I find all Japanese books technically difficult to read but current book is emotionally hard too.
Recently went to Auckland library to find something for reading practice. I am lucky that they have a huge section of books in Japanese. They have a small section for teenagers (more my level of Kanji knowledge). Stumbled across a book called 僕は満員電車で原爆を浴びた。Eye witness account of the Hiroshima bombing by someone who was 11 years old at the time and only about 700 metres from ground zero. It is written simply and in a matter of fact way but perhaps that makes is even more devastating to read. Next chapter to read today is simply titled 母の死。I will have to steel myself before attempting it.
I understand there are still arguments about whether the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified because it brought forward the end of the war and perhaps ultimately saved lives and that it wasn’t much different from, say, the fire bombing of Dresden but from a humanitarian perspective it is difficult reading about innocent civilians going through such suffering.
Some images from the book are going to haunt me for a while.
Only positive I can draw from the experience is that I am managing to read the book. If you had told me a few years ago, before I had even thought about learning Japanese, that one day I would be able to read such a book I’m not sure I would have believed it.
Apologies for such a dark topic. Needed some forum to write about it.
Thank you for sharing this with us! I think it is very important for us all to keep in mind or sometimes be reminded of what people are capable of doing to other people…
Glad to hear that you have such a large book collection in your local library! I’ve visited Auckland last year and still have fond memories of the city and its large and friendly Japanese community, so no wonder they have plenty of Japanese books in the library as well.
I took this photo at Hiroshima Orizuru Tower in 2016. Across the river from the famous A Bomb dome is an elementary school that was wiped out by the atomic bomb and subsequently rebuilt during the reconstruction effort. There is also a window facing ground zero with a little sticker that points to the exact spot the bomb detonated. You could easily visualize the path of destruction from the bomb.
Hiroshima Orizuru Tower was built as a memorial for various victims of the Hiroshima bombing, and as a memoir of the tremendous endeavor it took to recover and rebuild. As I climbed each floor, I was able to see a new mural, collection of photographs, or first person accounts of normal, innocent citizens that were dealing with the aftermath of the bombing. People often see a nation as a homogenous body of singular will. It’s easy to overlook that there were plenty of people opposed to the war, and that this city was not of any significant military value. The A Bomb dome was basically a center of commerce for the city before it was destroyed. I’m not a person that is easily moved to outward displays of emotion, but seeing these accounts and displays brought me to tears.
This is a popular narrative, but a lot of historians are challenging this as more information gets declassified. Truthfully, Japan and Germany were pretty much beat, but displaying to the world that we (yes, I’m an American) had a functioning thermonuclear weapon before anyone else was of significant strategic value in post-war negotiations to come, as well as establishing a new balance of power. It’s scary to think that a decision could have been made based on these kind of motivations, but some say that it led to a more stable post-war situation (save for the cold war) than what we had after World War I.
I’m not saying that your comment is an attempt to diminish the weight of OP’s post, but it does kinda come off that way. My mother is Korean. Tragic things happened to Koreans and Chinese during Japan’s phase of Imperialistic expansion. We should do whatever we can to ensure that it never happens again. This doesn’t change the fact that these citizens of Hiroshima were innocent civilians that had no say or influence over the war, and they were wiped out with one of the most destructive devices mankind has ever devised. No other nation has experienced this sort of devastation first hand, so I feel empathy and reflection is still very much warranted, and we should seriously endeavor to ensure that this also never happens again.
I definitely understand, and I agree with you 100%. That said, I’d like to point out that this story isn’t really about the “Japanese” perspective, it’s not a Japanese history textbook. This was a firsthand account of an innocent child, that probably saw his mother slowly waste away from radiation poisoning, infections, and burns, right after seeing his friends, teachers, and other people he knew get wiped off the face of the earth. Like I said, it’s easy to see people as nothing more than a member of a homogenous group and lump all of their sins and accomplishments into one bucket. The author / subject was an 11 year old boy at the time, and he had nothing to do with the war or the preceding imperialism. It’s fine for him to tell his story without us lumping the sins of his forefathers into the conversation.
If Japanese historians try to focus on this incident without including the big picture that preceded it, then yes, I think it’s more than appropriate to bring things like Okinawa, the Nanjing Massacre, Comfort Women, etc. These things aren’t binary though. There are times where it adds to the conversation, and times where it kinda comes off as callous.
I guess I’ve developed this particular perspective after hearing first hand accounts from my family members that were deployed in various military conflicts. They knew they were being sent to another country to kill people, if necessary. Even so, my family members still had empathy for the innocents that were being impacted by these actions, and stressed to me the importance of this mentality.
Thanks for sharing. I have very fond memories of Hiroshima and also find some of the bomb related literature incredibly amusing.
The book you mentioned remembered me quite a lot to ‘‘Barefoot Gen’’. I saw the movie on a train while coming back from Hiroshima, moved me to tears too. Totally recommended, that and '‘Graveyard of Fireflies’ sit very closely in my war related animation podium.
I’ve been wanting to read the author’s autobiography for quite some time, your post reminded me of it too , thanks!
I appreciate that the Japanese were involved in war crimes in China and Korea (and elsewhere) but think that is a separate, although obviously valid topic.
I was reflecting more yesterday on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although we will never know, as you can’t rerun history, I suspect that the use of the atomic bombs during WW2 made their use afterwards much less likely and possibly helped ensure that WW3 didn’t happen during the Cold War because there was actual proof of how devastating they were - particularly the after effects.
Yesterday’s chapter was very disturbing - just as the narrator started to recover his baby sister (who wasn’t close to the blast) died because her mother had been breastfeeding her (before her own death) and she was killed because of the radioactivity of her breast milk.
I feel that humans, being human, that if the atomic bomb hadn’t been used against Japan that they would have been used in some (of the many) conflicts that followed WW2.
Perhaps scant consolation for those that died and suffered horribly in Japan.
When we go back to Japan I definitely want to make a trip to Hiroshima.
I think this is why it’s important that these stories get more airtime. A lot of people know that a nuke is a really big bomb, but they often don’t understand the reality of just how horrible the effects of a nuke can really be. We shouldn’t take the risks of nuclear proliferation lightly. This could be in our own community one day. The narrative I observed around the Hiroshima memorials wasn’t “America did this”. It was emphatically “A nuke did this. Please don’t let this happen to anyone else.”
Please do. You won’t regret it, and I strongly recommend visiting Hiroshima Orizuru Tower (I think it was free when I went). Miyajima is also a nice distraction once you’ve had your fill of the feels, and the underground shoppes in Hiroshima has a lot of excellent food.
Yes, it’s always important to note that after any war the ‘winning side’ (there are no real winners in a war) writes the history books. I once read that after the fall of Germany, Russia concentrated its efforts on the eastern front and quickly moved into Japan-occupied territory on mainland Asia. Japan may have capitulated to prevent a Russian invasion of Honshu. Of course, for the West, such an explanation for Japan’s surrender was totally unacceptable - hence the A-bomb narrative.
The truth is probably somewhere in between, not necessarily the middle. And likely a combination of factors.
On a semi-related note: Russia’s population-distribution is still skewed due to WWII - an entire generation of men were practically wiped out, and their potential kids and now grandkids were never born. It’s still visible in Russia’s population graph.
For the OP: these kinds of books are always harrowing to read, but reading it is still important. Just not at bedtime. I think it’s invaluable that you can now read it in its original language.
This sounds like a really hard book to get through, but something more than worth reading.
To add on to the discussion going on in the comments, I was part of a small course that was entirely about if the atomic bombing were necessary. If you are interested in learning more, there are a few things you can look up about it. Looking into the Unconditional Surrender demanded by the US gives a lot of insights into their use. The politics of the Big Six in Japan played a large role, and the difference between Orthodox and Revisionist views. I could probably go into my notes and find more to add, but these were the big things I remember off the top of my head as being factors.
I went to Japan but didn’t have the change to visit Hiroshima. Definitely going after this virus/travel/etc stuff is over. I haven’t read much about it, so will probably take a look at this one if it’s not too hard for me to read it. Auckland Library city central is my local library, so at least I already know they will have it
I really like history but the more I read about it (particularly the more recent kind), the more jaded I become. Sounds like a very interesting book but I don’t think I could stomach it . Instead of history, I’ve been playing videogames and reading fiction lately, much easier.