Hiroshima memoirs still draw readers

Firsthand stories of singular event have lasting universal appeal

by Takuma Obinata

Kyodo

A number of survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima nearly 70 years ago have left memories of their terrifying experiences in the form of poetry and other writings that are cherished by their relatives and friends and continue to attract readers.

Tamiki Hara (1905-1951) was a pioneer of “atomic bomb literature,” writing in his notebook following the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, “Miraculously, I was unharmed, and I thought I should accept my fate to have survived and tell people of the misery I had seen.”

The notebook served as the foundation of Hara’s subsequent literature about the bombing, including his best-known work, “Natsu no Hana” (“Summer Flowers”).

The notebook is carefully preserved by Tokihiko Hara, 78, Tamiki’s nephew, who said people are moved by the writings as they give a realistic account of what happened immediately after the bomb was dropped.

“Although we didn’t talk, it never bothered me,” Tokihiko said, recalling how he walked with Tamiki to his uncle’s home six months after the bombing to see if they could salvage anything. The close-mouthed pair did not converse even when they ate.

Though Tamiki and Tokihiko lived together only for a short time, Tamiki left a will bequeathing Tokihiko the copyright to his works when he committed suicide in 1951.

While some people cynically suggested Tokihiko could make a fortune as the copyright holder of his uncle’s works, he decided it was his responsibility to pass on Tamiki’s thoughts to future generations.

Tokihiko is now involved in a project launched by a nonprofit organization a year and a half ago to produce a movie based on “Natsu no Hana.” He adds comments on each of the scenes shot at locations such as the house where Tamiki was born and Hiroshima Toshogu, a Shinto shrine where the two slept rough at night.

The movie is designed to convey Tamiki’s thoughts not only to people in Japan but also to those in other countries, Seiichi Suzuki, 56, of the NPO, said.

Tamiki’s decision that it was his fate “to tell people of the misery I had seen” stays alive in the resolve by Tokihiko and Suzuki not to allow the memory of the atomic bombing to fade away.

Sankichi Toge (1917-1953), another Hiroshima hibakusha, has left a collection of poems expressing his overwhelming anger at the atomic bombing, publishing only 500 copies at his own expense despite fears of being arrested by the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces that occupied Japan following World War II.

Hiroshi Maruya, 88, a friend of Toge’s, keeps one of the 500 mimeographed first editions at his home in the city of Hiroshima.

In September 1951, the GHQ imposed a ban on the publication of works referring to the atomic bombing, forcing poets and authors to use metaphorical expressions to criticize the U.S. and Japanese governments.

In the preface to “Genbaku Shishu” (“Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems”) published in the same month, however, Toge wrote that he would dedicate his work to “people throughout the world who abhor atomic bombs.”

Toge went ahead anyway “even though he may have been afraid of being arrested,” Maruya said.

Maruya first read the collection of 25 anti-atomic bomb and antiwar poems three days after its publication when he visited Toge from his hometown in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, where he was being treated for tuberculosis.

Toge told Maruya that he was planning to write an epic poem about the tragedy of Hiroshima, but he did not live long enough to do so, dying at the age of 36.

Aoki Shoten Co., a Tokyo publisher, released Toge’s poetry collection as a paperback the year before his death and has been reprinting it ever since. It has sold a total of some 230,000 copies to date, including a newly edited version published in 1995, the 50th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

The collection has “survived for such a long time as it is powerful enough to attract readers regardless of their political outlook,” says Masashi Harashima, 65, of Aoki Shoten.

Toge repeatedly reviewed his choice of expressions until he was satisfied his poems would be widely and continuously read. His poems include an eight-line work written only in phonetic hiragana that starts with the words, “Bring back my father to me. Bring back my mother to me.”

Another reason why Toge’s poems have continued to be read is put forward by Masahiko Ikeda, 66, an expert on atomic bomb literature. “They not only depict the horror of war but also sound universal,” he said.