Published roughly two years after the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster that rocked Japan’s Tohoku region, this noteworthy collection compiles stories that could only have been written by a man of religion who was also a victim of the disaster himself. The author is head priest of a Buddhist temple in Miharu-machi, just 45 kilometers west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that suffered multiple meltdowns.
The six stories, which are all set in the Tohoku area, depict with deep sympathy the daily struggles of survivors as they pick up the pieces and try to resume their lives.
The title story is told largely in flashback from 30 years after the disaster. The narrator’s father, a lifelong farmer, takes up an odd sort of volunteer work following the disaster. He prunes other people’s trees and shrubs upon request, and hauls the trimmed foliage and branches back to his own property. He pulls their weeds and takes those home as well. He also accepts contaminated soil, trees and plants, and other waste brought to him by others, piling it all up on his substantial spread. Three years later, the mound of debris has reached a height of 20 meters. Worried about the dangers of radiation, the narrator visits with dosimeter in hand and sharply questions his father, who only says that it’s fine, he’s just helping out all the people who have no place to put their waste. Twenty-five years later his father dies from complications following a cold at the age of 95. In accordance with his wishes, his body is cremated atop the now 30-meter high mound. The mound begins to smolder from the fire, giving off a fluorescent, pale purple light, and by three days later the entire mountain is emitting a faint glow.
In Kōrogi (Cricket), an elderly Buddhist monk witnesses and attends to so many deaths that he begins to lose his mental faculties. In Kotarō no gifun (Kotarō’s Indignation), the young wife of a firefighter who got caught in the tsunami agonizes over whether she wants her missing husband’s body to be found, or fears it will be found?thus putting an end to the last, faint wisp of hope to which she clings. Amenbo (Water Strider) tells of a mother who leaves her husband and moves away from Fukushima in order to protect her small child from the effects of radiation, and of her childhood friend who remains behind. Unfolding with compelling realism, the stories cannot be read without summoning tears.