Unbearable light/ness of the bombing: normalizing violence and banalizing the horror of the atomic bomb experiences

On 21 October 2008, the word “pika”, drawn by a small airplane’s exhaust, appeared in the sky over Hiroshima. “Pika” is an onomatopoeia that indicates a flashing light, and historically “pika” refers to the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. Instigated by this performance, brought force by an art group, Chim↑Pom, and its subsequent controversy, the paper explores the ways in which the atomic bomb experiences have been understood through representations in media by the general audience. In fact, examining their representations shows that the horror of the atomic bombing was too often not properly transmitted, but rather normalized and even banalized. To inquire this point further, I investigate a group of women, who suffered from keloids and disfigurement. Some went to Osaka and Tokyo to receive reconstruction surgeries, while others – later called the “Hiroshima maidens” – were invited to the United States for the same purpose. Tracing their media appearances, or lack thereof, I argue that normalization of the horror of the atomic bombings had already begun in 1950s, when these women appeared in media, and that utilizing the injured bodies of women has justified collective violence in the United States, reinforcing white, middle-class, heterosexual Christian family values, as well as in Japan to reconcile its war crimes and to prepare for the future remilitarization. Thus, I conclude that Chim↑Pom’s performance was not a disruption, but a continuation of normalizing violence, in which we do not even understand the weight of the light emanated from the atomic bombs.

Yuki Miyamoto is Associate Professor in Religious studies, at the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences​​​​​​, DePaul University