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At home, describing his experiences of the atomic bombing and the war (Setagaya, Tokyo. Photo by Yoshinori Mido)
The Blue Sea and Sky Encouraged Me
Akihiro Miwa(male, born 1935)
By Sei Ito (male, born 1971)
The solemn sound of a bell reverberates and the curtain rises.
Seventy-four-year-old singer Akihiro Miwa appears on the brightly lit stage at his concert in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture on July 30, 2009. Dressed in a glittering blue outfit, he sings the ballad "Oborozukiyo (A Misty Moonlit Night)," the Japanese musician Shokichi Kina's "Hana (Flowers for Your Heart)," and chansons including "Hymne a l'amour (If You Love Me)." With effects from the elaborate lighting, the stage scenery changes from a night sky to a flower garden, and then to the streets of Paris. Miwa sings as if he were the heroes and heroines portrayed in his songs.
Probably because Miwa is a popular television star, there are quite a few young people in the audience of about two thousand people. Between songs, Miwa entertains the audience by giving amusing talks like, "Popular songs these days are anything but music. Seems to me that 'rap' is missing a C." "Men should not be too good-looking. You folks out there look just about good enough." On the other hand, he also says, "August is coming. Since I experienced the war, I should talk with you about this."
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Miwa comes from Nagasaki. After graduating from Kaisei Middle School, he went to Tokyo at age fifteen. He dropped out of Kunitachi College of Music High School and started his career as a professional singer when he was sixteen. Since then, Miwa has been active as a singer, an actor, and a producer for over half a century.
Miwa is also regarded as a pioneering singer-songwriter. His song "Yoitomake no Uta (The Construction Worker's Song)" was a great hit in 1965. It begins with the striking phrase "For my dear husband, heave ho!" which expresses the unconditional love of a woman who works up a sweat at a construction site for her children and husband. Even today, the song is being covered and performed by many singers.
In his concert mentioned above, Miwa talked about his memory of what happened in Nagasaki 64 years ago before he started singing "Yoitomake no Uta": "When the A-bomb dropped in Nagasaki, I saw plenty of dead mothers holding their children in their arms to protect them. Now that is 'unconditional love'."
Miwa was ten years old at the time. Although he was bombed at his home in Motoshikkui-machi in Nagasaki, which is about 3.9 kilometers [2.4 miles] southeast of the hypocenter, he was not injured. However, his grandmother and other relatives were living in Yamazato-machi (present-day Heiwa-machi) near the hypocenter. The adults told Miwa not to go there, but he was very much concerned about their safety. After he listened to the radio broadcast of the Imperial Rescript of Surrender in the evacuation area six days later, Miwa headed for his grandmother's house by himself.
That area used to be an elegant town with a beautiful, soaring Catholic church and billowing carpets of flowers. When Miwa got there, however, it had all been reduced to nothing. He could not even locate his grandmother's home. Charred bodies were left in a heap of debris. "It seemed almost the end of the world. The landscape looked like a world where human beings had died out." Since he didn't know what to do, Miwa went back home.
So far, Miwa has written several songs with antiwar and atomic bomb themes. He says, "I can never forget all the cruel scenes of those days. These memories are the mainspring of my songwriting."
One of those songs is titled "Furusato no Sora no Shita de (Under the Sky of My Hometown)," the B-side to the single "Yoitomake no Uta." In that piece, Miwa expresses his experience as an A-bomb survivor as follows:
I'm not sure how many years ago it was,
but even now I remember
running through the A-bomb's inferno.
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Miwa was born into a rich family in Nagasaki. His father was a successful businessman who ran a cafe, a restaurant, and a bathhouse. Near his cafe in Motoshikkui-machi was Maruyama's red-light district. Miwa remembers how the men, who were unsociable and barely returned his greetings in the daytime, would become frivolous and infatuated with the women at night. Looking back on those days, he says, "I grew up seeing the true nature of men, without any social pretensions."
Miwa's brother, 75-year-old Yasuhiro Terada, is older by two years. Yasuhiro remembers Miwa's boyhood: "He was clever and had beady eyes. He was beloved by the adults around him." At the time, Miwa was always playing the organ and singing, but he would still get full marks in all his examinations.
About one year after the Pacific War began, Miwa said, "I'm sure Japan will lose the war. How can we shoot down the enemy's airplanes with bamboo spears?" People used to be called "unpatriotic" even for trivial remarks and actions during wartime, so Yasuhiro warned him, "Don't say things like that openly."
One day a waiter working at Miwa's father's cafe, a handsome young man called "San-chan," received his draft card. Miwa and the barmaids went to Nagasaki Station to see him off.
The train started leaving the station. At that moment, a small woman suddenly stepped forward. She clung to San-chan and cried, "Don't die! No matter what happens to you, come back!" The woman was San-chan's mother. A man in a military uniform came closer to her and said, "You fool! As a mother in a nation at war, you should encourage your son, saying, 'Sacrifice yourself for our country!'" He grabbed her by the hair and tossed her aside. San-chan's mother struck an iron pole, and her head started bleeding.
"San-chan went to the front seeing his mother soaked in blood," Miwa remembers with tears in his eyes.
Another unforgettable scene haunts Miwa's memory.
One cold morning, Miwa saw a group of women's Service Corps volunteers near his relative's inn. The girl students in sailor blouses and work pants were standing in line for roll call before starting at the factory.
A supervisor shouted, "Hey, you!" and pointed at a student. "How shameful that you should wear such a thing in wartime! Take off your clothes!" The student followed his order, and her colorful underwear knitted with yellow, red, and purple wool came into view. The supervisor took a pair of scissors and cut them into pieces. When the student covered her bust with her hands and squatted down, he struck and kicked her, injuring her ears, mouth, and nose. "Forgive me, forgive me. . ." Her voice gradually became feeble.
Later, Miwa heard that the girl student had died from the wounds inflicted by the supervisor. Her mother had knitted that colorful underwear for her so that she could keep off the cold, using wool prepared by unraveling other knitted clothes. The supervisor had spotted it peeping out at her collar, prompting his outburst.
The war grew more and more intense. The mannequins displayed in store fronts were removed because they looked "decadent." All songs except war songs were banned with the explanation that they were "inappropriate" in wartime. Miwa's father was forced to close his nightclub business. Elegance was erased from Nagasaki, which had once been a modern city with an international flavor.
After Okinawa fell in June 1945, girl students began repeating a strange hand movement following a command on the athletic fields. They were practicing the movement before the enemy arrived in Japan, so they could crush the American soldiers' testicles with their hands to preserve their chastity. Miwa sneered, "You see how terribly ignorant people were in Japan back then?"
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