Two sharply contrasting portraits of a global Japan flashed simultaneously around the world last month, like one of those live, split-screen broadcasts of two different TV reporters stationed in distant countries. On one screen, viewers watched in morbid fascination as a narcotized and nearly comatose Japanese finance minister named Shoichi Nakagawa slurred his way through a press conference at the meeting of the G7 finance ministers and central bank governors in Rome. Two days later, when news broke that Japan’s economy had just suffered its worst contraction in 35 years, and that Nakagawa’s boss, Prime Minister Taro Aso, himself suffering severe contractions in popularity, had yet to demand Nakagawa’s resignation, the emerging picture of a dangerously dysfunctional government overseeing the world’s second-largest economy was as painful as it was embarrassing.
But on the other screen, viewers saw a Japanese man of Nakagawa’s generation standing firm behind a podium in Israel, accepting that nation’s highest literary award, and delivering a speech in eloquent, deeply felt English. He spoke about his vocation as a novelist (”telling skillful lies…to reveal the truth”) and his opposition to any and all wars, his empathy with the weak and the dissident and his passion for the uniqueness of the human soul. Spoken with power and clarity, not to mention clear-eyed sobriety, this man’s words blended the personal with the political and the metaphorical with the logical to make an eloquent argument for individual freedom and justice.
“We must not allow The System to exploit us,” he finally said, referring to the military, industrial and political forces arrayed against the human spirit. “The System did not make us: We made The System.”
The second man, of course, was Japan’s premier contemporary author and literary translator, Haruki Murakami.
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