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Sunday, June 19, 2011
Speaking out on nuclear power
Japan's most renowned living writer, Mr. Haruki Murakami, received the Premi Internacional Catalunya prize in Barcelona on June 9 from the Catalan Government, and took the occasion to criticize Japan's nuclear policies.
Japan can be proud that Mr. Murakami received a prize that has gone to such prestigious recipients as Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and Indian Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen.
Japan should be proud that a well-known Japanese writer has spoken out, clearly and firmly, on an issue of urgent importance.
In his speech, Mr. Murakami criticized the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as the second major nuclear detriment in Japan's history after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. This one, he noted, was a mistake made by Japan.
To emphasize his criticisms, he donated the entire 80,000 (¥9 million) award to the Tohoku relief efforts.
Many people might say writers should stick to writing. However, as the problems about nuclear power have revealed themselves, it is clear that the officials, specialists and bureaucratic committees entrusted with the safety of the plants failed miserably. Someone has to speak out.
In deciding what to do, or undo, about nuclear policies in Japan, writers serve to remind people of the larger issues at stake, ethical choices to be made, and the dire human consequences of disasters. The reality is stranger, and scarier, than fiction.
In his speech, Mr. Murakami raised important issues and expressed deep concerns about the future of nuclear energy in Japan. In that, Mr. Murakami was not alone.
Japan's winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Mr. Kenzaburo Oe, has also spoken out on the Fukushima nuclear crisis, saying that Japan should not betray the legacy of Hiroshima by employing nuclear technology.
It is important not to saddle writers like Mr. Oe and Mr. Murakami with cliches like "the voice of the people," but listening to their ideas can help people consider the issues and form their own opinions. As Japan emerges from the shock and confusion following the disasters, speaking out is essential for the future of Japan. Their comments help turn sympathy and concern into effective action and sensible choices.
Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Murakami expressed confidence that the Japanese, whose history is one of repeated natural disasters, would be able to rebuild and reinvent themselves and their society. As Mr. Murakami said in his speech, "We must not be afraid to dream."