- Experiences of Abandonment and Repeating Faces of the DeadModern Japanese Society and Traumatic Memories in Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen
Gen Nakaoka, the hero of Barefoot Gen, is a rare emotional hero. He laughs, he cries, he sings, and he gets angry. Emotional is perhaps a commonplace description of the shōnen manga, which are aimed at the young male teenage demographic, but Gen deceives people and he behaves violently. It is also of great interest that he openly shows his fury toward the emperor and the militarism of the past and the present. In short, the brunt of his emotions is directed at specific historical events and the groups that brought them about, not toward some straightforward and abstract evil as is often the case with manga for young males. The specific historical event is the situation in Hiroshima before and after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city.
On August 6, 1945, there were about 350,000 residents and military personnel in Hiroshima. They included people with roots on the Korean peninsula, in Taiwan, and on the Chinese mainland, as well as a small number of American prisoners of war and other foreign nationals. It is not possible to determine the precise number of A-bomb deaths, but according to estimates, approximately 140,000 people had died by December 1945. How did Gen survive the ravages of the A-bomb? How did he face up to his own traumatic memories in the process? The focus of this article is to consider these question based on the manga itself. [End Page 160]
To define the concerns addressed in this article, I will first summarize the prior research. Since the start of the twenty-first century, Japan has seen a rapid increase in articles and criticism concerning Barefoot Gen. The starting point was the publication of "Hadashi no Gen" ga ita fūkei: manga, sensō, kioku (The landscape of Barefoot Gen: manga, war, memories), jointly edited and authored by Yoshiaki Fukuma and Kazuo Yoshimura. Since Barefoot Gen is a fixture of every school library, everyone knows the name of this manga, but it had not previously been the subject of scholarly research. In this study, the two authors elucidate how Barefoot Gen came into existence, the characteristics of the publishers, the expressive features of the manga, the structure of the story, and its reception. In particular, Yoshiaki Fukuma's discussion of how changing publishers relates to the content of Barefoot Gen is an achievement in the Barefoot Gen discourse from the perspective of media history.1 Christine Hong looks at how Barefoot Gen was received in the United States and the images of America in the manga.2 Akihiro Yamamoto refers to Barefoot Gen from the viewpoint of how A-bomb victims have been depicted in Japanese popular culture. Yamamoto points out that the characteristics of Barefoot Gen, the angry A-bomb victim, are a continuation of trends in manga expression in the 1960s.3
Apart from this research by sociologists and manga researchers, other studies also refer to Barefoot Gen from the perspective of trauma. Tessa Morris-Suzuki makes an important observation about Barefoot Gen.4 She says that the repeated depictions of cruelty in Barefoot Gen are not necessarily straight reenactments of traumatic memories. Rather, they are an indication that the issue of how to express trauma remains after Barefoot Gen. The possibility or impossibility of representations of traumatic memories are important points, but I will not delve into such theoretical problems in this article. Rather, I would like to consider the atomic bomb and the issue of trauma based on the descriptions in Barefoot Gen as it seems that there is still room to examine the issue of trauma in the story.
Cathy Caruth, the pioneer of the now thriving field of trauma research, has said that the challenge of trauma research is "how to help relieve suffering, and how to understand the nature of the suffering, without eliminating the force and truth of the reality that trauma survivors face and quite often try to transmit to us."5 However, if we trace the story of Barefoot [End Page 161] Gen...