On May 10, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami published an article that immediately went viral on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform. The famed novelist spoke up for the first time about his father’s involvement in the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The latest edition of the Japanese magazine BungeiShunju published an article titled “Abandoning a Cat: What I Talk About When I Talk About My Father.”, a lengthy 28-page memory piece written by Murakami. It came with a black and white photo of the young writer playing baseball with his father.
Murakami has never touched upon his father’s life story before. The author of ‘Norwegian Wood’ and other widely celebrated novels, broke apart with his old man. The two haven’t really spoken in 2 decades. During the war, Haruki’s father fought in the Japanese army, an experience so traumatizing that in the years after, he would pray every day for all the people who lost their lives in it. In primary school, Haruki overheard his father talking about Japanese soldiers decapitating Chinese captives, using army knifes to cut off a person’s head. The cruelty of these stories left a scar in his memory.
According to him, his father barely talked about his war experiences, except those cruel memories that he mentioned once. Murakami, however, couldn’t recall whether he portrayed himself as the executor or just a bystander. But ever since then, his father would recite sutras for the deceased soldiers.
He also spent as long as five years digging up details of his family’s history, and was relieved after discovering that his father’s troops were not responsible for the Nankin massacre, the most gruesome episode of the war.
“I inherited my father’s mental traumas as a boy.” “Even with the most unpleasant things, those that people tend to look away from, we have to accept them as part of ourselves. If not, where does the significance of this so-called history lie?” He wrote melancholically in the end of the article, “We are all but anonymous raindrops that fall onto this vast land….and each drop of rain has the responsibility to inherit that part of history. We should never forget that.”
In 2008, the writer was finally able to make peace with his father just before the latter’s death.
Murakami is known to have adopted an irrevocably anti-war stance in his writing. Nominated for the Nobel prize several times, he is also quite popular among young Chinese literature lovers for his exquisite style. His works are full of melancholy, and underlying anti-war sentiments, reflecting on how the deep marks the war left on the Japanese society.
Norwegian Wood, one of his most popular works, is set in 1960s, when Japanese economy was rapidly recovering from the outcomes of WWII, swiftly pushing the country forward from industrial society to consumption society. The Cuban crisis and the Vietnam War are raging in the background spurring strikes at numerous Japanese schools. Young people are dazed and confused, and some of them even suicidal, like the main character’s best friend in the book.
Unlike other nations that have done wrong in WWII, the Japanese don’t seem to have come to a unified opinion about their country’s role in the conflict. While the right wing still keeps worshipping at the Yasukuni shrine, top intellectuals like Murakami start questioning these evasive attitudes. In an interview back in 2014, the 65-year old Murakami said, “after the war, the final conclusion we drew was that it was nobody’s fault.” He thinks that’s why the Japanese think they themselves are the victims of the war. “Nobody truly takes responsibilities for the war ending in 1945, and neither does anybody take the blame for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident.”
Featured photo credit to cn. nytimes.com