Popular Protest in Post War Japan: The Antiwar Art of Shikoku Gorō

The Angry Jizo

Although primarily a local activist, Shikoku Gorō did earn a nationwide reputation for his illustrations of the children’s book The Angry Jizo (Okori jizo), created in collaboration with prolific children and young adult author Yamaguchi Yūko (1916-2000). Yamaguchi was also a native of Hiroshima, and an active member of one of Japan’s largest anti-nuclear groups Gensuikyō. Yamaguchi lost her parents and in-laws in the bombing, and saw the immediate aftermath of the atom bomb with her own eyes. As she walked her old neighborhood, Yamaguchi wondered what had happened to the beloved stone Jizo that she passed by so often on the back street.

Of the several versions of The Angry Jizo, the best known is the 1979 picture book. In wartime Hiroshima, a young girl finds daily comfort as she visits the neighborhood Jizō stone statue. Jizō (Bodhisattva) icons can be found along the roadside as guardians of children and travellers; neighbors leave flowers as offerings. This Jizo always has a smile on his face. On August 6, the bomb explodes over Hiroshima. Amidst the dead and dying, the badly injured girl finds her way to the Jizō. She calls for Mother, and for water. The Jizō’s face shows his anger at human folly when his expression changes into that of a fierce guardian Niō statue. The Jizo sheds tears into the girl’s mouth in her last moments. In the end, the Jizō’s head crumbles into a million pieces.

By the late 1970s, older activists such as Yamaguchi and Shikoku keenly felt the need to pass down the experiences of the Asia Pacific war to younger generations with the message that war and nuclear bombings should not be repeated.

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