That last word puts all the others in perspective, synonymous as it is with the world-changing event of August 6, 1945 – the dropping of the first atomic bomb.
The book is written from the perspective of her father, Shinji, who, as an adolescent, was standing on a rooftop just 1 200m from the epicentre of the blast and who not only survived, but embraces (he’s now 89 years old) an attitude of forgiveness and a perspective that does not place America as the permanent aggressor. Mikamo would never have known her father without him being someone who’d survived such a traumatic experience and managed to move forward without hatred.
“When I was small, I thought everyone was like that,” she says.
“People would have sad stories, but they didn’t talk about it much – I think they were still dealing with the trauma. “When I got a little bit older, around elementary school age, I became more aware of what had happened through reading and watching TV.”
Mikamo is now a respected psychologist. Did the scenario she experienced as a child have any bearing on her decision to pursue studies in that area?
“Definitely,” she says.
“My father talked to me daily from the time I was about four, telling me to study hard, form relationships and learn languages. He said he wanted me to become a bridge.”
Mikamo’s decision to write the book from her father’s perspective would have made the task more difficult than if she had told it from her own point of view.
“I wanted readers to feel he was talking to them,” she explains.
“He doesn’t speak English, but he really wants to share his experiences to help stop future generations making the same mistakes. Technically, it wasn’t difficult, as I had grown up with these stories. I did have to spend some time researching the details to make sure they were correct, though.”
Mikamo wrote the original book in English for marketing reasons, but has recently completed a manuscript in Japanese.
“The Japanese draft was much more difficult to write,” she admits. “It was a much more vivid experience, perhaps because the language itself expresses the culture more precisely.”
Hollywood wants to bring Shinji’s story to the screen.
Studio treatments of such events – Hugh Jackman’s The Wolverine features a sequence in which his character experiences the same thing Shinji did – has often lacked sensitivity.
“I don’t feel too bad watching films like that,” says Mikamo, “but they’re not realistic. I want something closer to what happened; with more message. I’m fascinated by the way people transcend such situations, and we need to examine that. I have a lot of personal questions: neither American nor Japanese history textbooks teach the whole story. I want children to learn to ask questions. We need to develop critical minds to analyse the ‘facts’ we are given.”