If I could introduce you to just one friend of mine, it would be Alfred, whom this book belongs to. I was introduced to him because we're both bird owners; he's got a beautiful blue and gold maccaw, a Green Amazon (parrot), and an aviary filled with finches and cockatiels. In the summer, we sometimes sit in his aviary, drinking my beer and talking. He's in his seventies -I'm guessing, and we have one of those intergenerational friendships where he tells a lot of stories about the things he's seen and done, and I'm eager to listen, but don't have anything nearly as interesting to contribute. I particularly like when he talks about the years he spent with the Marines, living in Japan in the mid/late-1950's, because I too have lived in Japan, albeit forty years later. These shared memories are like a bridge between very two very different lives, and they make me feel close to him, like we have something in common....But (and you probably knew I was going here) the truth is that Alfred's Japan is not recognizable to me. The American occupation army pulled itself off the streets of Tokyo in 1952, and Al showed up just six years later. The county he remembers was dirty, defeated and humiliated. Industry was making a slow return, and the worst years of post-war chaos and privation had passed, but the national mood was still very apprehensive. Americans weren't nearly as liked as they seem to be now. Even in the most innocuous situations, Al was frequently met with suspicion by locals. The landscape was bleak. Rubble was cleared, but the immaculate glass and tile buildings that compose Japan's urban scenery today were still a long way off. AstroBoy, Godzilla and the rest of Japan's pop culture icons had not yet made an appearance. In fact, with domestic media just barely reemerging, there wasn't very much Japanese pop culture, aside from Kurosawa's wonderful movies. Toyota, the semiconductor, and Total Quality Management would change all that eventually, but when Al ate yakitori at makeshift stands in dirty Tokyo alley ways, SONY's entire product line consisted of an old radio design licensed from General Electric. If you want to learn more about all these things, I recommend John Dower's [b:Embracing Defeat|273197|Embracing Defeat Japan in the Wake of World War II|John W. Dower|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347308463s/273197.jpg|92383].That Japan is gone forever, but Alfred saw it first-hand. His pay was modest by American standards, but obscene out in the local economy, so he had enough money to explore the country. Whenever he got a free weekend, he would hop on an overcrowded train, and ride one of the recently-reconstructed lines from Camp Zama, near the base of Mt Fuji, up to Tokyo, or down to Kyoto, or out to the scenic seaside town of Kanazawa. And once, he and a buddy went down to Hiroshima, where he bought this book. Japan wasn't a popular tourist destination at the time. The only poeple with money for sightseeing were American military guys stationed in-country. For most of these young men (many living away from home for the first time), the nightlife of Tokyo and Yokohama were the big attraction. But if they lived "in the islands" long enough, and if they were of a thoughtful disposition, historical interest or morbid curiousity would eventually prompt them to venture down the southern shore of Honshu, to Hiroshima. And Hiroshima was waiting for them. This isn't to say Hiroshimites were eager to exploit their tragedy for cash. The fact is, the hospitality trade had been a mainstay of the regional economy long before industrialists made it a center for manufacture. Its balmy southern climate, medicinal hot springs, and unique local cuisine made it a go-to destination for wealthy Japanese, fifty years before the bomb hit. I have to speculate that restoring tourism was always part of Hiroshima's post-war agenda. When American G.I.'s started to show up, wondering what they would find, they were welcomed. You can see that all over this book.As is typical for souvenier books, a lot was invested in the cover. It is composed of flimsy, thin cardboard, but has a (peeling) glossy veneer, and the only colored ink in the whole book appears as the yellow cover pattern and the red letters of "HIROSHIMA". Those red letters, by the way, are slightly uneven. I imagine they are the product of some low-budget local print shop eager to get something - anything- to market, once it became clear that tourists bearing desperately-needed cash were returning to the city. The binding is composed of two drab gray ribbons looped through punched holes in the pages. Inside, tissue-thin newsprint pages bespeak the shortage of affordable quality paper. The text is mostly in English, with a shorter section at the back in Japanese. The history of Hiroshima, August 1945, is written in a somber and noninflammatory tone, replete with impersonal statistics about heat, blast radius, and casualties. The facts and figures leave the reader with no sense of an emotional dimension or historical significance to the event. There are pictures as well, and some of these are horrible, but also clinical. They may convey the reality of Hiroshima somewhat better than the text, but still they miss the mark.Everything that is important and special and meaningful about this book lies in its physicality. That's how it is with so many books, isn't it? So many of my books are dear to me because of their physical properties. They carry with them material hallmarks of the time and place they come from, or the people they belonged to. I have a Mother Goose book my mother scribbled in when she was about four. My father has a Bible I always admired for its beautiful red leather cover and gold leaf. He was never one for fancy things, so I always took those features as a signal of how this book was different to him from any other... a physical expression of the sincerity of his beliefs, I guess. Then there's my Gray's Anatomy, whose weight and density seemed to announce a wisdom of the ages being passed down to me from Professor Gray himself (which sounds pompous and grandiose, but is really meant in a humbled sense). That book and I were inseperable thoughout Gross Anatomy class in my first year of medical school. More than any other symbol, that book reminded me- on exhausting days, when life seemed to be nothing but endless reading and studying- that this was a noble undertaking I'd gotten myself into. I love the physical properties of books, and even though I can see the practical value of Kindle or Nook (and yes, I even own one), there is something deeply tragic about reducing books to words on a screen. Because it is a reduction, and things like Hiroshima need more than words to tell the whole story.