Friday, September 28, 2012

Full Translation of Haruki Murakami's editorial in the Asahi Shimbun (9/28/2012)

I took it upon myself to roughly translate Murakami's editorial that appeared in the Asahi Shimbun this morning. It is a call for cool-headeness, respect and common sense, something I think a lot of countries--not just Japan and China--could use. 

*Any errors that may be in the text are mine. 
"A path for the international flow of the human spirit"
An essay contributed by Haruki Murakami to the Asahi Shimbun (September 28, 2012)

As a Japanese author, I was quite shocked to see in the news that Chinese bookstores removed titles written by Japanese authors from their shelves amid the escalating Senkaku Island dispute. It is still unclear whether this was an organized government-led purge or a voluntary removal by the shop owners, so I will refrain from giving my opinion one way or another for now. 

Over the past 20 years or so, one of the most welcome achievements in East Asia has been the formation of a uniquely Asian cultural sphere. One of the biggest factors underlying this development is the remarkable economic growth of China, Korea and Taiwan. The strengthening of these countries’ respective economic systems enabled cultural exchange on equal terms, and as a result, people began transmitting a large volume of cultural output (i.e., intellectual property) back and forth across borders. A set of common rules was formulated, and the pirate editions once rampant in the region gradually began to disappear (or at least decline dramatically). In most cases, authors were now receiving the advances and royalties they rightly deserved. 

Speaking from my own experience, I think it took a long time to get to this point.  That’s how bad things used to be. While I won’t go into specifics (because it will get complicated), the current situation has improved incredibly, and the East Asian cultural sphere is gradually maturing into a rich and stable marketplace.  Some individual problems still remain, but music, literature, movies and television programs are now exchanged freely and equitably within this market for many people to experience and enjoy. I think this is a truly wonderful success. 

For example, the popularity of Korean television dramas led to many more Japanese people feeling an affinity for Korean culture, and the number of people taking Korean language classes soared. Comparable to this is how, when I was teaching at a university in the United States, numerous Korean and Chinese exchange students would visit my office. 

Developing this favorable climate took many long years of hard work by many people.  As one of these people, I, too, continued working—however minimal my efforts may have been—to this end. If we can sustain this kind of steady exchange, I am hopeful that Japan will work with the countries of East Asia to gradually resolve the various issues that exist between us, even if it may take a long time. One important aim of cultural exchange is to cultivate an awareness that, even though we may speak different languages, we are all human beings who share the same basic feelings and emotions.  In other words, it is a path for the international flow of the human spirit. 

As both an Asian author and a Japanese citizen, I am afraid that the recent disputes surrounding the Senkaku Islands and Takeshima may seriously damage the steady accomplishments that have been made. 

As long as borders exist, territorial disputes are unfortunately unavoidable issues.  That being said, I think they are issues that can and must be solved practically. When a territorial issue ceases to be a practical matter and enters the realm of 'national emotions', it creates a dangerous situation with no exit. It is like cheap liquor. Cheap liquor gets you drunk after only a few drinks and heightens your emotions. It makes you speak loudly and act rudely. Your logic simplifies and your become repetitive. But after your drunken rampage you are left with nothing but an awful headache the next morning. 

We must be careful about politicians and polemicists who lavish us with this cheap liquor and stir up this kind of commotion. In the 1940s, Adolf Hitler solidified the foundation of the Nazi regime by consistently placing the recovery of the land Germany lost in World War I at the core of its policies. 

We all know how that turned out. At a later date, both Japan and China will need to calmly examine why the Senkaku Islands dispute has escalated to such a degree. Politicians and polemicists merely inflame people with their forceful words, but those who actually get hurt are the ones on the front lines. 

In my novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, I wrote about the Nomonhan Incident, a battle that erupted between Mongolia and Manchuria in 1939. It was short, yet brutal battle that arose from a border dispute. The Japanese Army engaged Mongolia and the Soviet Army in a fierce fight that resulted in the deaths of nearly 20,000 soldiers on both sides. After I wrote the novel, I visited Nomonhan. I stood in the middle of a vast wilderness, still littered with cartridges and soldiers' belongings, and was overcome by an intense sense of powerlessness as I wondered why so many people had to pointlessly kill each other for a barren sliver of land.

As I said earlier, I am in no position to state my opinion on the removal of Japanese authors' works from Chinese bookstores. That is strictly a domestic Chinese issue. As an author, I think it is extremely unfortunate, but there is nothing I can do about it. One thing I can say for certain is that I do not want Japan to take any retaliatory action against China. If that should happen, then the problem becomes ours, and our actions will come back to haunt us. Conversely, if we can demonstrate a calm demeanor and show that we will maintain the  appropriate respect for another country's culture regardless of the current situation in that country, that would be a significant accomplishment. I believe that would be the polar opposite of cheap liquor. 

At some point, the buzz from cheap liquor will wear off.  But the path for the international flow of the human spirit must not be blocked. The blood, sweat and tears of many people toiling for many years went into forging that path. It is an important channel we will need to maintain no matter what.
(Rough translation by: Joel Dechant; yellow highly borrowed from AFP)

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