Original ‘Barefoot Gen’ manga on atomic bombings goes on display

Saitama exhibit a response to bid to censor 'Barefoot Gen'

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

A gallery in Saitama Prefecture is holding a special exhibition of original drawings from a famous manga to mark the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels, in Higashimatsuyama, known for its art collection related to the atomic bombings, 24 color drawings from “Barefoot Gen” (“Hadashi no Gen”) are being shown to the public.

The work by the late manga artist and writer Keiji Nakazawa is based on his own experience of the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima as a 6-year-old boy. In the story, Gen tries to survive the devastation that in real life claimed the lives of Nakazawa’s father and siblings.

The story was serialized between 1973 and 1987 as a 10-volume series, while a digest version containing the 24 drawings was also published.

Among the drawings displayed at the gallery is one depicting the moment the bomb exploded, while others show the suffering of the victims walking naked through the street as their skin peels off and countless bodies piled up or being carried downriver.

Gen’s father and siblings burned to death while they were trapped in the rubble of their home, according to the drawings.

While “Barefoot Gen” has been recognized for its role in passing down the legacy of the atomic bombing to succeeding generations, last year a local authority sought to have access to the work restricted.

The board of education in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, asked municipal elementary and junior high schools to prevent students from reading the manga series on the grounds that it contains scenes and language not suitable for young people, although it later withdrew the request.

“We organized this exhibition because we were roused by the developments in Matsue,” said Yukinori Okamura, curator of the Maruki Gallery. “It is unacceptable if they try to keep certain kinds of works away from the public.

“People now tend to see only self-serving aspects of history, but ‘Gen’ portrays the misery of war beyond national boundaries,” Okamura said.

The Maruki Gallery is named after Iri and Toshi Maruki, who in 1950 began depicting the horrors of the atomic bombings in a series of 15 large panels, each measuring 1.8 meters by 7.2 meters.

Fourteen of the panels are displayed at the gallery, while the remaining work — “Nagasaki” — is owned by the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

The husband-and-wife team also made other tragedies, including the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Nanjing Massacre and Minamata Disease, the subject of their paintings.

Iri died in October 1995 at age 94, while Toshi passed away in January 2000 at age 87. They were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

“I believe we should maintain various ways of passing down the history of Hiroshima,” said Okamura, underlining why it is important to hold the “Barefoot Gen” exhibition at the gallery.

“I expect visitors to enjoy the colorful drawings but also to appreciate the acute contrast between life and death, as one picture depicts the birth of Gen’s sister while Hiroshima people are dying in catastrophic circumstances,” he said.

“Barefoot Gen” has been translated into 17 languages, including Chinese, English, French, Persian, Russian and Spanish. The translations are also displayed at the gallery.

Nakazawa died of lung cancer in December 2012 at the age of 73.

The Maruki Gallery is planning to have another special exhibition in the fall, featuring Godzilla, to mark the 60th anniversary of a U.S. hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The original Godzilla movies depicted a monster from the deep that is awoken by the U.S. hydrogen bomb test.

On March 1, 1954, the trawler Fukuryu Maru No. 5, or Lucky Dragon, was exposed to radioactive fallout from the test while fishing about 160 km east of the atoll. Six months later, the chief radio operator died at the age of 40, triggering antinuclear protests in Japan.

The “Barefoot Gen” exhibition runs through Sept. 6 and is closed on Mondays. For more information, call the Maruki Gallery at 0493-22-3266.

  • Werner Schott

    The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrendous and evil acts. There’s no use in trying to hide this, even from young people who should be educated in their country’s past. Hundreds of thousands of innocents died or were directly affected to suffer in the coming years. So many families, children, babies, dreams, hopes were ripped away from humanity. Barefoot Gen is not fiction. It is based on Nakazawa’s own desperately sad experience. Just because what happened was barbaric at the highest degree, it does not mean it should be swept under the rug.