Mihoko Ishizawa was 24 when she fell to the ground as she was cycling home from work. She hit the left front of her head and was taken to hospital where a brain scan showed nothing abnormal.
It soon became obvious that something odd had happened. Ishizawa had lost all her memory for the previous six months, including all her time in work and her recent university graduation ceremony. Everything from that period had simply been erased and has never come back, Ishizawa says.
She was diagnosed with retrograde amnesia, which the doctors said was more common than many people realize. As she recovered last year, Japan was struck by an earthquake and tsunami. Ishizawa, who has drawn all her life, was inspired to produce “Field of Cole” -- a manga, or graphic novel, about the disaster to prevent people forgetting about the victims.
Ishizawa, who is now 27 years old and has returned to university, says the reaction she got from her colleagues and superiors after she went back to her job was one of the reasons for creating the book.
“When I told my boss I had lost my memories of him, I saw his face and felt how sad it is to be forgotten,” says Ishizawa, who is slim with shoulder length hair. “I thought how sad it would be for people in Tohoku to be forgotten as well.”
Japan’s quake on March 11, 2011, registered magnitude 9, the highest on record for the country. The event, along with the ensuing tsunami, devastated the northeastern part of Japan and left almost 19,000 dead or missing.
Ishizawa, who used her nickname Misukoso for the book, drew a short graphic story for her blog after seeing pictures of the devastation last year. The posting received 30,000 views in the first week and drew the attention of a publisher at Fusosha Publishing Inc., who asked her to produce more stories.
She agreed on the condition that her book royalties would go to a charity in the area affected by the tsunami and her work was published in English as well as Japanese. Ishizawa, who studied at Japan’s Keio University and Columbia University in the U.S., chose a charity called Seminar With Hope, which offers study support for junior and senior high school students in the earthquake disaster areas.
“I didn’t think about earning money,” Ishizawa says. “It was nice for me to be able to help people in Tohoku directly. I’m merely a student and I don’t have that much money to actually support people in Tohoku but I had a chance by publishing the book.”
The 162-page work is a collection of separate stories. In one, an old woman tries to protect her grandson before the tsunami kills them. In another, a student searching the ruins for her mother discovers that rather than being a reckless spender, she had been working two jobs to save money.
“I started drawing for each one of the victims,” Ishizawa says. “I thought the best way would be to imagine what the people thought at the moment of their death. Some stories are based on newspaper, CNN and Japan self-defense-force twitters.” (The Japanese equivalent of the army was sent to the disaster areas to help with rescue and aid operations.)
The book’s Japanese version, which went on sale in September, six months after the disaster, is in its second edition after the first print of 10,000 was snapped up. The English version is available as an electronic book and went on sale in February.
Thomas F. Yellen, an American who owns a software distribution company in Japan, bought more than 300 copies to hand out to friends, family and customers.
“I think her book is absolutely unique,” Yellen says, “in the sensitivity and poignancy it brings to its observation of the disaster’s effects on individuals and families, and animals. Even people who have never experienced an earthquake or tidal wave, can readily identify with the havoc on human relationships that these events caused.”
“Field of Cole: Remember the Great East Japan Earthquake” by Misukoso is published by Fusosha and available for the Kindle in English (162 pages, $9.50). To buy the book, click here.
Muse highlights include: Warwick Thompson on London theater, Farah Nayeri on film from Cannes, Jorg von Uthmann on Paris arts, Frederik Balfour on Hong Kong auctions and Greg Evans on U.S. television.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Cooper in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.