Horrific Book Recommendation


I bought a new book. It is horrific. I recommend that many people read it; although, I have not read more than a few sentences of it myself.

Was that an odd enough lead in for me? Let’s start with how I love maps. Maps are wonderful tools of learning. They are pictures that tell a story about a place. If the maps are old, the pleasure is increased because they tell a story about a place, to which it is impossible to visit. I received an old map of Tsu (津) through an interesting twist. Back into the ‘way back’ machine with me again for the how and why for getting the map.

In May of 2004, I moved to Japan. Having visited many times at the beginning of the current Emperor’s reign, I knew something of the importance of gifts; however, in my rush to quickly sell off or pack up personal belongings, I neglected to bring something American. An acquaintance with connections in Nagoya (名古屋) arranged for me to stay in a home for a week, before moving to Tsu. She became very harsh upon hearing that I did not present gifts to everyone I met in that town. Ironically, I thought I was doing her a favor by visiting most of them, but that’s another story. Anyhow, some pretty extreme demands were made for me to rectify the situation. After consulting with folks in Tsu, it was recommended that I send local specialty items from our region. I went to the local department store, ordered up some boxes of our goodies, and sent them off. Later, I realized that the brand I purchased was actually produced in Nagoya. Nobody (on this side of the ocean) complained, but I felt a little sheepish sending something they could probably get at their nearest department store.

Once more into the “way back” machine to return to this month. Hmm… do you still call it a “way back” machine, when it is returning you from way back? Never really thought about that before. Anyhow, someone near Nagoya did something special for me and I wanted to send local specialties, which they could not buy in Nagoya. Recalling someone’s advice to look for a certain shop, the name of which I forgot, in Daimon (大門), an older part of town; I hopped on my bike and went hunting. I quickly came upon the store and enjoyed a lengthy discussion about three items unique to their store and laced with Tsu history. Making my purchases, I had the joyous feeling that I was avoiding the mistakes of the past. Before I left, the owner handed me a 50 page booklet bringing us to the twist in the rabbit hole.

“Downtown Tsu Guidance” (津の街なか案内, tsu no machinaka annai) was the title. The choice of alternate characters and the style of the cover gave a more special feeling than ‘downtown’ in English. The first thing I noticed was, inside the cover, a map of Tsu from 1951 (昭和26年), rich in information, but also creating more questions. One curious point was a university building on the site that is now City Hall (市役所).

Yesterday morning I had a successful meeting at City Hall and, on the way out, my desire for answers overcame me. I stopped at the lobby information desk and asked a ‘simple’ question, “When was this building constructed?” She pulled out a book about local history and we found the attached Region Plaza (津リージョンプラザ) was completed in 1987. She was looking through another book, but finally called some city offices and had them dig up the construction date (1979). While she was on the phone I looked at the other book bringing us, at last, to today’s topic.

Tsu no Sensai no Sugata to Hatten (津の戦災の姿と発展) is the difficult to translate title of the book. I am struggling with the title grammatically, but let’s say: “Images of War Damage and Progress in Tsu”. It was published on the 40th anniversary of cessation of World War II (1985, 昭和60年) and tries to send a positive message about development that occurs during peacetime.

A former student was probably about four years old when the war ended and he has told me about how American planes would fly across the bay unmolested and bomb the city. Yesterday, I grasped the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. One photo was a B-29 flying low over the wooden homes. Even my hard heart was moved by the photos of the damage as I pictured my friend as a child running to the river to escape the flames. I didn’t cry at the information booth, but I wanted to. There is something very eerie about seeing the place you live utterly ruined.

Seemingly, firebombs were used here. Three factory chimneys (煙突) near the bay are still standing, but the factories are gone. I assume a conventional bomb would have toppled the stacks. Two banks, and many kura (倉) are also standing, but everything else is black, charred earth and rubble.

Despite the horrific nature of the early photos, I think the book still pushes for thinking about progress and development and peace. Also, from a documentary perspective it is nice to see actual photos of the damage. There is a certain amount of difficult language and historic place names, so I don’t recommend it for beginner-level translation exercises.

I went up to the Culture Department (文化課) and bought a copy of the book. If you are interested in seeing it, please drop by.


3 Responses to “Horrific Book Recommendation”

  1. sunkissd1 Says:

    I’ll drop by after dinner. Please have tea and dessert ready. 🙂

    Speaking of terrible destruction and humbling experiences, there is a man at my gym who was a POW for 13 months during WWII. All these years later, he’s still experiencing unexplained health problems. He loves to tell stories about his WWII experiences and will tell them to anyone who stops long enough to listen. The stories and factoids are interesting and shocking. Everyone kept telling him he should write a book, so finally he did and got it published, privately. I bought a copy for Keven, but am going to read it as well. There are pictures, wires (or telegrams) from the military to his mother, and some other artifacts. The whole thing takes on a whole new meaning and appreciation when it has to do with people you know and/or love. My grandparents used to tell really funny WWII stories but they were stationed in California and were never in battle.

    If you want to see the book the next time you visit, let me know.

  2. びっくり Says:

    Don’t be silly, just bring the book along when you drop in for tea and dessert.

  3. sunkissd1 Says:

    LOL. Ok. 🙂

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