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  • Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: Commemoration, Religion, and Responsibility after Hiroshima by Yuki Miyamoto
  • Christopher Ives
Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: Commemoration, Religion, and Responsibility after Hiroshima. By Yuki Miyamoto. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012. Pp. xv + 233. Hardcover $72.75, isbn 978-0823240500. Paper $25.22, isbn 978-0823240517.

In this rich monograph, Yuki Miyamoto explores how certain Japanese religious thinkers and atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) have responded to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Central to that response is an “ethic of reconciliation,” as encapsulated in the expression “not retaliation, but reconciliation.” In her analysis of hibakusha ethics, Miyamoto makes effective use of theoretical resources in the writings of Avishai Margalit, Sueki Fumihiko, George Mosse, Edith Wyschogrod, and others.

In “Commemoration,” the first section of the book, Miyamoto outlines how survivors concentrate their efforts on sharing testimonies, taking stock of their own shortcomings, and trying to prevent the future suffering of others. In choosing not to focus on a victimizer responsible for the dropping of the bombs and in expressing concern for all victims of the bombs—not only Japanese but Koreans, Japanese-Americans, and American POWs—this hibakusha stance transcends the nation-state commemorative framework “figured by the image of the mushroom cloud” and forms a universal community of memory, a framework “beyond the mushroom cloud.”

Along these lines, Miyamoto compares the commemorative practices of the Yasukuni Shrine with those of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, arguing that “Yasukuni produces a merely monological discourse, while the commemoration practice at Hiroshima promotes a genuine dialogical relationship with the dead” (p. 66) insofar as it does not impose a meaning on the dead—as Yasukuni does in representing them as loyal subjects who died self-sacrificially for the state or the emperor and are now enshrined deities—but leaves the interpretive narrative open and allows for the possibility that the deaths were meaningless.

These elements of hibakusha ethics are evident in the stances of True Pure Land Buddhist thinker Kōji Shigenobu (b. 1935) and Catholic writer Nagai Takashi (1908–1951), who are Miyamoto’s foci in the second section of the book, “Religious Interpretations.” To Kōji, the bombing of Hiroshima derives from human errors (ayamachi) on three levels: the people of Hiroshima, the Japanese as a whole, and broader humanity. Kōji follows Shinran’s lead in calling into question human agency and, by extension, accountability and responsibility, insofar as all good acts derive from Amida’s agency and all evil acts are a function of individual karma beyond our control. “Kōji’s interpretation of the atomic bombings, drawing upon Shinran’s understanding of the [End Page 689] relativity of good and evil, dependence on the Other Power, and rejection of dichotomization,” according to Miyamoto, “supports the hibakushas’ ethic of ‘not retaliation, but reconciliation,’ and provides a direction for achieving an inclusive community of memory” (p. 107). Nagai argues that the bombing of Nagasaki was a blessing from God that rendered the victims “sacrificial lambs” insofar as their deaths helped facilitate a quick end to the war and thereby spared other lives. Miyamoto skillfully compares Nagai’s conception of redemptive suffering with the broader Catholic view, as conveyed by John Paul II’s encyclical, Salvifici Doloris (1984).

In “Responsibility,” the third section of her book, Miyamoto explores new representations of women in narratives about the bombings. Focusing on the television drama Yumechiyo Nikki (Diary of Yumechiyo) and two films, Chichi to Kuraseba (The Face of Jizō) and Yūnagi no machi, Sakura no kuni (Yūnagi City, Sakura Country), Miyamoto uncovers elements that subvert the trope of a hibakusha maiden suffering a premature death in the context of patriarchal familial structures. These works celebrate protagonists who go beyond conventional norms of good and evil and express compassionate concern for the suffering of others, thus operating at a level that Sueki Fumihiko refers to as “transethics,” similar to what Edith Wyschogrod sees in saints who devote themselves completely to the Other. Linking this discussion to earlier sections of her book, Miyamoto argues that the characters “enact the ethics of care that animates a community of memory based upon the hibakusha experience” (p. 174).

As Miyamoto points...