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Winners of Mainichi essay contest on 'The Face of Jizo' announced

A still photo from the film "The Face of Jizo" (Image courtesy of The Face of Jizo Partners, 2003)

Kikuchiyo Hasegawa, a student at Bristol Grammar School in England, has been named winner of The Mainichi's international essay contest on "The Face of Jizo," a play penned by the late Hisashi Inoue themed on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. (Read the winning essay below.)

Kanako Hara, a student at Surbiton High School in England, won second prize in the contest, while Aleksandra Baker, a student at Yokohama National University, came third.

Contest participants were asked to write an essay of no more than 1,000 words in English reflecting on the play. The contest was judged by a panel composed of writer and film director Roger Pulvers, who translated the play into English; former Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba; and The Mainichi's Chief Editor Arisa Ohta. Sponsored by The Mainichi and the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper's Hiroshima bureau, the contest was planned after The Mainichi published the English translation of the play online, with permission from Pulvers and Inoue's wife Yuri.

Pulvers' judging report and the winning essay are published below.

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THE FACE OF JIZO ESSAY CONTEST

Judge's Report by Roger Pulvers

Though the number of essays under consideration is in no way large, the quality of the writing and analysis by these young essayists are very impressive. Just reading these responses to Hisashi Inoue's play gave me hope for the future: that the memory of the nuclear holocausts and its vital importance to the narrative of peace is alive three generations on.

There were four essays that stood out for their clarity of thought and imaginative insight; and it was hard indeed to choose among these. In my opinion, all four are worthy of a prize.

FIRST PRIZE: Kikuchiyo Hasegawa

Hasegawa provides an excellent description and analysis of the characters, their motivations and needs, emphasizing the message of the play for future generations. This is in line with Inoue's personal wishes: He always had his eye on young readers of the future.

SECOND PRIZE: Kanako Hara

Hara has written a thoughtful essay about Hiroshima in a wide context, with reference to the play and its relevance to the discussion of peace in the nuclear age.

THIRD PRIZE: Aleksandra Baker

Baker has provided a clear explanation of the relationship between daughter and father, as well as a personal take on the themes of guilt and the arbitrary nature of survival in war.

I would like to make special mention of the essay written by Ms. Aya Hayakawa. The personal tragedy of daughter and father in the play emerges from the tragedy of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. Ms. Hayakawa portrays this relationship as a symbol of the historical narrative. This is precisely the theme that Hisashi Inoue was aiming to elucidate in the play. Where do we go from here? Her essay teaches us that we can answer this question only if we keep the memory of the misery and pity of war alive.

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THE FACE OF JIZO ESSAY CONTEST

Winning essay by Kikuchiyo Hasegawa (published as submitted)

Being half Japanese and having previously visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and also having read the manga 'Hadashi no Gen', I was already aware of the physical damage caused from the heat and power of the Atomic bomb, and also by the long lasting impact of the bomb, which resulted in radiation sickness and leukaemia, ultimately taking the lives of over 200,000 civilians. However by reading and watching the play 'the Face of Jizo' by Inoue Hisashi, this made me aware of and acknowledge the widespread psychological impact of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima citizens, fantastically represented throughout the play 'Face of jizo' by the struggles faced by the main character Mitsue.

By beginning with the scene of Mitsue being frightened of lightning flashing around the neighbourhood, the play immediately spotlights the trauma that Mitsue still feels from the day the atomic bomb was dropped, despite it being over 3 years since the war ended. Upon her father Takezo's first appearance, he assures her that the lightning is harmless and helps her keep calm. In this sense, by calming her in the same way that a parent would calm their crying child, this scene shows that at the beginning of the play, despite being a 23 year old woman, that Mitsue is still mentally unstable in the same way as a child, due to the trauma she received from the Atomic bomb.

In part 2, Mitsue begins to show signs of her personal character development, as she (although reluctantly) accepts to take some of Kinoshita's materials not only because she feels a slight affection towards him, but also because she believes deep down that it is her duty as a survivor of the atomic bomb to help pass on the details of the atrocity (highlighted by Mitsue showing her father the individual pieces of the slivers of glass removed from bodies of victims, the tile from the bomb and the twisted medicine bottle). However, despite this development in character, she is still unable to completely acknowledge and recognise the event of the dropping of the bomb without feeling terrified and traumatized. The frailty of her character, (represented by Mitsue's response to her father's story of the Little Inch-High Warrior of Hiroshima defeating the red ogre using the materials from the scene of the bomb), coupled with her inner feeling of civic duty highlights to readers that while the memory of the bomb is still raw, that many Hiroshima citizens were attempting to strive forward from the incident not as survivors of a tragedy, but as messengers to educate future generations.

Act 3 again highlights how recovering psychologically from the bomb has not been easy for Hiroshima citizens. Mitsue's reluctance to be in love with Kinoshita, as a result of her experience with the atomic bomb is still seen in this act, when Mitsue recalls of the experiences on the day of the 6th August, when her best friend Akiko and Mitsue's father tragically died. The fact that Mitsue is still reluctant to fall in love with Kinoshita, despite 3 years having passed, and Takezo continuously convincing her that she can, shows the profound sense of guilt she still feels towards Akiko, who Mitsue believes should not have died, when she herself survived. More importantly, by showing how Mitsue still feels this way, this scene emphasises the incredibly deep rooted nature of the psychological pain and guilt felt by the survivors of the bomb, and that the psychological wounds suffered by Hiroshima citizens could not easily be healed.

The final development of Mitsue's character occurs in Act 4, where Mitsue has been able to confront her greatest guilt, and embrace the atrocity of the Atomic bomb. In this regard, by confronting her greatest guilt Mitsue finally succeeds in defeating the guilt and trauma that plagued her, and in replacing those feelings with hope and duty that she now feels as a survivor of the bomb. By the end of the play, she has developed from the almost childlike character she was at the beginning of the play, to the mature, confident character who represents the hope and sense of duty that Hiroshima citizens felt and still feel today.

Overall, this gradual development of Mitsue's character throughout the play 'Face of Jizo' by Inoue Hisashi not only helped to inform me of the psychological pain that survivors suffered throughout the post war years, but fundamentally provided me with a message that I was unable to learn from my visit to the museum in Hiroshima: that despite the atrocity that was forced upon the Hiroshima citizens, instead of turning their back and trying to forget the event entirely, that they have learnt to embrace the horrors of nuclear weapons, in order to act as messengers for a peaceful world. I believe that people like Mitsue, who would have told their children and grandchildren of details of the atrocity, have had the same impact on the people of post war Japan, and of the world, as campaigners such as Setsuko Thurlow in contributing to a world peace without war and nuclear weapons.

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