Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

"The Martyr and the Red Kimono”
ABE Naoko / Journalist and Non-fiction Writer

May 17, 2024
My new English-language book, ‘The Martyr and the Red Kimono’, was published by Penguin Random House on April 18th, 2024, in London. It covers a variety of themes, the main one of which is “War and Peace”.

The book highlights the links between three protagonists: Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who was murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1941; Tōmei Ozaki, who survived the atomic bomb blast in Nagasaki in 1945 and became a friar, and Masatoshi Asari, now 93 years old, who is a leading Japanese “sakuramori” (a protector of cherry trees) and lives in Hokkaido.

Father Kolbe established the world’s largest Catholic friary in Poland before World War II. An enormously influential figure, he spread his faith by using the media, including newspapers and magazines. He lived in Nagasaki for six years after 1930 and founded the Knights of the Immaculate friary there. After his return to Poland in 1936, his publications printed numerous anti-Hitler articles. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland, he opened the friary to refugees and took care of them. Father Kolbe preached human love and patriotism while incarcerated in Auschwitz and was murdered after he volunteered to take the place of another prisoner. In 1982, he was canonized as a Catholic saint.

Mr. Ozaki and Mr. Asari were born in 1928 and 1931 respectively and belonged to the last generation with living memories of Japan’s wars. Mr. Ozaki’s mother died in the Nagasaki atomic bombing (his father had died earlier) when he was 17 years old and became an orphan. He survived the bomb because he was making torpedoes in an underground factory at the time. Mr. Ozaki lost the will to live as he saw the horror of the devastation wreaked by the atomic bomb in addition to the loss of his loved one, but after he knocked on the door of the friary built by Father Kolbe, he decided to become a friar. After he learnt about Father Kolbe, he researched his past and visited Poland 10 times. As an atomic bomb storyteller in Nagasaki, Mr. Ozaki strove to pass on the imperative of peace. Mr. Ozaki provided me with many materials, including his diaries dating back to the time of the atomic bombing. He passed away in 2021.

Mr. Asari was 14 years old when the war ended. He became an elementary school teacher after the war. Facing squarely up to the history of Japan’s wars of aggression, he investigated the plight of Korean and Chinese workers who had been brought to Hokkaido during the war. He also researched the dire straits of British soldiers who had been subjected to harsh conditions in prisoners-of-war camp in Hakodate. Mr. Asari loved cherry blossoms and created 116 new varieties of cherry trees, which are collectively called Matsumae cherries. He sent hundreds of cherry trees to foreign countries, especially those to which Japan had caused damage and suffering during the war, as a way to atone for Japan’s aggression and colonisation. In the late 1980s, when NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) aired a programme about Mr. Asari’s activities, a Catholic admirer of Father Kolbe suggested that he send cherry trees to Poland to honour Father Kolbe. She also sent a book about Father Kolbe written by Mr. Ozaki to Mr. Asari.

These activities prompted Mr. Asari to send more than 400 trees to Father Kolbe’s friary and a convent in Poland in the late 1980s.

Thirty-five years later, I decided to find out what had happened to these cherry trees in Poland. Remarkably, I found that three were still alive. I found them in the garden of a convent, which is located in a remote village near the Ukrainian border in southeast Poland. Alongside the cherry trees stands a statue of a black-haired Virgin Mary wearing a red kimono woven with patterns of cherry blossom petals.

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, this quiet area of Poland has become the focus of world attention. Many Ukrainian refugees have crossed the nearby border en route to other locales in Europe.

The three surviving cherry trees sent by Mr. Asari grow quietly in the convent grounds today, near the statue of the kimono-clad Virgin Mary. Father Kolbe lost his life during WWII, but the other two Japanese men survived the war. Deeply affected by the way in which Father Kolbe had lived and died, they kept sending out messages opposing war and appealing for peace. In my eyes, the three cherry trees and the Virgin Mary are trying with all their might to impress upon the world, where wars are still being fought, the messages of humanity and inspiration left by these three principled men.

Personally, it has been a painful and arduous task delving into such a heavy theme and trying to put into words the unimaginable horrors of Auschwitz and Nagasaki. As I wrote, however, it struck me that the messages sent by the three protagonists cast many rays of hope about the future of humankind. I felt strongly that it was my mission to convey to readers both the horrors and hopes of these events.

After publication, The Times wrote that my book is ‘a moving account of the war atrocities endured by three very different men’. I hope that the messages sent by Father Kolbe, Mr. Ozaki and Mr. Asari will be heeded throughout the world in this era of conflicts. A Japanese version of the book is expected to be published as early as next year. 

Abe Naoko is a London-based journalist and non-fiction writer. 
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

新著 ‘The Martyr and the Red Kimono’紹介
阿部 菜穂子 / ジャーナリスト・ノンフィクション作家

2024年 5月 17日
新著 ‘The Martyr and the Red Kimono’ (英語版)が4月18日、英国・ロンドンで、ペンギン社から出版された。この本にはいろいろなテーマが含まれているが、主題は「戦争と平和」である。











一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟