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Joi on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Joi Ito — whom like Wendy, I met at the first BloggerCon — was

invited to write a guest editorial piece for the New York Times on the

60th anniversary of the atomic bomb’s dropping on Hiroshima. On the

#joiito IRC channel, I remember him mentioning that he was asked to

write an “impressionistic” piece, from which a number of us surmised

that it was supposed to be about what Joi thought of the events that

took place at Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago. Joi’s an interesting

case, as he regularly hops between Japan and America not just

physically, but culturally. He wouldn’t be out of place in America any

more than I would, nor would he be out of place in Japan.

(I would be out of place in

Japan — or at least the minute I opened my mouth. When I was last

there, many Japanese mistook me for one of them. This was a source of

consternation for my blonde-haried, blue-eyed friend Anne, who was

teaching English there at the time and spoke more Japanese than I did.

She’d ask for directions from local people, who would then turn to

answer me.)

Joi really didn’t have much of an impression of the bombs at Hiroshima

and Nagasaki, and neither did his contemporaries in Japan. As he writes

in his op-ed piece:

…at bottom, the bombings don’t really matter to me or, for that matter,

to most Japanese of my generation. My peers and I have little hatred or

blame in our hearts for the Americans; the horrors of that war and its

nuclear evils feel distant, even foreign. Instead, the bombs are simply

the flashpoint marking the discontinuity that characterized the

cultural world we grew up in.


more cynical side tends to think that peace movement kids here in North

America seem far more affected by this. It’s partially out of basic

human empathy, which is laudable, and treating what happened as some

kind of historical snuff film, which is not.

In the end, Joi managed to get “into the headspace” for the article and

managed to write his piece. He then hopped on the #joiito IRC channel,

which has a number of bright denizens and always seems to have some

kind of conversation going on, and got some help editing the piece

before submitting it to the Times. There’s another example of the power of collaboration through the internet.

The most interesting part of the article is a little “tipping point” story about Joi’s great-grandmother:

My mother used to talk about the American occupation of our hometown

in northern Japan when she was a child. Our house, the largest in the

area, was designated to be the Americans’ local headquarters. When the

soldiers arrived, my great-grandmother, nearly blind at the time, was

head of the household, my grandfather having died during the war.


great-grandmother and my grandmother faced the occupiers alone, having

ordered the children to hide. The Japanese had been warned that the

invading barbarians would rape and pillage. My great-grandmother, a

battle-scarred early feminist, [which even in today’s Japan is one hell of an uphill battle — Joey] hissed, “Get your filthy barbarian shoes

off of my floor!” The interpreter refused to interpret. The officer in

command insisted. Upon hearing the translation from the red-faced

interpreter, the officer sat on the floor and removed his boots,

instructing his men to do the same. He apologized to my

great-grandmother and grandmother.

It was a startling

tipping-point experience for them, as the last bit of brainwashing that

began with “we won’t lose the war” and ended with “the barbarians will

rape and kill you” collapsed.

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