⟨ Book ⟩

Hiroshima Graph: Rabbits abandon their children

Yoshikatsu Fujii

Words / Nathan Lee
Photography / Kimio Ng
Translation / Nicole Go

大久野島,這名字是由一個患風濕的女孩告訴我的。每次下雨,她的關節就痛得不願意下床,滿腦子都是傷害自己的意念。正是這個原因,當她以決絕的語氣說出「死前,我一定要去大久野島」這種句子時,我確實非常驚訝。大久野島有什麼?我忍不住問。

兔子啊,她回答。

滿島的兔子。

幾年後,我才從藝術家藤井ヨンカツ的一本手造書中,再次遇上這個名字。這時,我才瞭解到這個廣島巿的小島上,共有800隻兔子生活著,並以「兔島」的名號吸引著大量的觀光客。可愛的表象背後,廣島出身的藝術家說,掩藏了一個致命的秘密。100年前,這是一個製作毒氣的工廠。所以,兔島其實是一個製作殺人武器的毒氣島。

藤井ヨンカツ以攝影為媒介,探索了毒氣工場的遺址。有些地方成為了兔子的生活場所;有些遺下了未明的工具;有些只剩下空曠的砂地。他以編碼、並置今昔照片的方式,重構了毒氣工場的地圖。出現這樣的想法,是因為毒氣島長期以來,也被軍方在地圖上抹消了。在1933年至1947年之間,大久野島的位置是一片空白。這個情況,維持到現在也沒變吧,藝術家質疑。他從小就活在後原爆的地景中,每人口中都強調「和平」,卻不願提起小島的過去。他重構的地圖,不單在平面上,更存在於意識中。

「第一次在島上的考試,全班48名,我考第48。自此以後,我發奮讀書。三年後,畢業時我全班第12。」老人藤本安馬說:「現在我還記得呢,當時背誦的化學公式。只是,那全都是殺人的公式。」除了照片,藤井ヨンカツ親身採訪了在毒氣島當學徒和工人的三位老人,寫下了他們對毒氣島的回憶。他們的15歲,沉浸在微黃帶酸的空氣中。回憶總有光明、無害的一面,與往後痛苦的日子相隔開來。

由毒氣島轉變為兔島的起源,有人認為與生物試驗有關;亦有人認為,是戰後被帶至島上的五隻兔子繁殖的後代。唯一肯定的是,荒廢的島嶼成為了兔子的天堂。經由媒體的報導後,觀光客的餵飼亦使兔子的數量無節制地增加。一群又一群毛茸茸的兔子依偎在海岸邊,無聲無息地不斷繁衍。

讀完這本書的瞬間,我忽然想起那位短髮、患風濕的女孩。她想去大久野島,是因為可愛的兔子呢;還是殺人的毒氣呢?我沒有問她。事實上,我們再也沒有聯絡了。我記得她當時的表情,那近乎獲得救贖的眼神,大概是介乎兩者之間吧,我想。

Ōkunoshima – I learned of the name from a girl with arthritis. When it rained, she became bedridden with severe joint pain; her mind taken over by thoughts of self-harm. She took me by surprise when she told me, “Before I die, I have to go to Ōkunoshima,” I couldn’t help asking her what there was.

“Rabbits,” she answered.

It was an island full of rabbits.

Years later, I came across that island again in the artist Yoshikatsu Fujii’s handcrafted book. This time, I learned that 800 rabbits inhabited this small island in Hiroshima, hence the moniker “Rabbit Island” known to tourists. According to the Hiroshima-born artist, the island’s charm masked a deadly secret: a century ago, the island was home to a chemical weapons facility. Rabbit Island was a gas manufacturing plant in disguise.

Yoshikatsu Fujii uses photography as a medium to explore the ruins of the facility. Some places became nests to rabbits, others were dotted by unknown tools or sandy soil. Encoding, and further juxtaposing images of the past and the present, Yoshikatsu Fujii hopes to bring to light a site that has, since its initiation, long been removed from the map, hidden by the government. From 1933 to 1947, and possibly to this day still, Ōkunoshima has been symbolised by a void. Turning inward, the artist problematises his native experience of the postwar landscape: one which harps on peace yet refuses to look its past in the eye. As such, Yoshikatsu Fujii’s reconstruction of Ōkunoshima is rooted – beyond the pictorial plane of the map – in the collective consciousness. 

“In my first exam on the island, I came 48th – the last in my class. I worked very hard and, three years later, I graduated in the 12th place,” recalled an old man named Yasuma Fujimoto. “I still remember the chemical equations we had to memorise in class – but they were equations of murder.” Along with photographs, Yoshikatsu Fujii collected the first-hand accounts of three survivors, who worked in the chemical plant as apprentices or labourers during the war. They were fifteen years old, their youth immersed in yellowed, sulfuric air. Remembrance of things past is never remembrance of things as they were: on the contrary, it is bright, full of promises, and bears no connection to the suffering to come.

How Poison Gas Island came around as Rabbit Island is subject to much speculation: some cite animal testing; others suggest that the immense rabbit population is the offspring of the five rabbits first introduced to the island after the war. Fact remains that the once barren land has become an oasis to the animals, whilst media coverage and tourism ensure that the rabbits continue to thrive along the coastline. 

As I finished Yoshikatsu Fujii’s book, I thought of the short-haired girl with arthritis. She longed to visit Ōkunoshima – for its rabbits, or for its lethal gas? I never asked her. In fact, we have not spoken since. But I still remember the look on her face then. It was one of redemption between Ōkunoshima’s antipodes.