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.
2 thoughts on “Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms”
Hiroshima’s a great city to visit if you get the chance again. I spent a year there and really enjoyed it (don’t miss the okonomiyaki if you go).
For traumatic experiences in American history, I guess you could look at how people view Pearl Harbor now. I could be mistaken but I guess most young people don’t even know the date.
9-11 never had any emotional impact on me whatsoever, so yeah.
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