Tokyo 1942 by David Lanvert

Sato-san is the embodiment of hope after the tragedy of war; by David Lanvert.

Sato-san walks down the middle of the road, a fishing pole over one shoulder, head tilted back and eyes scanning overhead, seeking the source of a low thrum, felt but not yet heard, before the air-raid siren sends us scurrying for safety. We watch him from either side of the road, squatting behind charred wood or lying under the lip of a water-filled crater, our keen eyes and youthful fingers seeking the buried treasure of a spare button, an intact shirt, a forgotten locket. Morning mist as ephemeral as hope rises in the distance as we see him, shoulders back and chest out, a giant, strutting towards the water. He's singing now, low and indistinct. The roosters in the road mimic his walk. The siren wails, Sato-san sings louder.

Hate is upon us, raining down, a destruction heaven-sent to avenge the actions of others who look like us. We rouse ourselves and bend at the waist, eyes down, shuffling towards the shelter. The whistling starts, and then the sound of a thousand freight trains as Sato-san shouts before the tumult, "Fish for dinner tonight, everyone!"

We knew one another once, in another life, from school or the neighborhood, one a year older, one a year younger, one with a brother, the other who lived with his aunt.

We remember the moment, a week ago or maybe a month. Did you see him? Were you the first? Sato-san, stunned from the explosions, ears ringing, his coat and hair smoldering, plunged his hands deep into the burning remnants of paper houses, reaching past useless toys, nightclothes, and broken furniture, searching as the earth shook and our ancestors wept. He plucked each of us up in turn, his trophies, filthy, torn, the blood and dust turning our clothes brick-red. But alive and reborn. Holding us upright, he insisted we stand, clinging to his belt or leg - saplings in the shadow of an oak.

We live under corrugated iron lean-tos here and there, held up by Sato-san's indignation, and sit in twos and threes, shoulder-to-shoulder, coaxing tiny embers into modest, shy flames. We know each other on sight, a dozen of us, and we cling to one another and orbit him. Some of our relatives and parents remain amongst us, hollowed-out puppets hanging by tangled threads, swaying between this life and the next, their hopeful eyes shining when we smile. Sato-san sits under his shelter, his fish carefully tended over a lump of charcoal. We watch from gray, smoky shadows. The fish never burns. Everyone has a taste. "Eat, eat. You are the descendants of royalty. You are the precious treasure of thousands of years of toil. Eat, and be happy," he says. Reading our minds, hearing our whispers, he shouts, "I am not a god. But I'll do for now."

Sato-san's daughter, Sachiko, was the fastest runner in school. At dawn's first light, with our windows open to the street, we would see the flash of her running, 50 meters in each direction. Her father at the far end, a stopwatch in his hand, shouted encouragement or an admonishment. Later at school, she hid the pride in her eyes with a sly glance from under straight black bangs.

At night, as he sleeps, we hear him whispering to his dead daughter, "Faster, faster." We don't tell him that we listen to her running each morning as we awake huddled together, the smell of flowers and smoked chestnuts lingering in our dreams.

"Come, have tea, my lords and ladies, come have tea," he shouts. We gather and laugh as he hands the children toys. Empty spools of thread, joined by a wire, are now a truck. A wooden box is now a dollhouse, the broken stopwatch attached inside as a wall clock. Sato-san smiles. We laugh until we cry, tears streaking through the dust on our cheeks.


  1. Descriptive and real character of Sato San. I am wondering should this not be called "Tokyo 1945?" However, 1942 was when Pearl Harbour was bombed and the U. S. entered the war, so maybe that has something to do with the title.

  2. Here’s what I found on Google: The Doolittle Raid, also known as the Tokyo Raid, was an air raid on 18 April 1942 by the United States on the Japanese capital Tokyo and other places on Honshu during World War II. It was the first air operation to strike the Japanese archipelago.

    In any case, this is a poignant and well-crafted story.

  3. You are correct. This should have been 1944 or 1945. The Doolittle Raids didn't do a lot of damage and the scene as I've depicted it reflects a lot of accumulated destruction. Thank for you reading!

  4. A moving story, David, and very well written.

  5. Such a powerful and evocative piece of writing. Thank you

  6. Thanks everyone, I'm hugely appreciative of your thoughts and support.

  7. A compelling and moving piece of fiction.