjuku and Hanzomon Lines) to the north, or from Toyocho (Tozai Line) Station to the south. For precise walking directions use the map locator above. You can also cut the walking short by taking one of the various local buses that serve these areas. For details I suggest you also use Google Maps or refer to the museum's website. Giving all the options here would go too far.
Opening times: Wednesday to Sunday from 12 noon to 4:30 p.m., closed Mondays, Tuesdays and from 28 December to 4 January.
Admission: 300 JPY
Time required: If you can read Japanese then probably well over an hour; if not you'll be back out significantly sooner.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
See under Tokyo
There's nothing else of particular interest in the immediate vicinity. But the closest possible combination would be that with the Daigo Fukuryu Maru
a good two miles (3.5 km) to the south, reachable by bus (Line 18, which goes down Meiji-dori Avenue).
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
None nearby; but see under Tokyo
- CTRWD 01 - entrance
- CTRWD 02 - downstairs room
- CTRWD 03 - why Schubert remains a mystery
- CTRWD 04 - screen on which a film excert can be played
- CTRWD 05 - B-29 model hanging from the ceiling at the top of the staircase
- CTRWD 06 - upstairs
- CTRWD 07 - display cabinets
- CTRWD 08 - exhibits
- CTRWD 09 - more exhibits
- CTRWD 10 - traditional living room mock-up
- CTRWD 11 - gas masks
- CTRWD 12 - incendiary bomb
- CTRWD 13 - scorched wooden door
- CTRWD 14 - more artefacts
- CTRWD 15 - headband
- CTRWD 16 - sculpture outside