“The city where trees will not grow for seventy-five years.”
A few months back I read Inio Asano’s solanin, which in turn led me to his What a Wonderful World! series, and which then, further, led to me digging around trying to find more “alternative” manga. And in that search, I ran across the one-volume Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, which was released in English by the tiny publisher Last Gasp back in 2009. While the manga was noticed by a few manga/comics critics, it largely came and went with nary a whisper.
It shouldn’t have.
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is a two-part story about a family who starts off in Hiroshima and some of whose members are witness to and victims of the atomic bombing of that city. The first part of the story, Town of Evening Calm, is about Minami, a young woman who lives in a hibakusha (hibakusha is what the victims of the atomic bombing were called) slum in Hiroshima along with her mother and works in a small office. The second part of the story, Country of Cherry Blossoms, follows Nanami, the daughter of a hibakusha mother and Minami’s younger brother, Asahi, who was staying with relatives when the bomb was dropped.
This manga is… heartbreaking. There is no other word for it. I cried while reading it; not just shed a few tears, but difficulty-reading-the-page crying, and this happened twice.
And, yet, at the same time, it strikes a hopeful note at the close of the second story. It isn’t one of those sunshine-and-sparkles moments, thankfully, but rather one more in line with the overall tone of the story. It is a real-life ending to a real-life story; while this is a work of fiction, it is nevertheless the story of many people who were affected by the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. And that is also why I cried – because this really happened to people, and it didn’t just stop with the actual bomb itself. It didn’t even just extend to the physical affects of the radiation exposure these people suffered. It also pervaded a society, making outcasts of victims of one of the biggest tragedies in human history.
Minami must contend with the physical and emotional after-affects of the bomb along with the societal affects of it; Nanami must deal with the continued societal affects of the hibakusha stigma. Even sixty years after the bombing, people still whisper about the fact that Nanami is of a hibakusha bloodline and are prejudiced by this fact. She discovers that her own brother has been asked by his love interest’s family to leave her alone because of his childhood struggles with asthma, which they see as confirmation that he is affected by the radiation as well.
Personally, I found Nanami’s story the more engaging of the two, although a large part of that is probably due to its length – it is about three times longer than Town of Evening Calm. Nanami also deals with issues that more of us modern day readers can relate to, such as concerns over her elderly father’s health (she suspects he’s starting to have memory problems after he disappears for two days and comes home dusty and evasive).
However, even saying that, the stories really work best together (honestly, the second story loses a lot of its power if you don’t read the first).
I find that I feel as though I can’t really do justice to this manga. It’s really good, but my words aren’t really enough. Just check it out for yourself.
I’d also like to note that there was a movie version produced back in 2007, and a novelization as well. Unfortunately, though, unless you were at the Cannes in 2007, you’re out of luck for getting a subtitled version of the movie. The novelization is also unavailable in English. There as also an audio drama, although I suspect there is probably a bit less interest in that from my readers. In case you can’t tell, this manga was massively popular and highly acclaimed in Japan; it won the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize Creative award in 2005 and the grand prize for manga at the 2004 Japan Media Arts Festival.
This is a great manga, and especially worth picking up if you don’t know much about the hibakusha and their treatment in Japanese society. Although, really, its worth picking up no matter who you are.
Read this book.