SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

Letizia Guarini ‟Compassion and Literature after 3.11: Why did Yū Miri move to Minami-Soma City (Fukushima Pref.)? "

      …. Another reason why I moved to Minami-Soma City was the “compassion”. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, the words “kizuna” (bonds), “ganbarou” (let’s struggle together!), or “yorisou” (to get close) were everywhere. Such words were based on pity and goodwill, but those feelings come from the outside. The pain that people who are suffering feel is their own; for the others, like me, it is impossible to feel the same pain. However, I can open myself toward that pain.

(Yū Miri, There are Unnecessary Things in our Lives)


We can say that after the Great East Japan Earthquake Japanese literature has changed in various ways. After March 21st, 2011 the category “post 3.11” appeared, with many literary works focusing on issues such as the nuclear power plants, the criticism toward the government, the effects of radiation on living creatures, as well as the problems of restoration and reconstruction. A lot of books have analyzed “post 3.11 literature”, and have been translated in many languages. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that modern Japanese literature has moved toward a new direction after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Moreover, we can see such changes in the connections between literature and various actions and groups. I will introduce three examples.


In April 2012, Waseda Bungaku (Waseda Literature) was published as an extra issue with the title “Ruptured Fiction(s) of the Earthquake”: it includes short stories written especially for this charity program, as well as essays and roundtable discussions on the place of writing after a disaster like the Tōhoku earthquake. It has been translated into English, Chinese, Korean and Italian, and the proceeds of the book as well as the translations are being donated to the Red Cross.


In October 2012, the “Association of writers for a society without nuclear power” was created. This association emphasized the role of fiction after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the necessity to talk about the problems associated with nuclear power. Furthermore, in 2015 Nobel-winner Kenzaburō Ōe spoke at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, saying that “we have no choice but to achieve a world without nuclear power. Keeping raising my voice: that may be the last job I can do.” His words had a big impact all over the world.


There is one more way we can look at the relation between the Great East Japan Earthquake and the “movement” within Japanese literature. That is, writers have “moved”. Evacuation problems after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster arose not only in Fukushima Pref., but also in other regions. Starting with the Akutagawa Prize novelist Hitomi Kanehara, many writers, worried about the radioactive contamination, decided to move from Tokyo to Kansai area. Yū Miri was one of them.


In her interview, Yū Miri said that her decision to move from Kamakura to Osaka on March 16, 2011 was based on her feelings as a mother: “I wanted my son to evacuate as far as possible for his own safety”. On the other hand, as a writer she felt the need to go immediately to Fukushima. In April, 2011 she returned to Kamakura, and began to visit Fukushima regularly in order to listen to the stories of people living there. She finally moved to Soma-City in Fukushima Pref. in April, 2015. What are the reasons behind her decision?


“We cannot live there, although we want to.” “We have to live there, although we do not want to”. The nuclear disaster, and the problem of radioactive contamination are closely linked to the issue of “living”. Yū Miri has stressed that every person has a different bond with his/her birthplace: in order to understand that pain, we have to listen to each individual story. However, as she was listening to those painful stories while living in another place, Yū Miri felt that something was wrong: she realized that real empathy toward the pain suffered by the local people might be attained only by stepping on the same soil, breathing the same air with them. In her words, “compassion” (that is, “to suffer together”), was necessary.


What would be the result of this “compassion”? A lot of “post 3.11” literary works have focused on a subject unable to write, powerless. On the other hand, Yū Miri has tried to narrate Fukushima from a different perspective. Until December, 2016 she has gathered the voices of nearly 450 people through a special FM radio program, “Two persons, one person”, held by Minami-Soma (southern part of Soma-City) special broadcasting station. About those stories she has written as follows:


“Those are voices that I have heard from the outside, but they entered my body, and after a few days they suddenly changed to my own voice. His or her pain rises from my body, and the images of what he or she has lived spread through my mind as if they were my own memories.”


Although Yū Miri has talked about the life in Soma-City in her essays and interviews, she has not written any fictional work about the people in Fukushima Pref. However, she has chosen to “suffer together” with those people, removing feelings based on pity and goodwill, which come from the outside. We can expect that such a writer would keep writing about the pain of people affected by Fukushima nuclear disaster, as well as about their hopes and smiles, and spread those stories around the world.



SGRA Kawaraban 551 in Japanese (Original)



(PhD candidate in Literature, Ochanomizu University)


Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Mac/Max Maquito