Hiroshima in the Morning
Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
(The Feminist Press)
In June, 2001, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto went to Hiroshima to interview the last survivors of the atomic bomb attack of 1945. She has here written a book about the interviews and the work she undertook in writing a novel about the aftermath of that bomb.

But this memoir is not limited to the aftermath of the bomb. Reirei --- that is what she calls herself --- also tells of a marriage that seems to be falling apart, and the increasing senility of her mother (originally from Japan). She shares stories she elected to record in Hiroshima, including one simply reported as follows:

    Shinichi Tetsutani was three years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He was playing in the yard on his beloved tricycle at that moment, and he died later that day. His father buried Shin's tricycle with him because he couldn't bear to think of his three-year-old boy alone in the ground.

There is another event that shapes Hiroshima in the Morning. Reirei's six month scholarship runs from the summer of 2001 until mid-winter. She is there when the World Trade Center falls. So midway through her memoir, it takes a turn ... traces two parallel events, one from 1945, the other from 2001.

One lady that Reirei interviews on the street after the beginning of American attacks on Afghanistan says, "Bush is doing the wrong thing, Hiroshima should respond; Hiroshima has a responsibility to teach the world what war truly is."

    She keeps talking about food and water, that they should be the focus, not bombing civilians.

It is shortly after when Reirei's translator and friend tells her about the tricycle. "No one," she says, her voice shaking, "should have the power to make another person --- any other person --- bury his three-year-old son."

§     §     §

Hiroshima begins as a nervous ramble to and in a foreign country, you and I have been there before, no one speaks our language, we don't speak theirs, there are no friends, only telephone numbers given by friends of friends, no one recognizes us, no one knows us, and then suddenly we figure out the basics, find a place to stay, can put together a meal, our spindled-out life comes together and we can function.

But Reirei's case turns in other ways: she finds herself, for one, becoming more ... how could we say it? ... more diffuse, less, perhaps, Western-oriented, learning as the Buddhists would have it, that time doesn't move in from the future, rather, it starts at this very moment, and moves behind us, back to the past.

Thus, as she is enmeshed in the very essence of Japan, a Noh drama, as odd as it gets, "men in black silk kimono and gray hakama, who sit on their knees in seiza along the side of the stage looking sleepy for hours at a time ... and then there are between one and three other elaborately costumed characters who sway toward the audience and say a few incomprehensible things before dancing in a small circle with a fan when called upon." [Once I tried to explain to some of my friends the art and the beauty of Noh and they didn't seem to get it so we looked it up on UTube and there it was, good as gold: you might search it out there and you'll get what Reirei and I are trying to tell you, about the weird beauty of it all.]

Anyway, she fell asleep in the middle of it --- one can go on for four hours or so --- and her friend Ami explained that "you're supposed to sleep during Noh, that is, in fact, how the sound is designed." And then, the kicker:

    It seems that, if I can hold the urge for understanding at bay, then I can enjoy what's around me. But more than that, when I'm not trying to make sense of it, it somehow makes sense to me.

And that is more or less what happens here. The story is --- as I say --- a ramble, interlaced with boredom (lost in Tokyo) and confusion (fighting with husband Brian eight thousand miles away on the telephone and by email) and, finally, horror: the stories of the hibakusha (those who were there on the ground when the bomb exploded),

    My two sons, they were five and seven, were walking together to their grandmother's house when the bomb dropped and they got trapped under the wreckage of the falling buildings. Toshi threw himself over his little brother to protect him, but still, Ken died first. And after that, Toshi stopped speaking. He survived for a few more days, but I believe he really had nothing to say.

The two boys --- Toshi and Ken --- appear, in fine counterpoint, to Reirei's own two boys, Ian and Dylan. Their father brings them for the last few days of her visit to Japan, and they manage to throw a comic joy over all, two robust American boys, being, well, American boys, "Three and five year olds do not sightsee, they do not even see sights unless it is the sight of the small pebbles they can lob at each other, which hit the bent-over obaasans [grandmothers] between them each time they miss."

    My "mother shock" is characterized by my complete inability to keep old ladies safe from my children.


    I'm not Ian, I'm Ash.

    And I'm Brock, Dylan declares. And you're Misty.

Ian calls her "fish face" and Dylan objects by crying and we think here is a good and orderly mother trying hard to control her uncontrollable American-born boys in the bit more orderly Japan, a place where sixty-five years ago more than one hundred thousand (men, women, children) died from the "Little Boy" bomb, and the hibakush --- the other 100,000 (men, women, children) who survived --- had to live on in shame, hidden from the world. In the attack on the WTC, 2,752 were killed --- mostly men and women, not children, and those who survived were turned to heroes, interviewed, lionized.

The main memories of both disasters came in the confusion of it all: in the words of different hibakush, which might have been uttered by those who lived through the attacks of September 11, 2001:

    It was red; It was black; Everything was gray; I couldn't see a thing. It was like a rainbow, so many swirling colors; I only saw the smoke later...

And, paradoxically, by one who barely survived: "It was the most beautiful sight anyone will ever see."

--- Lolita Lark
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