Letters from A-bomb survivors to G8 Lower House Speakers, Part 1

The G8 Summit of Lower House Speakers will be held in Hiroshima on September 2. For the leading legislators of the world’s major nations to gather at the site of an atomic bombing in order to discuss issues of peace and disarmament is a highly significant event.

On the occasion of this historic opportunity to open the door more widely to the abolition of nuclear weapons, the Chugoku Shimbun asked five A-bomb survivors to write letters to the speakers to share their thoughts.

The atomic bomb took my mother’s bones
by Keiji Nakazawa, 69, manga artist

Although I was exposed to the atomic bombing a mere 1.2 kilometers from the hypocenter, I miraculously survived. I lost my father, older sister, and younger brother to the atomic bomb.

After graduating from junior high school, I trained at a sign shop, and then in 1961 I went to Tokyo and became an assistant to a manga artist. I was 22. Two years later I made my debut as a manga artist.

But it didn’t occur to me to draw a manga about the atomic bombing. I wanted to forget about the bombing, which had taken my family from me, as soon as possible. At the time, people in Tokyo believed that you would pick up radiation from the A-bomb survivors if you got too close to them, and there was widespread prejudice and discrimination.

In the spring of my fifth year in Tokyo I received a telegram: “Mother dead. Come home at once.”

I was in a daze as I gathered my mother’s ashes. There were only ashes, no bones. After the atomic bombing I had seen the bodies of many people being cremated in Hiroshima, so I assumed there were always bones.

Like me, my mother had miraculously survived the bombing, but she was affected by the radiation, which penetrated her bones. The atomic bomb not only took her life, it took her bones as well. I was filled with anger. I resolved to avenge her death.

On the train on the way back to Tokyo I came up with an idea and began working feverishly on a manga about the war and the atomic bombing. The result was “Kuroi Ame ni Utarete” (“Pelted by Black Rain”). Afterwards I expressed my anger toward the atomic bombing from various angles in other works as well, and seven years later “Hadashi no Gen” (“Barefoot Gen”) was published.

My mother died 42 years ago. Today we are said to be in the “post-Cold War era,” but the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China still possess nuclear weapons. Four of these countries are members of the G8, whose lower house speakers will meet in Hiroshima. Other nations are proceeding with nuclear development, and radiation contamination is a serious problem.

I want to say to the G8 lower house speakers who will meet in Hiroshima: If you are coming all the way to Hiroshima, I would like you to set aside at least one day to visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and see what the atomic bomb did to its victims.

As an A-bomb survivor, I would like you to know that the exhibits in the museum leave something to be desired because there are no voices, no smells. You cannot hear the screams and moans that seemed to well up from the center of the earth that day. There is none of the stench of death that filled the city. As long as these are not recreated, you cannot understand what it was really like.

In closing, I would like to address Yohei Kono, speaker of Japan’s House of Representatives: Japan must also reflect deeply on its conduct during the war. To this day the responsibility of those who allowed the military to run amok thus leading to the war is unclear. If the decision to stop the fighting had been made ten days sooner, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would never have occurred. The war’s winners and losers were very clear. The policy-makers at the time therefore bear a large responsibility for the fact that we were made guinea pigs in a nuclear test.

Keiji Nakazawa
Mr. Nakazawa was born in 1939. His father, a craftsman who painted wooden clogs; his elder sister, a sixth grader; and his 4-year-old younger brother were killed in the atomic bombing. His mother, who was pregnant at the time of the bombing, gave birth to a baby girl who died three months later. His best-selling manga, “Barefoot Gen,” has been translated into more than ten languages, including English, French, Russian, and Korean.

(Originally published on August 26, 2008)