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?


shaymaa said...

i want to thank u for ur reaction twrds murakami Jerusalem prize
and u do not know how i was shocked when i found what he had done and his reaction twrds the case and i regret
reading for him and for collecting his novels as i have all his novels
rly i am feeling so ashamed of myself that i spend time and money to read to some one i think he hate the arab and i can not find out why , he curse the saudi arabia at one of his novels( a wild sheep chase ) and i don not know why he curse a country of course he did not visit and he knew nothing about or about her ppl
any ways thanks for ur effort and for ur try

Yujiro Tsuneno said...

Hi shaymaa,

I haven't read any of his books myself, but I think I know enough about his politics. Pretending to take no side, he clearly takes the side of the State of Israel, which continues its aggression towards Palestinians. It is sad that some "pacifists" in my country see him as some kind of an anti-war figure, which he is not.

shaymaa said...

hi yujiro ,
i want to thank u for ur care to replayon my comment , and i want to express my happiness case ppl like u give me the hope that we can all live in peace
sometimes i stop to think ; god creat this palnet which is called earth and it is very huge and there is a lot of space for every one so why we fight ?
rly i do not know we can all live altogether we can be diffrent in shapes and colors and thoughts but i am sure we can live with each other if we respect our difference and stop trying to control each other and to change the other to the one we want him to be.

but with ppl like u i think the day will come that we can live altogether safely

wish u the best
by the way happy valentines:)

Brad Ambury said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gottahavewa said...


I chanced upon your site today. Keep up the very interesting work! We share many common opinions.

However, with regard to Murakami, I have to take a stance that is somewhat in opposition to yours. During his early heyday (the "Noruwei no mori" years), his face was everywhere. In fact, he left Japan for a time because of the overwhelming pressure placed on him by the Japanese media.

You also state he is not anti-war, yet admit you have not read his works (and, I would guess, his interviews and essays -- in journals like Eureka and bungakukai). While I too must admit to finding his position on the Palestinians troubling, you should not so easily dismiss the author or his works. In terms of Japan, his works are very much anti-war, and his political stance in many ways resembles your views. Read a few pages of "Hitsuji wo meguru boken" or "Nejimakidori no kuroniruru" and this should be readily apparent.

Once again, I applaud your efforts. I hope to continue this discussion further on another day.

Yujiro Tsuneno said...


Sorry for a late response as I was no a journey when you posted the comment, and thanks for the nice words.

Do you happen to have a blog or something yourself? I'd be interested

Yujiro Tsuneno said...

Hi Gottahavewa,

Thanks for the comment. I disagree with you, and I promise you a response shortly.

Anonymous said...

Hm hm.. that's very interessting but to be honest i have a hard time understanding it... wonder what others have to say..

shaymaa said...

hi yujiro ,

sry for my delay , unfortunatly i do not have any blog , but if i made one it will be an honor to invite u :)

wish u enjoyed ur journey

and wish to hear from u soon
by the way can i ask u the meaning of ur name :)

Yujiro Tsuneno said...

Hi Shaymaa,

Long time no see!

Well, my name is 雄次郎 in Chinese characters. I think 雄 sort of means "brave" or something, and 次郎 means I'm the second son in the family. But I don't care much about the meaning; I just like the sound. Some of my friends call me Tsune-chan, as my last name is Tsuneno. "-chan" is usually used for girls and small children, but I like it that way.

How about yours?

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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.