My Life: Interview with Keiji Nakazawa, Author of “Barefoot Gen,” Part 9

Mother’s death

by Rie Nii, Staff Writer

Feeling furious at the atomic bomb, which turned his mother’s bones brittle

In August 1956, Mr. Nakazawa met Misayo Yamane, his future wife.

I was visiting Hiroshima and I asked my friends from the sign maker to go out drinking the night before I returned to Tokyo. We went to a rooftop beer garden downtown. I asked them to bring some girls with them and we all drank beer together. I was introduced to a girl they thought I would like. But I didn’t find her so cheerful and I didn’t think she would be a good match for me.

But one of the other girls became my wife. She was really vivacious and drank two mugs of beer. I thought she was nice and fun to be with. After I went back to Tokyo, we exchanged letters and eventually we got married.

I was exposed to the atomic bomb, though. It felt like some sort of thorn was sticking out of me, painful to the touch. I thought it might weigh on the minds of my wife’s parents when they were considering the idea of us getting married. Fortunately, though, my in-laws were sympathetic.

Mr. Nakazawa got married in February 1966 and that April began his independent work as a manga artist.

There were a lot of assistants who worked as employees of manga producers. They had monthly salaries to live on, but before long, they would lose the desire to create their own work.

I didn’t want to be like that. I had to live my life as a creator. I didn’t want to get comfortable working as an assistant and make earning a living my only goal.

Being independent meant my income would be unstable. But when I brought drafts of my work to publishers, they would decide to buy it. I was doing well, steadily receiving fees for my manuscripts, so I gained some confidence. At the same time, I felt safe because I had skills as a sign painter and I could fall back on that if I had to.

Six months after Mr. Nakazawa became independent, his mother Kiyomi died on October 6, 1966. She was 60 years old.

After suffering a brain hemorrhage, my mother was in the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital and Atomic Bomb Survivors Hospital for two years. Then she was treated at home for another two years. When I received a telegram bringing the news of her death, I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking.

Once her body was cremated, my heart became filled with fury. There were no bones among the ashes. All I could find were tiny bits of bone and I wasn’t able to tell whether they came from her head or her feet. I was outraged. The atomic bomb had taken my mother’s bones away. [The assumption is that radiation from the atomic bomb had turned his mother’s bones brittle.] I decided I would definitely do something about it.

(Originally published on July 18, 2012)