WHAT CONFIRMED the memory of a recurring nightmare as my earliest childhood recollection was my mother's account, years later, of the firebombing of Yokohama in May of 1945 -- how she ran towards the breakwater at lowtide, with me strapped to her back, clasping the hands of my brother and sister, away from the inferno that destroyed most of our neighborhood and city but miraculously spared our house. I don't remember the drone of the B-29s, or the sound of exploding bombs, but the nightmare was that of a little boy wailing on the shore with flames all around him.

Among the books I read during my childhood in postwar Japan, I remember fairy tales of long ago and comic books such as "Mighty Atom, the Robot Boy," but the one I recall most vividly is the diary of a German-Dutch girl who lived in hiding in faraway Amsterdam. I had seen my sister pouring out tears over "Ann,e no Nikki" -- Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl -- and kidded her about it. She dared me that even tough Kunio wouldn't be able to read the book without crying. And like millions of readers all over the world, I was deeply touched by Anne's courage, her ability to cope with fear and hunger as well as the everyday worries of growing up -- never yielding, until all that beauty and courage was taken away and she, like millions of others, perished. Of course, my sister won her dare.