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Ms. Junko Kawamura's first roketsuzome work created ten years ago. She continues to draw dandelion fluffs blowing in the wind.
(Hachihonmatsu-muneyoshi, Higashi-Hiroshima City)
Dandelions, An Image of Life
Junko Kawamura (female, 80 years old)
By Naoko Yamashita (female)
Ms. Junko Kawamura (nee Horiuchi) around 1947
"I'm known as 'Mrs. Dandelion.'"
There are about ten roketsuzome wall-hangings displayed in the home of Ms. Junko Kawamura (nee Horiuchi) (80) in Higashi-Hiroshima City. Roketsuzome (Japanese-style batik) is a dyeing technique that uses the resistance of wax to prevent dye bleeds and create patterns in the fabric. Each of her works features images of the fluffs of dandelions. When I asked her why she draws only dandelion fluffs, she admitted with a shy smile, "I've been too ashamed to tell anyone about it. The fact is, I imagine that my younger brother is alive in a place where he would like to live as the fluffs of a dandelion."
* * *
On August 6, 1945, Junko was in her third year at Hiroshima Prefectural Daiichi Girl's High School ((known locally as "Kenjo," from the first syllable of kenritsu (prefectural institution) and the first syllable of jogakko (girl's school)). She was working at a printing factory in Kanon-machi, Hiroshima City (present-day Nishi Ward), two kilometers [1.2 miles] from the hypocenter, when the bomb was dropped over Hiroshima. She had been assigned to the factory in accordance with the student mobilization order. At 8:15 a.m. she heard the tremendous roaring sound of the explosion during the school's morning assembly, and she clapped her hands over her ears and eyes while dropping to the ground. When she opened her eyes, a thick cloud of dust darkened her surroundings.
Black rain had started to fall. She wondered whether it could be oil poured down by the U.S. Air Force before a carpet bombing. She thought, "Incendiary bombs will soon be dropped to burn everything up." In a nearby field, she grabbed a lotus leaf to use as an umbrella and ran for her life.
She spent the night in a hut in Koi (present-day Nishi Ward). The next morning she went back to her home in Senda-machi (present-day Naka Ward) and found that her house, which was two kilometers [1.2 miles] from the hypocenter, had burned down. She was reunited with her father and two older brothers. However, both her mother and younger brother Makoto (4 years her junior and in his sixth year at a national elementary school), who had left the house together, had gone missing.
Her second oldest brother found a note left by their mother at a first-aid station in Ujina (present-day Minami Ward). It said that their mother and younger brother had been sent to Ninoshima Island offshore from Ujina, but only their mother had been transferred to Koyaura (present-day Saka-cho).
On August 10, she went to Koyaura together with her father and two older brothers and found their mother at the national elementary school. She was lying face down and her back was severely burned. Later, she told them that Makoto had passed away on Ninoshima Island and had been cremated immediately. The whereabouts of his cremated remains were unknown.
Her oldest brother stayed by their mother's bedside and removed as much of the pus as possible that was accumulating on her back. In November, when their mother was allowed to move, their father made up his mind to leave Hiroshima, then called "the city where no plants, grass or trees would grow for 70 years," and evacuated to Onomichi.
On the night of their arrival in Onomichi, her oldest brother suddenly passed away. He had been at home on August 6 when the atomic bomb was dropped, and thereafter his face had swollen, and he had suffered from a continual nose bleed. The family returned to Hiroshima in 1947. Junko graduated from Kenjo and obtained a job with the secretariat of the Hiroshima prefectural assembly.
* * *
There is one scene she can never forget. On the morning of August 6, her mother had served them peaches for breakfast. Makoto had followed her to the entranceway as she was leaving without having eaten hers. He shyly asked her, "Can I have your peach?" She gave him only a vague response, saying, "Hmm."
The expression on Makoto's face, looking for approval in her face, remains etched in her mind. She was usually hard on Makoto to avoid spoiling him. So at that moment it didn't seem right to be too agreeable.
When she heard about Makoto's death from her older brother, she broke down and cried. She never could have imagined that that conversation would be the last time they would ever speak. "I should have been more gentle with him." She is still left with regret.
In 1952, Junko got married and quit her job. She had one son and two daughters. In 2000 after her children were grown, she took up learning roketsuzome at the suggestion of an older alumna from Kenjo. She didn't understand why, but the first thing that came to her mind when she started a roketsuzome piece was that she wanted to draw dandelion fluffs.
She won a prize at an exhibition for a piece that took her a month to complete. After that, she created works depicting dandelion spheres illuminated by the moon or the sun. She felt an irresistible desire to draw tufted dandelion seeds blowing in the wind.
* * *
Two years ago [in 2008], sparked by a chat with a friend of hers from Kenjo, she bought a picture book called "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf."
The story is about a leaf named Freddie who is afraid to fall and die. Nevertheless, when winter comes, he withers and falls, returning to the soil to become part of that power in nature that allows a tree to grow. When reading the line, "It is Life. That lasts forever and we are all a part of Life," Ms. Kawamura pictured Makoto in her mind. "I want to paint Freddie in my roketsuzome work." That was the first time she drew something other than dandelions.
That work, featuring a big leafy tree, was completed last year. In the process of creating it she came to think that "Makoto's life will also last forever like Freddie's."
When drawing the dandelions, Ms. Kawamura unconsciously drew them in such a way that no two fluffs were alike and each seed was being blown away in a different direction. For her, the scene of tufted seeds that are being blown away and scattered by the wind shows them as being alive.
"My younger brother is in there. I am convinced it is the reason why I draw dandelion fluffs." Only after she heard the story of Freddie did she realize that the fluffs were a representation of Makoto.
"Why do you think of Makoto so much?" I asked her. Ms. Kawamura replied, "Because I haven't properly said goodbye, have I? I've never seen his ashes. Maybe, therefore, I think he is still alive somewhere." In this light, it is possible to see how she could never let go of Makoto.
* * *
In September of this year , Ms. Kawamura completed her second work inspired by Freddie; in it, Freddie the leaf glows under the midsummer sun. She has plans to create autumn, winter and springtime images of Freddie over the coming years. Ms. Kawamura said, "When the work showing Freddie in the spring is completed, I will be able to give up roketsuzome without any regrets." She thinks that the message "Life goes on forever" can be conveyed to people when the complete set of Freddie in each of the four seasons is done. Her concept for showing Freddie in the springtime is an image of tufted dandelion seeds blowing in the wind under the big tree into which Freddie was reborn.
* Originally published in Japanese in the series "聞きたかったこと [So tell me… about Hiroshima]," The Asahi Shimbun (Hiroshima morning edition), October 6, 2010.