A Heartless God Alights

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A Heartless God Alights
Author: Izumi Shiga
Specifications: ISBN  978-4480804679
154 pages
13.6 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Chikuma Shobo Ltd.
Tokyo, 2017
Buy now: amazon.co.jp


This volume contains two stories set in Fukushima shortly after the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s eastern seaboard on March 11, 2011.

The title story begins two weeks after the quake in a small town on the Fukushima coast. Located less than 20 kilometers from the nuclear power plant that experienced an explosion shortly after the earthquake and tsunami, the town is part of the designated evacuation zone. Both electrical power and water services were wiped out by the tsunami, and virtually all residents have departed, but Yōhei Yoshida remains at the home where he grew up. His father, a barber with his own shop, died of cancer five years ago. His mother had continued with the shop for a while, but then suffered a stroke that left her incapacitated. Yōhei quit his job with an office-machine manufacturer in Tokyo to return home to care for her. Up until the quake, he spent his days seeing to her needs while working at a bar at night. Now, after the quake, he remains in town not by choice but because his mother is too frail to move. One day he finds a black lab named Henry left behind by a woman he had gone to school with as a child. In even tones, the narrative details the events of the next two weeks, until Yōhei’s mother breathes her last and he is able to turn Henry over to a pet rescue group. Yōhei has been assuming that once his mother dies, he will be able to leave, but when the time comes, he realizes how strongly attached he is to the town where he grew up. Believing that a place does not turn to ruins until it is forgotten by its residents, he vows to etch every detail of the townscape into his memory.

The second story, Watashi no inai isu (My Empty Chair), centers on 17-year-old Kana Itō. Her father has been away at a new job in Tokyo ever since the Fukushima factory where he worked closed down. Her mother became unhinged by grief when she lost both of her parents to the tsunami and now refuses to leave the coast. Arrangements are made for Kana to move in with her aunt and transfer to a different high school outside the disaster zone. Two months after the triple catastrophe, students at a film school in Tokyo develop plans to film a movie in the stricken area during their summer break, and Kana is persuaded by the director and scriptwriter to play the heroine. She is especially encouraged when the group’s advisor, a film director, tells her to “just be yourself.” But once the actual filming begins, the student director keeps wanting to change her lines to reflect a clearer anti-nuclear message, and Kana bristles at the demands. Unable to speak someone else’s words, she pulls out, but the film is nevertheless completed and shown.

It’s clear that author Izumi Shiga is drawing on both his own first-hand experiences and those of the many others he has met and talked to in the disaster area. One senses his determination to adhere as closely as possible to people’s actual experiences and memories.