Rafu Staff and Wire Service Reports
HIROSHIMA– Over the years until his death on Dec. 19 at the age of 73, manga author Keiji Nakazawa, best known for his work “Hadashi no Gen” (Barefoot Gen), continued to question who was responsible for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and for the war.
Each year, the author chose not to participate in the peace memorial ceremony to mark the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
“That’s because they never question who was responsible for the war,” he once explained. “They make a peace declaration and ring a bell. That’s far from enough. People need to have more anger.”
Nakazawa’s work “Barefoot Gen” depicts the devastation after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In the work, Nakazawa released his anger, disguised by the humor and cheerfulness of the work’s main character, Gen.
The manga, which was serialized in the 1970s and 1980s, is based on his experience of the atomic bombing at the age of 6 while on his way to school about 1.2 kilometers from the epicenter of the explosion. He lost his father, elder sister and younger brother, and survived with his mother and older brother.
The anti-war story educated Japanese youth, especially elementary and junior high schoolchildren, many of whom were introduced to the Hiroshima bombing and World War II through Nakazawa’s work. It has been translated into many languages, including English, French, Korean, Thai, and Russian.
Choubunsha Publishing Co., which first released “Hadashi no Gen” in 1975 in the form of comic books, said it has sold more than 10 million copies as of December.
The manga, which was later turned into animated and live-action dramas, depicts the bombing and its aftermath in graphic detail. Gen’s father, sister and brother are trapped under the wreckage of their house and burn to death before his eyes; some survivors look like ghosts with their eye sockets empty and their melted skin hanging from their outstretched arms; people burned beyond recognition beg for water before dying.
Some survivors are scarred for life and are shunned by others; some who appear to be unharmed, like Gen’s mother, suffer from radiation exposure — an unknown medical condition at the time — and fall ill.
The story continues into the postwar years as Gen struggles to survive in a devastated, poverty-stricken country under U.S. occupation.
Before “Barefoot Gen,” Nakazawa told his own life story in a comic titled “Ore wa Mita” (I Saw It).
Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui expressed hope that the comics will be “passed on to the next generation” and convey the horror of nuclear war to people in Japan and around the world.
In 2009, Nakazawa donated the original sketches of his manga to the city of Hiroshima, and two years later, in the summer of 2011, he was invited to the peace memorial ceremony for the first time.
Nakazawa said he felt that Japan was used as a “testing ground” during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his manga he vented anger over the fact that his family had been branded unpatriotic after his father Harumi, a painter, was imprisoned for engaging in anti-war activities before the atomic bombs were dropped. He also expressed anger over Japanese people’s blurring of the wartime responsibility of Emperor Showa and class-A war criminals.
He hated lip service, and didn’t belong to any groups, believing they would inhibit his ability to state his opinions freely.
The force of his anger didn’t land only on the atomic bombings; he sharply criticized the use of nuclear power as well. On April 26, 2011, 25 years after the nuclear power accident at Chernobyl, he gave a greeting at the screening of an autobiographical film in Hiroshima, mentioning the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.
“It is dangerous for us to rely only on nuclear power plants, which cannot be controlled by human means. We should use this as an opportunity to make the switch to using renewable energy,” he said.
Having been discriminated against as an atomic bomb survivor, he hoped strongly that no such thing would happen in Fukushima. Nakazawa’s departure from his beloved hometown at a young age may have intensified his anger.
Showing an aptitude for drawing, Nakazawa started working for a sign maker after his graduation from junior high school, and he created advertising signs for the first Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, which was completed in 1957. The day before attending the peace memorial ceremony in 2011, he threw the ceremonial first pitch at the city’s new ballpark, Mazda Stadium, ahead of a game by the Hiroshima Carp. He hurled the ball with all his might, and his smiling face was like that of a young child.
Cancer had already eaten into Nakazawa’s lungs, and he had relapses of cancer, which metastasized. He took anti-cancer drugs and underwent radiation therapy, but it was stopped after he suffered strong side-effects. After he came out of hospital he energetically gave talks and appeared in a radio program on Aug. 6 last year, the anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. However, he was hospitalized with pneumonia last fall.
One scene in “Barefoot Gen” states the words of Gen’s father: an instruction to grow up like wheat, growing straight and tall no matter how often the wheat is stepped on. In just that way, Nakazawa made many comebacks, and he continued to fight until the end of his life.
Nakazawa left instructions with his family not to tell anyone that he had passed away until his funeral was over.