Miri Yu, award-winning novelist, playwright, and essayist is the 13th Tetsuo Najita Distinguished Lecture in Japanese Studies speaker.  Ms. Yu's lecture will take place at Assembly Hall at International House on Thursday, October 25th at 5 pm and will be in Japanese with English translation.


Myself Within Japan, Myself Within Fukushima

Miri YU

April 21, 2011 – the day that I first visited the city of Minami Sōma, in Fukushima Prefecture – was the day before large parts of that city were closed off from the world, swallowed into the ‘Alert Area’ that extended out in a 20km radius from the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Station.

That day marked the beginning of my ongoing relationship with Fukushima.

Every Friday from February, 2012 through March, 2018, I had a radio program called ‘Futari Hitori [Two Voices, One Voice]’ on Minami Sōma’s temporary FM station, which had been set up in city hall to provide local residents with disaster-related information after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accidents of March 11, 2011. Through that program, I was able to record the stories of 600 residents. In April, I moved to the Haramachi District of Minami Sōma – 23km from the plants – and in 2017 moved to Odaka, a spot 16km from Fukushima Dai’ichi and within the bounds of what had been the ‘Alert Area.’ And in April of 2018, I opened a bookstore there.

As a writer, I’ve published a novel entitled ‘JR Ueno-eki Kōen Guchi [JR Ueno Station, Park Exit],’ which tells the story of a homeless individual originally from Minami Sōma, and another called ‘Ieamegaeru[Australian Green Tree Frog],’ about a mother and child who live in Minami Sōma. I’ve also written a book called ‘Haru no Shōsoku [Signs of Spring],’ which was based on my own sojourns around historical sites, temples, and shrines, in the area surrounding the nuclear power plants, and ‘Kokka he no Dōjun[Pathways to the Nation],’ in which I interrogate the modality of the nation-state called ‘Japan’ from my own positionality as a Zainichi Korean resident of this country.

Prior to the accidents at the nuclear power plants, the population of the Odaka District of Minami Sōma City, where I run my bookstore, was around 13,000. Today, it stands at 2800. Younger couples with children under the age of 18 are said to be particularly sensitive to the issue of radiation, and they have left the city – even the Prefecture – in numbers that are not insignificant. With more than half of its population now at the age of 65 and above, the Odaka District has become one of the most sharply ‘graying’ areas in all of Japan.

Neither those who chose to remain in this town, nor those who have chosen to leave it, have been able to avoid trauma and emotional scarring in doing so. Solitary deaths and suicides of elderly individuals who have left their children’s homes and returned, all alone, to the homes that they themselves were born and grew up in are a regular occurrence. And yet, even so, for these elderly individuals, the choice of leaving the town of their birth and upbringing and living in some unknown city is really no choice at all.

Because they feel that they want to die here, in this town, in this house.

I am put in mind of Miryang, the small city in Korea’s South Gyeongsang Province where my grandfather was born, and where he died. Due to the Korean War, Miryang became a battlefield where local residents would sell each other out to the authorities, where they would kill, and be killed. Just before he himself was to be executed, my grandfather broke out of prison and fled, all alone, to Japan (his younger brother had been murdered at the young age of 23). My grandmother took the four children – my mother among them – and got a ride on a small fishing boat to Japan, where she slipped secretly into the country as a refugee.

War forced my grandparents to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and I never had the chance to ask them what it was like to have to lead a life of constant, repeated crash-landings. But I know that my grandfather, stricken with cancer and aware that his own end was near, traveled back to the small Korean town of his birth, and took his last breath there, alone.

I am a so-called ‘Zainichi Korean Resident of Japan,’ and can neither truly call myself Japanese, nor really say that I am Korean. This positionality has prevented me from having any sense of belonging in the thing called the nation-state.

Since I was expelled from school in Grade 10, I’ve not been able to have any sense of belonging in schools, either.

And since my own family was shattered when I was still in elementary school, owing to the separation of my father and my mother, I haven’t even been able to feel that I belonged to so much as a family.

But now, today, that self that didn’t belong anywhere is building an intimate relationship with the people of this town, a town that has suffered massive wounds from the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant accidents of March, 2011, wounds so severe that it was said that the community may never recover.

What lies at the nucleus of that intimacy is pain.

The pain of people forced by the accidents at Fukushima Dai’ichi to drift and to roam touches the pain that resides within my very being, born as I was at the endpoint of a wandering visited upon my grandparents by the Korean War. Through feeling that pain, and living together in this place, interpersonal connections are made, and within those connections warmth and kindness are nurtured on a daily basis.

And everyday, I ask myself.

What is this thing called ‘home’?

And what is this thing called ‘the nation-state’?






小説家としては、南相馬出身のホームレスを主人公にした『JR上野駅公園口(Park Exit)』という小説と、南相馬で暮らす母子を描いた「イエアメガエル(Australian green tree frog)」という小説を発表し、原発周辺地域の遺跡や寺社を訪ね歩いた『春の消息』、在日韓国人として日本という国家の在り方を問う『国家への道順』という本などを出版しています。