Japanese: Writing Fukushima

Image by Tomas Munita for The New York Times
Image by Tomas Munita for The New York Times

The world watched in horror on March 11, 2011 as Japan experienced the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis, known in Japan as “3.11.” Two-and-a-half years later, the troubled Fukushima Daiichi plant continues to leak radioactive water, victims languish in temporary housing, and the cleanup effort remains monumental.  Japanese Studies Professor Rachel DiNitto is working on a new book titled Writing Fukushima: Imagining Disaster in Japan, in which she analyzes the compelling and deeply moving literature written in Japan after 3.11. The new book will introduce this literature to an English-language audience, and examine issues including how the disaster is defined, questions surrounding who is considered a victim, and the tension between the local experience of the disaster and national representations of it. In her recent talk at the University of Washington, Professor DiNitto grappled with fictional representations of the nuclear disaster in Furukawa Hideo’s novel Horses, the Light is Still Pure, written within months of 3.11. A number of Japanese critics insist that the Fukushima crisis must be seen as a continuation of Japan’s tragic experience with the nuclear, specifically Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and hence Fukushima literature is a continuation of atomic-bomb literature. Yet the link between Hiroshima and Fukushima is not always clear in 3.11 literature, and Professor DiNitto is investigating how the critical parameters of atomic-bomb literature affect our evaluation of the 3.11 works. She is also considering the advantages of reframing 3.11 as “nuclear literature,” which allows us to talk about it in the context of other disasters such as Chernobyl.

dinitto1Over the course of this year, Professor DiNitto is giving a series of invited lectures on the 3.11 disaster at the University of Washington, Swarthmore College, Keio University, and Washington University in St. Louis. She will also be taking a research trip to Japan this spring to interview writers and critics.

Her interest in the 3.11 disaster started in 2011 during a conversation with a student who had been on study abroad in Japan and was evacuated back to the States. This initial conversation let to a one-credit team-taught class, and then to the course, “The Japanese Culture of Disaster,” that Professor DiNitto taught in the spring of 2013. The class focused on the 3.11 disaster, but also looked at other disasters in Japan’s history, and did some comparisons with the cultural representations of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. The main text for the class was the short story collection March Was Made of Yarn, a widely available English-language translation of 3.11 literature. Students also looked at documentary and science fiction films, photography, and art. For their final projects, they produced compelling photo essays on 3.11. Professor DiNitto hopes to teach the class again and share her research with students.