One of the classic shōnen manga authors and a vocal anti-war activist, whose several semi-autobiographical works such as Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen) became a passionate manifesto against the use of nuclear weaponry.

Nakazawa was born in Hiroshima to a family of a local painter, whose public opposition to the militaristic regime of that time led to the whole family being ostracized by their surrounding community. In 1945, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima killed Nakazawa’s father and two siblings, leaving Nakazawa and his mother struggling to survive in the ruins of Hiroshima. These events and experiences later greatly influenced his work. After the end of World War II, Nakazawa started to avidly read comics and by the end of 1950s he was already submitting his own adventurous stories to various comics magazine. His professional career started in 1961, when he moved to Tokyo to work as an assistant to the well-known creator of Ultraman series Daiji Kazumine (*1935), and later to Naoki Tsuji (1935-1997). Nakazawa debuted in 1963 with a car-racing story Spark 1 (Supāku 1) published in a monthly comics magazine Shōnen gahō, and soon became a regular contributor to several other magazines.

Initially his stories were mostly adventures, including Burn Up! Blockhead Roku (Moero! Guzu Roku!, 1969) about a boy  and his racing horse, or part of the sci-fi genre such as Space Giraffe (Uchū jirafu, 1964). However, following his mother’s death from a disease related to the radiation poisoning she had suffered, Nakazawa started drawing more serious comics inspired by his anti-war sentiments and personal experience with nuclear bombing. Published in 1969 and 1970 respectively, Struck by Black Rain (Kuroi me ni utarete, 1968), or One Day, Suddenly… (Aru hi totsuzen ni, 1970), told the story of the struggling Hiroshima survivors. In 1972, Nakazawa published a powerful autobiographical one-shot I Saw It (Ore wa mita), documenting not only the falling of the atomic bomb and subsequent hardships the survivors had to endure years after, but also his own career as a comics author and his mother’s untimely death. The story was a success and Nakazawa soon reworked it into what became his most famous manga: a long, semi-autobiographical series Barefoot Gen.

Similarly as his previous stories, Barefoot Gen can easily be deemed controversial, as it contains not only a strong stance against nuclear weapons and those who do not hesitate to use them, but also harsh criticism aimed at Japanese militaristic aggression during 1930s and 1940s, as well as at post-war Japanese society, which shunned and ostracised victims of the atomic bombings. As a result, Barefoot Gen experienced some trouble finding a publisher after it had been dropped from Shōnen Jump magazine and Nakazawa had to serialize the story in several different magazines. Nakazawa’s determination to oppose the use of nuclear weapons remained strong throughout his life and his efforts were rewarded in 2002 when he received the Kiyoshi Tanimoto Peace Prize. Nakazawa continued publishing until he retired in 2009 due to poor health.

— Anna Krivankova

See also: Barefoot Gen, shōnen manga

Further Reading

  • Gravett, Paul. 2007. Paul Gravett. „Keiji Nakazawa: Barefoot in Hiroshima“ June 24. Accessed March 20, 2015.
  • Itō, Yū & Omote, Tomoyuki. 2006. Barefoot Gen in Japan: An Attempt at Media History. In: Reading Manga: Local and Global Perceptions of Japanese Comics. Edited by Jaqueline Berndt and Steffi Richter. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag
  • Thorn, Matt. 2013. „Keiji Nakazawa, 1939-2012“, January 1. Accessed March 12, 2013.