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Jizo as Japan's guide


October 9, 2012

Let Inoue's antinuclear Jizo, forged in Hiroshima, guide Japan's future




Dear Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda,



Man for the moment: A statue of Jizo, protector of children and travelers, stands at a roadside in the town of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, three months after the March 11, 2011, disasters. A message on his helmet reads "Thank you, everyone." KYODO


Around the time of the recent anniversaries in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I began reading writers' accounts and treatments of the atomic bombings. I came across Hisashi Inoue's play "The Face of Jizo."

Inoue was born in Yamagata Prefecture. In some of his other works he dealt with the issue of Tohoku people who moved to Tokyo in desperate search of work.

He first got the idea to write "The Face of Jizo" in the early 1960s when he was working for NHK and was sent to Hiroshima for a summer to cover the antinuclear movement. The play did not premiere until 1994. Inoue died on April 9, 2010.

The play is about a young woman, Mitsue, who survived the Hiroshima bombing but feels conflicted and guilty that she lives while her family and friends perished. Due to this emotional state she is unable to move forward.

Her father, Takezo, was amongst those close to her who died. Takezo's ghost visits Mitsue and encourages her to move on with her life. Specifically, he urges her to let herself fall in love with Kinoshita, a young academic who expresses an interest in Mitsue. Takezo also relays to his daughter her responsibility to tell the next generation about the horrors of the bomb, so that humanity does not repeat history.

Takezo is a manifestation of Jizo, the Buddhist deity known as the protector of children. The title of the English translation alludes to a scene in which Mitsue recognizes the similarity between a Jizo statue with half its face melted away and her father's face that was burnt by the bomb. Thus, an antinuclear message runs through the story that employs a symbol advocating for the protection and wellbeing of children.

These two points bring to mind the disturbing news reports that I've been reading this summer. Namely, the reopening of schools that were not too long ago inside the designated evacuation zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Children's safety should be the No. 1 priority in this situation. But instead of taking precautions, Japan is still pushing to export nuclear power in Southeast Asia, in areas critics believe are susceptible to natural disasters.

In regards to nuclear weapons, a decision has been made to revise the Atomic Energy Basic Law with an added new principle stating that nuclear power will "contribute to national security," which some claim will pave the way for the nuclear armament of Japan.

As mentioned above, Jizo is believed to look after children, and Inoue fashioned a unique antinuclear Jizo. Statues of Jizo are the most prevalent Buddhist iconography found in contemporary Japan. They are placed just about everywhere — on roadsides, mountain paths, riverbanks, seashores and, of course, inside temple precincts.

I think, Prime Minister, that these statues serve well as constant reminders for government officials and society as a whole to act responsibly and keep in mind the generations to come. Being everywhere, they cannot be avoided, just like the issues right in front of us cannot be ignored.

Japan is at a crossroads and we are all wondering which way she will choose to proceed. The other popular role of Jizo is as the guardian of travelers. Will Inoue's antinuclear Jizo be allowed to serve as Japan's guide?



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