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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 124-141

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From Barefoot Gen

Keiji Nakazawa

Translators' Note

Keiji Nakazawa was six years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on his hometown of Hiroshima. Only a mile from ground zero, the boy miraculously survived, but lost half of his family in the holocaust. Growing up in postwar Hiroshima, he became a professional cartoonist and wrote sports and adventure stories for comic weeklies until an enlightened editor urged him to write about his own experience as a survivor of the bombing. The result was an autobiography in cartoon form, I Saw It, which described his experience in heart-rending detail. The work so impressed Nakazawa's editors that they gave him free rein to create the epic cartoon novel that would become his life's work, Barefoot Gen.

Barefoot Gen is a slightly fictionalized account of Nakazawa's life in wartime Hiroshima before, during, and after the bombing. It was serialized in 1972 and 1973 in Shonen Jump, the best-selling boys' comic weekly, and subsequently anthologized in four volumes, becoming a hit with young readers, parents, and teachers. But even as Gen gained popularity as a unique resource for educating young people about the horrors of nuclear war, it provoked the ire of Japan's right wing: the story also bitterly condemned the militarist leadership that led Japan into war.

Chronicling the postwar world in which Nakazawa grew up, Gen eventually filled ten volumes and ended with the death of his mother from leukemia in 1966. In 1976, a group of young Japanese and Americans in Tokyo formed Project Gen, a nonprofit organization that to date has translated the first four volumes of the series into English. The pages that appear here are excerpted from the first volume of the series, which has also been translated into French, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Esperanto, Indonesian, and Tagalog. In addition, the story has been made into a three-part, live-action film, a feature-length animated film (available on videotape in the United States), an opera, and, most recently, a musical staged to critical acclaim in New York City. --Alan Gleason for Project Gen [End Page 124]

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Keiji Nakazawa was a small boy in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. He survived to create his first cartoon in 1963 and has since published over fifty book-length works based on his experiences. Barefoot Gen first appeared in 1973 in Shonen Jump. Nearly 2,000 pages, the story has been made into live-action and animated feature films as well as an opera. A nineteen-volume anthology of Nakazawa's work, The Peace Comics Collection, was recently published. Now living in Tokyo with his wife and daughter, he frequently lectures to high-school assemblies and citizen groups throughout Japan on the experience of surviving the atomic bomb.

Project Gen was formed in 1976 by a group of young Japanese and non-Japanese living in Tokyo who shared a desire to spread the message of Barefoot Gen by translating the work of Keiji Nakazawa into other languages. They consider Nakazawa's message to be one of human triumph in the face of war's terrible consequences and to be a warning against the threat of nuclear destruction.