Haruki Murakami, the award-winning essayist and critically-acclaimed author of Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore and many others, has spoken out about the recent troubles between Japan, China and Taiwan in a startlingly down-to-earth essay over on the Asahi Shinbun Digital’s culture section.

Motivated in particular by the recent news of China’s bookshops removing titles by Japanese authors, the essay focuses on the importance of cultural exchange in our societies and how, through all forms of media, we are able to communicate our very souls over seas and across borders.

Eager to bring Murakami’s firm but heartfelt message to the English-speaking world, we here at RocketNews24 set out to translate the essay in full and share it with our readers. Not wanting to beat about the bush, we humbly present our original translation of Haruki Murakami’s incredibly thought-provoking essay.

Over to you, Mr. Murakami…

In the midst of intensely heated public demonstrations and tension surrounding the Senkaku islands, the news that written works of Japanese origin are disappearing from the shelves of bookshops in China came as something of a shock to this writer. At this point in time, however, it is not clear whether this act has been carried out as part of some government-ordered embargo, or whether the outlets have taken it upon themselves to remove the books. For this reason, I will abstain from venturing opinion on the matter for the time being.

It is my belief that, of all the feats of growth and development Asia has seen in recent years, the formation and maturation of what has come to be known as “Asian culture” is by far the greatest. The catalyst for this maturation is, without a doubt, the sudden and tremendous economic growth of countries like China, Korea and Taiwan. And with the achievement of economic stability comes the maturation and flourishing of cultural and artistic creation, along with the establishment of expected standards of excellence, with each country now able to freely exchange their own unique cultural creations across the seas and borders.

Abiding by the same shared rules and values surrounding intellectual property, we now operate without the shocking level of piracy that once existed. (Or, at the very least, have lessened its impact!) The notions of paid royalties and creative “advances” are fully recognised across Asia, and, irrespective of the country, we have reached the point where we freely exchange goods for payment both legally and fairly.

Speaking from my own experience in this industry, it has been a long journey, and has taken considerable time to reach the point at which we find ourselves today. The “East Asian Market”, as we now know it, has been a long time in its conception, gestation and maturation. Not wishing to fan the flames here (and risk causing further upset while tensions are so high!), I shall avoid giving too concrete an example, but the market that we –east-Asians, that is– currently co-exist in is an entirely different kettle of fish to that of twenty years ago, and has improved enormously. It is infinitely more stable. Some minor problems still remain, but the vast majority of film, literature, music and television can now be experienced and enjoyed freely, and legally, by almost anyone.

This is a truly wonderful thing that we have created for ourselves.

Taking the incredible popularity of Korean television programmes as an example, through this form of media, Japanese people have become increasingly familiar with their neighbours, and attitudes towards the country have changed significantly; in short, Korea no longer seems so far off and alien. Furthermore, thanks to this new-found familiarity with the country, the number of Japanese studying the Korean language has skyrocketed in recent times. Koreans, meanwhile, have found themselves more accustomed to our own way of thinking, and now have more opportunities to come into contact with numerous forms of Japanese media and culture.

During my time in a US university, I was privileged to meet with many Koreans and Chinese exchange students, many of whom informed me that they were familiar with my work. These young people visited my office frequently, and, thanks to our shared experiences of literature, not once did we find ourselves struggling to make conversation. Irrespective of national borders and language barriers, there was a shared sense of familiarity and fellowship.

The establishment of this kind of free-flowing cultural environment in Asia is the result of years or hard work by countless individuals, myself included, who have poured their very heart and soul into its creation. Although there was only ever so much that I could do, I persisted. And, having achieved this feat– the creation of an environment where culture and ideas may be exchanged freely– with mutual respect and understanding at its core, it was my hope that the problems that have occurred recently between our countires would soon be solved.

In order to share and experience one-another’s culture, first and foremost we must recognise the fact that we are all of the same kin- humankind. And, whichever language we speak, we all experience and are driven by the same feelings and emotions. These emotions are what make us and shape our very being. Our aim, through the exchange of culture, is to foster this notion. The exchange of our respective cultures is like sending our very souls across seas and borders, so that they may be experienced and understood by others, and we theirs.

As a Japanese, as a writer, I fear that the dispute over the Senkaku islands, and even the recent troubles involving Takeshima, will do little but destroy the cultural world that we have all worked so hard to create over many years, and dig up the path that we have laid, brick by brick.

Unfortunately, while the things that call national borders exist, issues and disputes over territory and ownership are perhaps unavoidable. These are, however, practical problems that we must face. They require and must be solved with practical solutions, and should never be thought of as anything but. When issues such as these present themselves, it is easy to lose sight of the crux of the matter, and feelings of national pride often become involved. Old wounds are easily opened and feelings are hurt, but, once arguments of this kind are entered into, we find ourselves in very dangerous territory, often with no easy way out.

Anger-fuelled disputes of this kind are not unlike getting drunk on cheap liquor- we become intoxicated very quickly; our voices grow loud and our words rash. Our behaviour can turn violent, and our way of thinking, although usually so calm and logical, becomes simplified, relying on our base instincts. We start to fixate on our innermost feelings and desires, repeating ourselves over and over, without allowing any room for logical thought.

But when the rioting has stopped and shouting has died down, all we are left with is an almighty hangover.

It is our duty to defend ourselves against politicians and those who attempt to goad us on. In much the same way that we must be wary of the guy at the party who constantly plies us with cheap drink, making a whole lot of noise and egging us on as he does so, we must keep our wits about us today, and must not be swept along by others’ goading. Dispute the ultimate outcomes, throughout his campaigns in the 1930s, Adolph Hitler, too, kept the message of reclaiming territory lost during the First World War and returning to former, rightful, glory as the foundation for his party’s action. And we all know how that ended… The current squabble over the Senkaku islands must be addressed calmly and with a clear head; we must carefully examine how we have found ourselves in this predicament, and how we have managed to let the situation get so out of hand.

Government figures and political commenters may be incredibly skilled at giving impressive, motivating speeches and make comments that strike a chord with the people, but, in reality, they are never the ones at risk. It is we, the people, who enter into the site of conflict and, ultimately, get hurt.

In my novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I drew on the real-life events that occurred during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in World War II. The battles that were fought there, while comparatively short, were brutal, and resulted in the loss of more than 20,000 Japanese, Soviet Russians and Mongolians. All for the sake of territory and borders.

After completing the novel, I took myself to the site of those battles to see the land for myself. Standing in the centre of that vast, barren wilderness, which remains littered with bullets, ammunition cases and soldiers’ personal belongings even to this day, I felt utterly helpless. One thought echoed endlessly through my mind: “Why on earth would so many men come to such a barren, sterile slice of nothingness and mindlessly take each-other’s lives?”

As I stated at the beginning of this essay, I am not in a position to pass comment on the recent removal of Japanese texts from Chinese book stores. That is an issue for the Chinese alone to deal with, and will remain so until the end. Of course, as a writer, I feel a tremendous sense of sorrow that this action has been carried out, but there is little that I can do about it. What I can say is that I urge each and every one of you to show restraint, and not to become involved in any act of retribution for this action. The moment that we retaliate or rise to behaviour of this kind, we do little more than harm ourselves. When we act rashly, it then becomes our problem, and it is we alone who have to deal with the consequences.

Rather, if we show restraint, and, however quietly, that we value, respect and continue to love what it is that we have achieved over many long years of hard work, then it is we who undoubtedly reap the rewards in the end. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the exact opposite of getting drunk on cheap liquor.

Drunkenness always passes. But we should not block the exchange of souls that is cultural communication. We should not destroy the paths that so many have given so much to establish. So from now on, however we may be wounded, we must seek to maintain this path and to continue to leave it open.

Bravo, sir, bravo.

Translation: Philip Kendall

Source: Asahi Sinbun online