Dr Alyson Miller Recaps Recent Research Trip to Japan with Dr Cassandra Atherton

Dr Alyson Miller teaches Literary Studies in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University, and supervises Honours and postgraduate students. Alyson is an editor of Imagine: A Journal of Student Writing and Windmills literary zine. Alyson’s poetry and short stories have appeared in both national and international publications, and has two recent publications: Dream Animals, a collection of prose poetry; and the critical analysis Haunted by Words: Scandalous Texts. Recently, Dr Miller undertook research in Japan for forthcoming projects:

In November and December 2016, Cassandra Atherton and I undertook intensive research in Tokyo and Hiroshima, as part of the groundwork for two key projects: the first, a VicArts funded creative work titled Pikadon, a prose poem graphic novel focussed on the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, and which will be illustrated by the artist Phil Day. The second is a collection of critical essays about atomic bomb memorialization in Japan and Australia, forthcoming with Rowman & Littlefield (2017).

The trip involved a series of interviews with volunteers and scholars from the Hiroshima Peace Park, many of whom spoke about the need to ensure that such devastation never be allowed to occur again. A number of these volunteers were (perhaps curiously) unwilling to speak about issues of guilt or blame, and believed that America was not at fault. During the time of our visit, the Peace Park and Museum was surrounded by hundreds of students, their coloured scarves marking their varied school affiliations. Their presence, particularly among the tributes to Sadako, was a stark reminder of the victims of the A-bomb, many of whom were children attending schools in the city. This is also reflected in the haunting testimonials and artifacts displayed in the museum, including Shigeru’s infamous charred but in-tact bentō, Shin’s rusted tricycle, and Sadako’s painstakingly small paper cranes.

Tributes to Sadako 

Much of the research in Hiroshima focussed on collecting testimonials and object images, and visiting memorial sites, including several hibakusha or survivor trees, which miraculously endured the bomb blast and continued to thrive. Our shared projects required that we collate examples of various objects that survived the A-bomb, including teacups, clothing, building materials, even sewing needles, all of which were harrowing reminders of the force of the explosion. We also spent a considerable amount of time at Hiroshima City University and the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), first known as the controversial Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission. Situated in Hijiyama Park, the RERF is responsible for examining and monitoring the long-term effects of radiation on hibakusha. Finally, we tracked down a series of trams that not only survived the blast but also continued to run after the explosion, instrumental in transporting survivors, food, water and medical goods during the aftermath of disaster. The ‘Emperor’s Tram Girls’, the women who drove the Hiroshima trams, were a powerful reminder of human resilience but also of Japanese perseverance and determination to keep the city functioning even after the worst of events.

A hibakusha tree in Hiroshima, around which a temple has been built. 

A hibakusha tree in the grounds of the Peace Park. 

Dr Cassandra Atherton and Dr Alyson Miller at the Transport Museum, in front of one of the trams to survive the atomic bomb. 

The less confronting aspect of the trip involved examining Japanese translations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a narrative which has captured the Japanese cultural imagination—Tokyo is replete with Alice-themed weddings, restaurants, shops, clothing, food, speaking animals, and cos-play. This is in part connected with kawaii culture, an obsession with cute, but also with ideas about innocence, childhood and coming-of-age, particularly interesting in the context of the A-Bomb (which signified a national loss of innocence) and the rupture of old and new worlds.

Dr Cassandra Atherton and Dr Alyson Miller at the Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant in Tokyo. 

(All images courtesy of Alyson Miller)

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