In Japan, August is a month of REMEMBERANCE
By Avi Landau
It is in August , when Japan is most ALIVE ,with the droning of cicadas, the wild expansion of vegetation, and with the air itself seemingly PULSATING with LIFE, that the Japanese have traditionally remembered The Dead. In this month, not only is there the O-Bon Festival, in which over the centuries the spirits of departed relatives have been welcomed back to their homes and families for a few days, but there are also the 3 major memorial events related to the Second World War- the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ( August 6th and 9th respectively) and the anniversary marking the end of the war itself, which is on the 15th.
Though more than half a century has passed, and with each passing year they become fewer in number, there are still those who vividly remember, and I guess you could say LIVE EVERYDAY with the memories of wartime events. Some such people also live in or around Tsukuba. I’m not sure why, maybe because I am a foreigner ( an outsider), but over the years several older Japanese have confided their stories of that time to me. Since today is the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki , Chizuko-San`s story comes to mind.
Still elegant , youthful and very active in her late seventies, Chizuko, has lived all over Japan, having moved around the country in her childhood, because of her fathers job as a government official. In 1945, her family was living in Hiroshima, but because of the danger of staying in ANY Japanese city at that time posed by the American bombing campaign, she took refuge at a relatives house, far off in the country, along with her mother and siblings, while her father remained in the doomed city.
On the morning of August 6th, her father was near the center of Hiroshima. Somehow , maybe by having been shielded from the explosion, heat and radiation by a protective wall of some sort, he survived, and made his why though the INDESCRIBABLE HORROR created by the atomic detonation and its aftermath. In dazed grief and desperation, he set out to reunite himself with his family. Describing how he got to them would require a MUCH longer posting, but anyway, to make a long story short, he DID make it to his family, where they were of couse overjoyed and relieved to see him. He had the same feeling about finding THEM alive and well. That is because they had been staying with country cousins who lived- maybe you`ve already guessed it – just outside NAGASAKI !
Exactly what Chizuko`s father lived through is impossible for us to imagine, and many of those who went through that the same experience found it difficult (and painful) to describe. One of the works that I would recommend which attempts to depict the undepictable horror of The Bomb and war in general is the comic book series entitiled HADASHI NO GEN (Barefoot Gen), by Keiji Nakazawa. If you imagine that a comic book format would belittle this solemn subject, you are mistaken. Rather than millionnaire actors in make-up, or a multitude of skillfulfully chosen black words on a white page, Nakazawa`s combination of simple text and drawings might be the most perfect attempt ever at portraying the UNIMAGINABLE.
Since it is one of the GREAT ANTI-WAR and MILITARISM works that I am aware of, I recommend reading the whole series, preferably in Japanese. There are also translations ,however, including some portions available for free online. See here
I have written previously about the O-Bon Festival. Reread those posts here,
And for those interested in Japanese history and culture have a look at my article on visiting Yasukuni Shrine on Aug 15.