Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki

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Maruki, Toshi.  1980.  HIROSHIMA NO PIKA.   New York:  Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd Books.  ISBN: 0-688-01297-3.

In Hiroshima No Pika (The Flash of Hiroshima), Toshi Maruki tells the story of what happened in Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m., when the U.S. bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the city.  It was an ordinary beautiful peaceful summer morning in Hiroshima and a little girl named Mii and her parents were eating breakfast when the bomb was dropped.  Mii and her parents, her father so seriously injured that his wife must carry him on her back, are able to escape to the beach, but not without seeing firsthand some of the carnage caused by the blast.  Help comes and takes the dead away and the wounded, including Mii’s father, to the hospital and Mii and her mother go back to Hiroshima to find the city in ruins.  Mii never grows after that day and her father dies of radiation poisoning.  In memorial to all who died as a result of the bombing, people of Hiroshima, including Mii and her mother, set lanterns bearing the names of the dead afloat on the rivers to be carried out to sea.


Hiroshima No Pika is an extremely powerful book, based on a story that artist Toshi Maruki heard in 1953 from a woman who tried to escape from Hiroshima “carrying her wounded husband upon her back and leading her child by the hand.”  Readers learn facts about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from this book, but more importantly, they learn what is not usually told in American history books.  They learn how these bombs affected real people who were merely trying to live their lives and that the after-effects of the nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima still exist, more than fifty years later. The story is told very simply and honestly, from the point of view of seven-year-old Mii and by doing so, Maruki was able to tell the story without having it colored by adult arguments about whether dropping the bomb was necessary or appropriate.  Through impressionist artwork, Maruki’s illustrations captured images of a beautiful morning violated by the Enola Gay’s bomb and the annihilation that followed.  Maruki said of her artwork related to Hiroshima, “It is a dreadful, cruel scene, but I wanted to paint it with kindness.” and her illustrations do convey a gentleness and respect for the citizens of Hiroshima.


Unlike many books, the exact setting and time of Hiroshima No Pika is known.  Mii’s story could have happened in only one place at one time.  Maruki describes Hiroshima as a beautiful and peaceful city and tells the reader that “Hiroshima’s seven rivers flowed quietly through the city.  The rays of the midsummer sun glittered on the surface of the rivers.”  She goes on to describe the air raids going on in Japanese cities around that time and the precautions that citizens took, demolishing old buildings to prevent fires, laying in provisions, including medicine, and wearing “air-raid hats or hoods to protect their heads.”  On the day of the blast, Mii and her parents were eating breakfast, sweet potatoes, and the reader finds out that Mii’s father “agreed they made a delicious breakfast, though they weren’t the rice he preferred.”  Then the bomb is dropped and Hiroshima is changed in an instant from a peaceful city into Hell.  “Then it happened.  A sudden, terrible light flashed all around.  The light was bright orange – then white, like thousands of lightning bolts all striking at once.”  When they are at the beach, an old woman gives Mii a rice ball, then dies and Mii’s mother realizes that the girl still has her chopsticks clasped in her hands.  The description of Mii’s father’s death, “his hair fell out and he began coughing blood.  Purple spots appeared all over his body, and he died.” could describe many of the residents of Hiroshima who died of radiation poisoning as a result of the bombing.  Additionally, many of the children of Hiroshima shared Mii’s stunted growth.


Maruki explained why she told the story from the child’s viewpoint, ““It is very difficult to tell young people about something very bad that happened, in the hope that their knowing will help keep it from happening again.”  Maruki was a peace activist and with her artist husband, Iri,  created a series of murals depicting the aftermath of the atomic blast on Hiroshima.  Hiroshima No Pika won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award, the Jane Addams Peace Award, a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award and is an American Library Association Notable Book.  In 2005, an animated version of the book, featuring Maruki’s illustrations, and narrated by activist actress Susan Sarandon was released.


Works cited:

Amazon.com Website.  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0009IWGCS/qid=1144193027/sr=11-1/ref=sr_11_1/102-1435185-9096919?n=130.  Accessed April 4, 2006.


Arts Extra San Francisco Website.  http://artnewsextra.com/xyz/review/rev_050715_mirkofficeart.html.  Accessed April 4, 2006.


Meyers, Mitzi.  “Storying War: A Capsule Overview.”  The Lion and the Unicorn 24  (2000).  http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/lion_and_the_unicorn/v024/24.3myers01.pdf.  Accessed April 4, 2006.


by Monica Wood