The processing of collective trauma has been an important theme in the work of Japanese translator and writer Haruki Murakami. A literary superstar in his own country he is now considered to be one of the world’s greatest novelists. In 1995 Japan suffered two major social trauma events. In January there was a devastating earthquake in Murakami’s hometown of Kobe. Then in June, a terrorist attack by the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult released deadly sarin gas into the Tokyo subway. This event led to his first non-fiction project: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (2001), comprised of essays and interviews with both perpetrators and victims. Two years later he published After the Quake, a collection of stories about those who lives were profoundly shaken by the aftershocks of personal and social upheaval. This volume includes a personal favorite, the heartbreakingly weird “Superfrog Saves Tokyo”.
In June of this year, during a speech in Barcelona on the occasion of accepting the International Catalunya Prize, Murakami addressed the recent tsunami and nuclear disasters in northeastern Japan. The author expressed his belief that the Japanese people should have rejected nuclear power after having learned through the suffering of the hibakusha (atomic survivors ) just how badly radiation leaves scars on the world and the well-being of humanity. While donating the financial proceeds from his prize to the victims of the March 11th earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, he offered the following:
As you know, the Japanese people are the only people in history to experience the blast of an atomic bomb. In August of 1945 atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from United States bombers. Over two hundred thousand people lost their lives. Almost all of the dead were unarmed civilians. But my purpose today is not to debate the pros and cons of those acts.
What I want to talk about is not only the deaths of those two hundred thousand people who died immediately after the bombing, but also the deaths over a period of time of the many who survived the bombings, those who suffered illnesses caused by exposure to radiation. We have learned from the sacrifices of those people how destructive a nuclear weapon can be, and how deep the scars are that radiation leaves behind in the world, in the bodies of people.
There is a monument set up to pacify the spirits of those who lost their lives to the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. These are the words engraved there: Please rest in peace. We will not repeat this mistake. This is a historic experience for us Japanese; our second massive nuclear disaster. But this time no one dropped a bomb on us. We set the stage, we committed the crime with our own hands, we are destroying our own lands, and we are destroying our own lives…While we are victims, we are also perpetrators. We must fix our eyes on this fact. If we fail to do so, we will inevitably repeat the same mistake again somewhere else.
(Translated by Emanuel Pastreich in Circle and Squares,July 18, 2011)