Literature and politics after "Fukushima": criticism of "system" and society in Kirino Natsuo's novel "Baraka"
Lisette Gebhardt (Goethe-Universität)
Paper short abstract:
Kirino's post-disaster-novel Baraka points out the deep discontent of Japanese people with the current state of things as well as the doubts whether "Fukushima" could be a caesura in regard to a more democratic country. The text represents contemporary Japanese "political literature" after '3.11'.
Paper long abstract:
Japanese literary texts written after 11 March, 2011, tend to be franker and more serious in nature. In fact, it seems that post-disaster literature (shinsai bungaku) has developed in the direction of a renaissance of what was formally known as political literature. Works or statements by some authors show astonishing courage as they disclose disagreeable tendencies in contemporary Japanese society; insofar they perhaps fulfil the role of an ethical corrective. At least they offer a basis for further discussions on the Japanese "system", on Japanese democracy and on crucial points in Japanese social structures such as discrimination, the pressure to adapt to the rules of the 'national collective' and the dominance of plutocratic structures. While one would probably first identify the essays of 'committed' authors such as Henmi Yô, Takahashi Gen`ichirô or Tsushima Yûko as politically-involved contributions, there is also the voice of Kirino Natsuo who is a major critic of Japanese society representing the field of more 'popular' writing. In her recent work Baraka (2011-2016), a novel that was published in its entirety at the end of February 2016, some protagonists express severe doubts about politicians, major corporations and power hierarchies in Japan. Kirino's representation of '3.11' within the context of survival, precarity and collective agency highlights a number of painful areas and touches on taboo subjects in Japanese society. The author claims that the Fukushima incident was essentially off limits and that no TV network would even mention Baraka - a reaction that is representative of the Japanese mass media's willingness to censor itself. A typical facet of Kirino's writing style is a confrontational and malicious attitude. Thus, her post-nuclear disaster novel is probably the work that most significantly highlights the discontent of the Japanese people with the state of things, as well as their doubts as to whether "Fukushima" could be the caesura that marks the transition of Japan towards a more open, democratic country. Baraka may be merely a remarkable thriller that offers a dark dystopian view of the near future, but under its entertaining surface it probably possesses more political temperament than an intellectual essay.