Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Inoue Hisashi and the Shifting of the Tides

Posted in Current Events,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the April 10th, 2010

Greetings from Tokyo, where I arrived Friday for a short research trip. A few cherry blossoms hung on long enough for me to be able to enjoy them, though they are now fast disappearing from the landscape.

The newspapers here are reporting the death of the great novelist and playwright Inoue Hisashi. He was 75 and had been battling cancer for some time. Raised in an orphanage in Sendai, Inoue first attracted attention in the early 1970s with his brilliant, often funny and often sharply critical, fiction. He liked to employ nonstandard forms of writing: he invented, for example, a fictional language for his 1981 masterpiece Kirikirijin. From the 1980s his focus shifted to writing primarily for the stage. Just last year he staged a successful dramatization of the life and work of proletarian literature writer Kobayashi Takiji.

Inoue was also a prominent public intellectual. He lent his voice and pen to a number of worthy causes–most notably the efforts to save Article 9, the no-war clause of the Japanese constitution. On that note, the Yomiuri newspaper is by coincidence also reporting on one of Inoue’s most important legacies. Given the newspaper’s strong bias toward changing Article 9, its coverage of the issue has to be taken with a grain or two of salt. But today’s Daily Yomiuri describes what seems to be a significant change over the past year in Japanese public opinion on the issue:

Thirty-two percent of people surveyed felt Article 9–the constitutional clause renouncing the right to wage war–should be amended as it hampers the country’s ability to deal with related issues because of how the article is interpreted. This number, too, was lower than 38 percent in last year’s survey.

Meanwhile, 44 percent of respondents said related issues–such as the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces on international peacekeeping operations–should be dealt with through the conventional interpretation of Article 9. In the previous survey, 33 percent felt this way.

The big story, in other words, is a large shift in public sentiment toward keeping Article 9 in its present form. Last year 52% supported and 36% opposed constitutional revision, while this year the figures were 43% and 42% respectively. Of course, the headline to the Daily Yomiuri story chooses a different angle: “Poll: Public split over amending Constitution / Over 70% think govt should discuss issue.” (The headline on the original Japanese-language version of the article does a better job of conveying the story, I think).

Of the nine prominent intellectuals who in 2004 launched the citizens’ movement to save Article 9, only six are still with us today. But as the story above shows, their efforts are bearing fruit. I’ll resist the temptation here to use the cherry blossom metaphor, although it seems quite apt.

In his lecture at the University of Chicago last month, Oe Kenzaburo noted that there are now more than 700 local chapters affiliated with the movement across Japan. To paraphrase another playwright, the good Inoue Hisashi did lives on after him. Rest in peace.

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