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Hibakusha children's author reflects on a life of writing, why society needs imagination

Writer Masamoto Nasu is seen in the city of Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on June 9, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

HOFU, Yamaguchi -- "It might just become my will and testament, mightn't it?" children's literature author Masamoto Nasu, 79, said at home in the west Japan city of Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, as he held a copy of his picture book, "Hiroshima: A Tragedy Never to Be Repeated."

    When he was just 3, the atomic bomb fell about 3 kilometers from his home. This June he turned 79. "I wrote this when I was about 50. About the time I'd matured as a writer," he said.

    The book, published in 1995, continues to sell and remains in print. It is a multifaceted, scientific picture book depicting Hiroshima before and after the bombing from a bird's-eye view, the structure of the bomb, its history from development to release over the city, and the effects of radiation, among other elements. The illustrations were by Shigeo Nishimura. The idea for it came about when they were working on another project together, and Nasu put the idea to Nishimura.

    Initially, their editor wasn't on board, but, Nasu said, "When we sent him the around 60-page plan for it, he told us he'd do it. That was my doing, getting him interested." Once a lock, their editor rushed to gather reference materials for it. Nishimura rented a home in Hiroshima, and began his work by listening to the experiences of hibakusha who had been directly affected by the bomb. "The three of us put everything into it. I don't think I could do a big job like that now."

    "Zukkoke sannin gumi," a series centering around the adventures of three boys starting with their portrayal in the sixth grade of elementary school, is Nasu's most famous work. In it, the characters including Hachibee, Hakase and Mou encounter a number of dilemmas, which they overcome by working out together what to do. The way they behave is symbolic of the freedom and peace children growing up after the war found. But Nasu hasn't stopped at writing, he has also become an author who raises his voice for social causes, with the belief that "Children should never be deprived of freedom again."

    In his capacity as one of the plaintiffs, he legally challenged national security legislation as unconstitutional, and litigated against the Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s planned construction of the Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant in the Yamaguchi Prefecture town of Kaminoseki. He also toured the country giving lectures on his experience of the bomb and the horror of atomic weapons.

    His lectures have been completely canceled since the coronavirus crisis broke out in 2020, but he delivered his opinions in a hearing of a suit against the national security legislation at the Yamaguchi District Court on March 3. "After five years, 10 years, there will come a day when we think, 'It was a good thing it was ruled unconstitutional then,'" he said in court. His writing and actions have become inseparable parts of his efforts to protect peace.

    But this year Nasu is trying to draw a line on his activities. In recent years he has felt his physical strength wane, and he has often spoken about 80 as a kind of retirement age for him. By the end of this year, he will have opted out of numerous lectures and local activism management. In October 2020 came confirmation that locals had lost their suit opposing the Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Station's construction. The national security case's verdict will be delivered this month.

    But even if Nasu is stepping back from activities in the field, he does intend to keep writing. "I want to reach 250 books. Just 25 to go," he said. Though delivered jokingly, his voice betrayed a sense of conviction. In recent years, he has felt that modern society has become a dangerous one in which people tend to lean toward extreme opinions, and lack imagination about others. "If you cannot be skeptical then you'll believe something based on one thing. The world of stories teaches people about other worlds, and develops their sense of imagination," he said.

    He is protecting the freedom to think and act for oneself. Nasu, who refers to himself as a "child of peace and democracy," doesn't seem ready to put down his pen just yet.

    (Japanese original by Rika Uemura, Kyushu Cultural News Group)

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