Manga Study Guide: Barefoot Gen/Author’s life and experience
Background: Author's life and experience
Keiji Nakazawa was born on March 14, 1939 and died on December 19th, 2012 when he was 73. When Nakazawa was young his father was imprisoned during the war for his "anti war activities." Him and his family were viewed as traitors. Nakazawa was in first grade when the first bomb was dropped in 1945, kill around 70,000 people in the blast alone. Nakazawa’s father, older sister and younger brother were killed in it. He was only 1.2 km away from where the bomb had hit, but he was saved by a wall of a building which shielded him from the flash of heat, that would have killed him. After the bomb had been dropped Keiji's mother, Kimiyo (pregnant at the time), seeing her husband, daughter and son burning alive tried to kill herself in the fire as well, so she could die with them, but was stopped by the neighbors. The extreme amount of shock make Kimiyo give birth before dated to a baby girl, who ended up dying four months later.
After the war Nakazawa would gather scraps of metal and glass which he would sell for money. That is when he was brought into the world of manga, when he started to read Osamu Tezuk's 'Now Legendary New Treasure Island' in 1947. Influenced by his father, Nakazawa loved to draw. In 5th grade he had made, and presented his own manga called 'Paper Dramas.' His 5th grade teacher also helped inspire him to become a manga artist. After finishing junior high he improved his drawing skills by painting every day in the evenings and watching three movies in a row at the local cinema, learning from them. He would also submit all of his work to magazines such as 'Omoshiro Bukku' ("Funny Book")
In 1961, at the age of 22, with only $600 in his pocket,Nakazawa moved to Tokyo and started working as an assistant to the manga creator Daiji Kazumine. Two years later Nakazawa made his own debut in the magazine 'Shonen Gaho' ("Boys' Illustrated.") Wanting a fresh start in Tokyo he wrote a story about car racing. He purposely did not write about the atomic bomb because growing up as a survivor of the bomb was not easy. Even his earlier pieces did not hint to his tragic past. In 1963, his direction in manga completely changed. This was caused by his mothers death from the effects of radiation poisoning. Only eight months later Nakazawa married Misayo Yamane, following traditional cremation, burning the body and putting certain bones that shouldn't burn in the family grave, but the bones were degraded by radiation and only a fine powder remained.
In rage Nakazawa returned to Tokyo and in inspiration wrote 'Kuroi ame ni utarete' ("Pelted By Black Rain"). The story about a 13 year old boy, a specialized assassin with killing Americans. With his clouded mind he did not think this through clearly. The story was rejected by every publisher he went to.
In 1967 his first was born, which made him to work at a very fast paste, still trying to get 'Pelted By Black Rain' published and still having a clouded mind writing stories with unifying themes. All he made was about anger and mad grief. Targeted at the U.S., Japanese government, weapon makers and war profiteers. The characters he wrote into his story were normal, flawed people that are angry. In the 1970’s the leukemia rates were higher than usual, which then inspired Nakazawa to write a story about a Hiroshima survivor that has a son that develops leukemia and dies. After finishing the 60 page draft he gave it to the editor for editing. After he was done reading it he broke into tears because it was so emotional. He then told Nakazawa that he should make the story 80 pages long which had never been done before. He later in 1972 wrote his most dramatic story, ‘Ore wa mita’ (“I Saw It!”) a 48 page story, which was the first time he had ever written down his own experiences of the atomic bombing of HIroshima in pictures and words. Then soon after he started his best selling novel ‘Barefoot Gen’
By the end of the 1970s Nakazawa had stopped writing and drawing all together when he was diagnosed with diabetes. It made it difficult for him to draw and when the cataract surgery failed to improve his eyesight, he finally retired from writing, drawing and the creating manga in 2009.