Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

I had a chance to visit Hiroshima when I visited Japan a few years back, but ultimately chickened out and went to Tokyo. I’ve regretted it since. This may be why I find myself drawn to this title by Fumiyo Kouno, which is really a story in three parts. Town of Evening Calm follows Minami, a young Hiroshima girl in 1955, whereas Country of Cherry Blossoms follows (descendant?) Nanami in 1997 and 2004. What the work tries to do is describe how the bombing Hiroshima left imprints on daily life, without trying to “understand” the entirety of it. As the review at AICN puts it,

What Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms does is allow one to process the bombing. They are two different subjects and two different artists, but like how Don DeLillo’s Falling Man offered a vantage point for comprehending the effects of immediately experiencing 9/11 and how those reactions weathered over the years, Kouno offers sets of eyes through which the effects of Hiroshima can be viewed. If you read John Hersey’s Hiroshima or watch a documentary, there’s a danger of the horror of the bomb registering as history. It becomes a historical abstract or a political abstract, something to provoke debate in a social studies class.

Paradoxically, Kouno gets closer by moving away from the event. It doesn’t degrade the sadness, anger or confusion, but by setting the stories at least a decade out, Kouno allows a reader to grapple with the repercussions without the perspective being dwarfed by the entirety of the scope.

I think it’s safe to assume that we as Americans are still too “close” to 9-11 to have the same kind of perspective yet on the longer-term repercussions (speaking personally, not politically). So in a sense I also am drawn to this because I think it has personal relevance to me as an American. I’m not trying to put a moral equivalence between Hiroshima and 9-11 but simply recognize that both were traumatic experiences for their respective nations, irrespective of everything else. Will my children see 9-11 as just another historical event? I hope not, even though in another sense I hope so.

Tokyo

I spent all of one day in Tokyo on my trip to Japan a few years ago. In that day, I barely scratched the surface of Akihabara and Shinjuku, where I spent most of my time. It’s a city that is impossible to summarize or to understand. Prior to visiting Tokyo, the largest mega-metropol area I’d ever been in was New York City, and even as I felt awed by Manhattan I was still able to come to grips with it in a sense. Tokyo was just on another scale. This is why this travel article in the WaPo seems to familiar to me, even though I essentially saw zero of the Tokyo described therein. The introduction does a fine job of painting Tokyo in wide statistical swaths:

As a megacity, Tokyo has no rival. It has more buying power than Brazil, more people than Canada, more concrete than can be imagined.

With about 35 million people, greater Tokyo is by far the world’s most populous metro area, with nearly twice the people of greater New York. There are 80,000 restaurants here — six times as many as in New York.

Although it is the political, economic and cultural center of Japan, Tokyo itself has no real center. It’s a jumble of densely populated districts that are themselves big cities, hubs for the frenetic inbound rush and exhausted homeward retreat of millions upon millions of subway and train commuters.

The article itself is just a placeholder though, for three videos that focus on unique aspects of Tokyo micro-culture: Goth-Lolita girls, salarymen, and the Tokyu Food Show. In some ways, these videos give a better context for me to “fill in” the background of anime, supplementing my own personal experience.