~written and illustrated by Keiji Nakazawa
~translated and edited by Richard H. Minear
I first learned about Keiji Nakazawa’s autobiography Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen while preparing for the February 2011 Manga Moveable Feast focusing on Nakazawa’s semi-autobiographical manga series Barefoot Gen. Although I hadn’t read the manga yet, I was already familiar with Barefoot Gen but had no idea that Nakazawa had also written an official autobiography as well. For various reasons, I decided to read it before delving into the manga. According to the introduction by the book’s editor and translator Richard H. Minear, Nakazawa actually wrote two versions of his autobiography—the first was published in 1987 which was later revised and reissued as a second edition in 1995. It is the autobiography from 1995, written fifty years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that forms the basis of the English edition released by Rowman & Littlefield in 2010 as part of their Asian Voices series.
On the morning of August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb used as a weapon against a human population was detonated over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Keiji Nakazawa was a grade-schooler at the time and survived only because he happened to be standing on the opposite side of a thick concrete wall from the blast. His father, sister, and younger brother were killed in the explosion and resulting firestorm. He fortunately found his pregnant mother alive and his two older brothers were away from the city at the time. Even long after the bombing, life was extremely difficult for the survivors. Years later, Nakazawa left for Tokyo, hoping to leave Hiroshima and its tragedy behind. But he eventually took his experiences and used them to create the manga Barefoot Gen, speaking out against nuclear weapons and war.
In addition to the translation of Nakazawa’s autobiography and the illustrations that he created for it, the English edition of the book also includes five excerpts from the Barefoot Gen manga as well as a translation of part of an interview that was conducted in 2007 between Nakazawa and the president of the Hiroshima Peace Institute, Motofumi Asai. There is also a brief index and a useful introduction by the editor. Almost all of the Japanese terms except for manga and anime have been translated, including the titles of movies and magazines. Since I’m so used to hearing and seeing it otherwise, I found it odd to see Shōnen Jump referred to as Boys’ Jump, but I do tend to agree with how Minear chose to translate the book since it makes the autobiography more accessible for readers unfamiliar with Japanese culture and language. He explains his translating and editing decisions in his introduction and also provides a detailed explanation of some of the issues involved when translating and “flipping” manga.
Hiroshima is very aptly subtitled The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen. Not only does it serve as an account of the bombing of Hiroshima as well as the autobiography of Nakazawa, who is Gen, the book also serves as an origin story of the Barefoot Gen manga and its creation. While the autobiography will be of particular interest to people who are already familiar with Nakazawa and Barefoot Gen, the book is also a very accessible and very personal survivor’s account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Nakazawa also addresses the terrible living conditions caused by the war before and after the dropping of the bomb and the struggles and discrimination that the atomic bomb survivors and their descendants faced even decades later. Obviously, because it is such an intensely personal autobiography, there is a certain amount of bias to be expected, but for the most part I don’t think Nakazawa is unfair. Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen is well worth reading.