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Letter to Obama by late author of 'Barefoot Gen' discovered

In this Aug. 5, 2013 file photo, an image of "Barefoot Gen" creator Keiji Nakazawa, along with his most famous cartoon character and the message "Live on Gen," is projected onto the Motoyasu River near the A-bomb Dome in Hiroshima. (Mainichi)

An apparently undelivered letter from Keiji Nakazawa, the late author of the manga "Barefoot Gen," addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama and asking him to listen to the stories of the atomic bombing survivors has been discovered (see below for complete text).

Nakazawa, who died in 2012 at age 73, wrote "Barefoot Gen" based on his real life experiences living through the aftermath of the A-bomb. The discovered letter is dated Aug. 20, 2009. It lauds an April speech that year by Obama in Prague calling for a world free of nuclear weapons as a "light of hope for the elimination of nuclear weapons" and depicts the people of Hiroshima welcoming the speech.

The letter mentions Obama's visit to an exhibit on the A-bomb held in Chicago in 2007, and includes Nakazawa's speculation that viewing this exhibit led Obama to want a world free of nuclear weapons. The letter urges Obama to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, see the atomic bomb museums there and hear what the A-bomb survivors have to say, in order to strengthen his resolve against nuclear weapons and enable him to convince other nuclear-armed nations to disarm.

Nakazawa was a first-grader in the equivalent of elementary school at the time the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. He was at the front of his school, while his father, older sister and younger brother were buried under the rubble of their collapsed home and died. Nakazawa would write "Barefoot Gen," putting into it his anger at the A-bomb and making the main character Gen Nakaoka, who is modeled after himself, yell out and curse America, demanding it apologize to the tens of thousands who it killed in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Nakazawa's wife Misayo, 73, who is pleased by Obama visiting Hiroshima, says of the letter's discovery, "Perhaps my husband's soul wanted somebody to find the letter."

The letter is a single-paged typed letter, with a handwritten signature at the end. Tokyo-based American translator Alan Gleason, who oversaw the complete English translation of Barefoot Gen that was completed in the summer of 2009, translated the letter into English and had a copy of the Japanese on hand.

According to Misayo, after Obama's Prague speech Nakazawa said Obama was "different from other (U.S.) presidents until now," and he began writing the letter.

"Nakazawa probably thought that Obama would be able to understand the pain of the A-bomb victims," Misayo says.

Nakazawa attempted to have the English-translated letter and the English-translated Barefoot Gen sent to Obama and his family. He sent them to a woman in the United States with close relations to the Obama family, but it appears they did not find their way to Obama and his family.

After reading the discovered letter, Misayo said, "I could feel how Nakazawa wanted President Obama to see the terror of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima. I am sure my husband's soul is happy about the upcoming visit." She added, "I want President Obama to promise to work toward the realization of a world free of nuclear weapons."

The complete English text of the letter follows.

* * * * *

Dear President Obama and Family,

My name is Keiji Nakazawa. I am a Japanese cartoonist, a citizen of Hiroshima, and the author of "Barefoot Gen," a graphic novel whose hero, Gen, is a young boy whose pluck and courage help him survive the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and its terrible aftermath.

First of all, I would like to offer you my sincere congratulations on your election to the presidency of the United States. I am writing to you because, with the recent completion of the English translation of all ten volumes of the "Barefoot Gen" series, it is my hope that you and your family will find time in your busy schedules to read Gen's story.

This year, the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, residents of those cities felt for the first time that our long-cherished dream of a nuclear-free world might really come true. What gave us hope was your speech in Prague on April 5 this year in which you declared your commitment to a "world without nuclear weapons." On the occasion of the anniversary of the bombing, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba coined the word "Obamajority" to express his belief that the vast majority of the world's citizens share this commitment with you. As one such citizen, I too would like to declare my unwavering support for your initiative.

I was especially moved when I read a newspaper article that mentioned your visit in October 2007 to the exhibition of A-bomb panels at DePaul University in Chicago. I could not help thinking that what you saw there may have helped inspire your determination to achieve a nuclear-free world.

I know that such a goal will not be easy to achieve -- as you stated in Prague, perhaps not in our lifetimes. But as a significant step in that direction, it is my hope that you will come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hear the voices of the atomic bomb survivors first-hand, and visit the Peace Memorial Museum here in Hiroshima. Such a visit by the leader of the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon would be a persuasive indicator to the other nuclear powers of the United States's sense of moral responsibility as well as your own personal commitment.

As perhaps the busiest person in the world, your schedule may not permit such a visit any time soon. In the meantime, however, I hope that you, your wife Michelle and your daughters Malia and Sasha will read "Barefoot Gen" together. I believe that you will find it a useful means of understanding the actual experience of the atomic bomb victims, and of preparing for an eventual visit to Hiroshima.

"Barefoot Gen" is not a work of fiction, but is based on my own experiences as a survivor as well as those of my family and friends. It is my prayer that Gen's story will help galvanize the commitment of peace-loving people around the world to the goals you have so eloquently expressed. I also pray for the health and happiness of you and your family.

Sincerely yours,

Keiji Nakazawa

Hiroshima, Japan

August 20, 2009

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