13th Tetsuo Najita Distinguished Lecture in Japanese Studies ft. Miri Yu

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.

LECTURE ABSTRACT

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’?


講演タイトル「日本の中の私、福島の中の私」

2011年4月21日、私が福島県南相馬市を初めて訪れたのは、東京電力福島第一原子力発電所から半径20km圏内が「警戒区域」として閉ざされる前日のことでした。

その日から、私と福島との関わりが始まりました。

私は、2012年2月から2018年3月まで、南相馬市役所内にある臨時災害放送局で「ふたりとひとり」という毎週金曜日放送の番組を担当し、600人の住民の話を収録しました。

2015年4月には原発から23km地点の南相馬市原町区に転居し、2017年7月には原発から16km地点、旧「警戒区域」である南相馬市小高区に転居し、2018年4月には本屋を開店しました。

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。

私が本屋を営んでいる南相馬市小高区の原発事故前の人口は、約1万3千人でした。現在は約2800人。放射線に対する感受性が強いとされる18歳以下の子を持つ若い夫婦は、既に市外や県外に転居をした人も少なくありません。小高区は、65歳以上の人口比率が半数を占める日本有数の超高齢化地域となってしまったのです。

この町に残ると決めた住民も、この町を去ると決めた住民も、その心は無傷ではありません。

息子夫婦と別れ、たった独りで生まれ育った家に戻った老人の自殺や孤独死も後を絶ちません。それでも、老人たちには、生まれ育った町から離れて、知らない町で暮らすという選択肢はないのです。

この町で、この家で死にたい、と思っているからです。

わたしは、祖父が生まれて死んだ韓国慶尚南道の密陽という小さな町のことを想います。

朝鮮戦争によって、密陽は住民同士が密告し合い殺し殺される戦場となりました。祖父は処刑される寸前に脱獄して(祖父の弟は23歳の若さで殺害されました)単身日本に逃れ、祖母は母たち四人の子どもを連れて小さな漁船に乗り込み、難民として日本に密入国したのです。

戦争によって着の身着のままで投げ出され、絶えず不時着を繰り返すような人生を送ってきた祖父母の気持ちを直接聞いたことはありませんが、癌を患い死期が近いことを悟った祖父は、生まれ故郷である韓国の小さな町に戻り、たった独りで息を引き取りました。

私は日本人であるとも韓国人であるとも言い切れない「在日韓国人」という立場から、国家というものに所属感を持てずにいます。

高校一年で退学処分になったため学校にも所属感を持てませんでした。

小学生の時に父と母の離別によって家族が散り散りになってしまったため、家族にすら所属感を持てずに育ったのです。

しかし、そんな私が、いま、地震、津波、原発事故によって回復不可能なほど大きな傷を負わされたこの町と、この町の人々と親密な関係を築いています。

親密さの核に在るのは、痛みです。

原発事故によって漂泊を余儀なくされている人々の痛みによって、朝鮮戦争による漂泊の果てに生まれた私の存在そのものに宿っている痛みが揺さぶられるのです。痛みを感じつつ住まうことによって人々と繋がり、その繋がりの中で温もりや優しさを日々育んでいるのです。

そして、私は日々、自らに問いかけています。

故郷とは何か?

国家とは何か?