Haruki Murakami's Selective Defiance and the Nobel Prize

The Asahi Shimbun is speculating on the possibility of Haruki Murakami's wining the Nobel Prize in Literature in today's article. It fails to provide any solid sign that he might, but perhaps it's not too unlikely in the future, if not this year, given his international popularity.

Earlier this year, the Japanese author won the Jerusalem Prize. When it became public that he was to receive the literary award in January, when people in Gaza were being killed by the Israel Defense Forces, some people in Japan urged him to boycott it. For example, Bii Kamimura wrote an open letter to Haruki (which I translated into English and can be found here), detailing the current situation in Gaza, summarizing the history of the conflict, and calling on him not to be complicit with the State of Israel. There was another similar letter from an anti-war organization.

Despite those calls, Haruki chose to visit Jerusalem to accept the Prize. At the ceremony then, he gave a speech entitled "Of Walls and Eggs" in front of an audience including such political figures as Simon Peres. The author made it clear that he was fully aware of the calls for a boycott, and his decision was made "after careful consideration." One reason for accepting the Prize, he said, was that "all too many people advised [him] not to do" so. He then went on to state:

Perhaps, like many other novelists, I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. If people are telling me-- and especially if they are warning me-- “Don’t go there,” “Don’t do that,” I tend to want to “go there” and “do that”. It’s in my nature, you might say, as a novelist. Novelists are a special breed. They cannot genuinely trust anything they have not seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands.

And that is why I am here. I chose to come here rather than stay away. I chose to see for myself rather than not to see. I chose to speak to you rather than to say nothing.

If this is to be taken seriously, then Haruki Murakami did not decide to accept the award despite the calls for a boycott; he did so because of them.

I remember showing this kind of attitude as a small child, but the problem is that pro-Palestinian activists were not the only ones speaking. Indeed, they represent a tiny minority in this country. On the other hand, he was selected as the winner by a panel appointed by the mayor of Jerusalem, and was invited to attend the ceremony. Also, Haruki is a citizen of Japan, a country which never deviates from the American policy on foreign affairs, which is to support Israel. So why not defy them? Why did he not "do the exact opposite" of what they asked him to do and refuse the Prize? By doing "the exact opposite" of what he was told (not) to do by a small number of activists, he did exactly what he was told by the powerful.

Herein resides the selective nature of his defiance. It may seem as if the burden of choice is transferred: he went to Jerusalem not so much out of his own will as in reaction to what he was told. This is a clear case of bad faith, however. There were all sorts of different opinions; he took one and did its "exact opposite." Even though his decision seems reactive, it was Haruki himself who chose the object of his reaction. In this sense, he should bear full responsibility for taking a side in a conflict.

All this poses an interesting question in a future scenario. What if he was actually to win the Nobel? I think we should encourage him to accept the Prize. We should write letters urging him to ignore all the political issues with the Prize and embrace it. It would be interesting to see his reaction. Would he do "the exact opposite," and if so, the opposite of what?


Happening now

The University of Kyoto is threatening to remove a temporary residencial facility that belongs to a labor union to end their partial occuaption of the campus. As I write this, it's 10 a.m. (JST), which is when they warned they'll do it.

The school's got a phone number:

You can leave a message addressed to the President and Board members there. Neither the operator nor the secretary has done anything wrong, so be as respectful as possible when you call. If you just say "don't do anything unlawful," that'll be enough.


Kyoto, a couple of days from now

Two events are planed for this coming Sunday. See this:

The letter is addressed to a labor organization called Union Extasy and is signed by two board members of the University of Kyoto. The latter are threatening to suppress an ongoing occupation of one part of the campus by the former. They say they'll do it Sunday. The union says they won't back down.

The location (zoom in if you can):


On the other hand, a friend of mine, with others, is organising a festival at the exact same place on the same day. She says people will come; they'll sing; they'll speak; they'll exchange questions; they'll eat; they'll scream; they'll go convivial.

I'm not a prophet, so I don't know which will actually take place, the suppression or the festival. Maybe they'll happen concurrently. I'm not sure. But my nightmarish guess is this: the festival will take place on Sunday undisturbed; the suppression follows the morning after.

If that's what will have happened, what could I do to intervene? I really don't know the answer. I'm confused. I wonder what advice Kitaro Nishida would offer me.

The University of Kyoto's got a law school. I'd suggest the Board members' checking with them first before they do anything. Additionally, some of the tenuared faculty members deserve true respect for what they are doing for the people of Gaza; I hope they'll also do something for the people of Kyoto, the people they use every day.

p.s. 2
I forgot to include some information. The union has a postal address, a bank account, and a YouTube account in addition to their courage and sense of humor:

Union Extasy
Village of the Axed
Camphor Tree, Clock Tower
University of Kyoto
Yoshida-honmachi, Sakyo-ku
Kyoto City 606-8317

京都中央信用金庫 百万遍支店
0955268 ユニオンエクスタシー



Boycott Japan

Some years ago, I was an undergrad in England. Israel was doing bad things then as they do now. One day, I got an e-mail calling for an "academic boycott." We shouldn't invite Israeli professors to give lectures. We shouldn't take their invitations. European institutions shouldn't collaborate with their Israeli equivalents. It was a lot more complicated, but that's all I still remember. On the list of signatures, I found the name of a teacher of mine, which was a little bit surprising, as he didn't seem particularly left-oriented in person.

I partly agreed with the call for a boycott; I was against what Israel was doing. I had to wonder nonetheless: how come they don't boycott British universities first, or at least simultaneously? It was during the Tony Blair government. The United Kingdom was doing its best to take orders from Washington, which was sponsoring Israel. So if it was wrong to support Israel, and if it was right to boycott their academic and cultural institutions, it should have been wrong to participate in the British University system. I was kind of soft on logic back then, but that was my thinking.

By the way, do you know Japan? It's my country, and I love it. Just before the invasion of Iraq, an American came to Komaba, Tokyo, and made a speech. He said it's a patriot's duty to expose the crimes of their own country. I agree. Katsuichi Honda, another patriot, said something quite similar decades ago.

So to put it simply:
1. I'm a Japanese citizen.
2. I love my country.
3. A patriot denounces his own country in public, if it does something wrong.
4. Japan is doing terrible things such as persecuting foreigners, forgetting the War crimes, allowing the American millitary occupation, supporting Israel, etc. (I will provide specific details at this blog if you'd like me to.)

Hence my call for an international boycott.

Please be assured that the Japanese Constitution is on my side, as We the Japanese declared thus on November 3, 1946:

We, the Japanese people, acting through our duly elected representatives in the National Diet, determined that we shall secure for ourselves and our posterity the fruits of peaceful cooperation with all nations and the blessings of liberty throughout this land, and resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people and do firmly establish this Constitution. Government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people. This is a universal principle of mankind upon which this Constitution is founded. We reject and revoke all constitutions, laws, ordinances, and rescripts in conflict herewith.

We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship, and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world. We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.

We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations.

We, the Japanese people, pledge our national honor to accomplish these high ideals and purposes with all our resources.

We are the sovereign of this nation, and as such we are responsible for anything Japan does. And we ask you to boycott us, as we desire to occupy an honored place in an international society.