Hiroshi Suenaga, a survivor of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki who accompanied Mr. Saotome on these trips, including a visit to the home of a Chinese man who had been forced to work in coal mines in Hokkaido during the war, said in an interview that Mr. Saotome was “very soft and calm on the surface, but he had an unbending spirit inside of him.”
In addition to his volumes of survivors’ stories, Mr. Saotome wrote an account of an American B-29 pilot whose plane crashed in Tokyo and who was taken prisoner, as well as multiple novels and children’s books on the subject of war.
As a survivor of the Tokyo firebombing, he was outspoken in protesting all wars. As recently as April, he had written a message for an audience that had gathered outside Tokyo to view a movie based on one of his novels, “War and Youth,” about a woman’s search for her child, who had gone missing during the war.
In the message, read by his daughter, Mr. Saotome expressed disappointment in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said that seeing news footage of women and children trying to escape the war reminded him of the Japanese victims in Tokyo 77 years ago. “I feel like I am seeing scenes of many Japanese people wandering around trying to escape just in front of 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 “low town,” a series of neighborhoods where the poorest residents concentrated. His mother was a seamstress, and his father worked as, among other things, a barber, a street vendor and a theater promoter.
When war broke out, Mr. Saotome’s older brother was conscripted but his father, an alcoholic, was deemed too frail to enlist as a soldier. His two older sisters worked in a factory.