It’s summer time in America, kids are off school, and big blockbuster movies are our summer tradition. This year, it’s #Barbenheimer. I was at our local mall the other day and saw a lot of ladies in pink.
But what most of my fellow Americans probably do not know is that in Japan, this also just so happens to be the time of the year to remember the atomic bombings in Hiroshima (Aug 6th) and Nagasaki (Aug 9th).
I noticed that some of the #Barbenheimer fan art like these are making rounds in Japan, evoking a profound sense of … sadness? disappointment?
One of my feet is squarely rooted in Japan and the other in America, so I can understand the feeling from one side, and I can also easily imagine the shrugging reactions from the other side. This is just a movie, guys. The bombs saved untold suffering by ending the war quickly. I know the talking points. It’s a decade old debate. I’m not interested in rehashing them.
I did come across one post made in Japanese anonymously, which was incredibly deeply moving. I translated that into English the best I could. I’m hoping this helps English speaking people understand the sorrow:
I saw some people talking on the internet. What gives you the right to say anything? You were not there at the bombing, or for that matter not even born in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. That made me realize something, and so I have to speak up.
I was born in Nagasaki, and I’m a third generation atomic bomb survivor. I have heard stories directly from the survivors. So I have to speak up.
I know I’m nobody. I know I don’t deserve a soapbox, but survivors are mostly gone, so I shall speak up.
In Nagasaki, kids grow up hearing atomic bomb stories. In elementary schools, they get packed into auditoriums. In high heat in the hot, humid summer. No A/C, not even fans. Survivors come and tell their stories. For a whole hour. A painful memory for me.
I’m an adult now, so I can imagine how it’s way harder for the survivors to tell their painful memories. But elementary school kids do not know better. I mostly forgot their stories, except for one or two, perhaps.
Here’s another thing. By this time of the year, when we commemorate the bombing, school corridors get filled with pictures from the bombing. NSFL pictures that would make any parent explode if this happened anywhere else.
I’ve heard that even at the atomic bomb museums, the exhibits have been tamed down quite a bit to avoid giving visitors PTSD, so things might have changed at the schools too. But that was how it was when I was in elementary school.
There was one picture I couldn’t face back then. Picture of Sumiteru Taniguchi. You can google it. It’s a NSFL gore picture, but please, you need to see it.
I just couldn’t walk the corridor where that picture was hung. This time of the year, I always avoided that picture at all costs. I went up/down to other floors, making a big detour. I looked the other way.
But my grandfather, who went back to the bombing site looking for his sister, had no such luxury to detour. He had no option to “look the other way”.
Forget pictures. He must have walked through countless real humans who were like that, still alive, who must have been screaming & crying. I’m sure many of them died after long, unimaginable pain.
He walked a narrow road of Nagasaki for miles, wading through rubble, looking for his sister, pulling a cart.
I believe he wasn’t exactly a kid when that happened, but I’d imagine there were many kids who did just the same. No, not only can I imagine, I know for sure. I’ve heard their stories from themselves. I still remember that.
Young brothers found the dead body of their father buried under the rubble, and they tried to cremate him by themselves. There just wasn’t enough firewood, so the dead body didn’t burn fully. The half-baked brain came out of the head. That was too much to bear, so they ran away. And that was the last time they saw their father.
This story I’ve heard in elementary school, I just fucking can’t get rid of it from my memory. Heck, even now, as I write this, my hands are trembling, and I’m crying.
That hunched man who ran away from his father’s half-baked brain, I have always wondered how can he tell a trauma like that. Unimaginably scary memory, a wound that would never heal for the rest of his life. How can you reopen that scar in front of the public?
I’m an adult now, so I can imagine that a little.
The reason I have to rip my own scar open to tell his story and my own grandfather’s story is because the pain of doing so is nothing, nothing compared to letting their experiences & words be forgotten.
That my hands tremble, my heart pulsates unevenly, and my face gets messy with tears, snot, and who knows what else; such discomfort is absolutely nothing compared to forgetting their inconceivable pain, grief, and suffering that for sure existed back then.
I wonder if that hunched man felt the same way.
My grandfather, who suffered the unthinkable hell in Nagasaki that day, nonetheless lived to see his grandkids. He was able to find his sister at the bombing site and sent her off.
In other words, he’s probably one of the happy ones at that place.
My grandfather and the hunched man only just wandered around the edge of hell.
I can’t imagine the pain they suffered that day at the edge of hell. Now, try to imagine the pain and the suffering in that hell that even they cannot imagine. Such suffering was everywhere, a dime a dozen that day, and left unattended.
Their pain to retell the story over and over, which is unimaginable to me, is still nothing compared to letting forgotten countless untold sufferings from the hell that they saw.
Memories inevitably fade away as it passes the generation. The memories they fought so hard not to let forgotten, they are largely forgotten at this point.
Suffering from 78 years ago. Those are almost gone. We probably won’t be able to keep it for long.
Those who suffered the most that day, rotted and died there, unable to tell their stories. Those who saw that with their own eyes, most of them kept quiet and died. The few who did choose to tell their stories, have mostly passed away now.
Compared to their words, how painfully light mine are. My words do such injustice, a part of me tells me I should just shut the fuck up.
Still, somebody has to tell this story. My feather light words, I realized, is a better part of all that’s left of the voices that are trying to pass on the memory.
“How dare I”, “what gives me credibility”, you might say. I get it. I really do. But please, don’t stay silent. People thought, we have no right to speak up. That Barbenheimer fan art, that’s the consequence of that silence.
Stop imagining the unimaginable pain. Make light & fun of other people’s suffering. I’m tempted to choose that easy path from time to time.
I can no longer really remember the faces, the voices, and the words of those old men. But while I could still imagine their agony, I wrote this note.