June 13, 2005
Kenzaburo Oe first achieved fame in Japan after winning a prestigious literary prize while still an undergraduate, and has been internationally prominent ever since translations of his mordant novel A Personal Matter began appearing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Its protagonist is a young first-time father whose baby has been born with a brain defect that makes him look like a two-headed monster. At one point the father wonders whether this condition could be a consequence of atomic radiation, a natural enough thought at that time in Japan, where survivors of the A-bomb were still struggling with—and dying from—horrendous radiation-caused afflictions.
Much of Oe’s work reflects his deep anxiety about nuclear warfare and his commitment to peace, environmentalism, and social justice, and he brings extraordinary learning and intelligence to bear on his darkly imaginative treatment of these themes. Oe’s intellectual attainments are rare for a fiction writer; he had originally planned to be a scholar, with a doctorate in French literature from Tokyo University; he specialized in Sartre.
The Silent Cry (1967) is still widely regarded as Oe’s most important novel. Concerning two brothers whose lives—and sensibilities—replicate those of their ancestors, it subjects the process of storytelling itself to rigorous scrutiny while simultaneously examining dangerous tendencies in contemporary Japanese society and reflecting on their historical origins.
Oe has been angering Japanese conservatives since the beginning of his career. One excoriating early novella, Seventeen, prompted telephoned death threats and rocks thrown through his windows, and by turning down the Emperor’s Order of Culture shortly after the announcement the Nobel award, he incurred more attacks: sound trucks parked in front of his house at all hours, blasting insults through loudspeakers, and posters denouncing him as a traitor went up all over Tokyo. He has championed oppressed minorities in Japan—Koreans, most notably—and tirelessly pressed for the full integration of the handicapped there; many Japanese people have told me that the Oes are primarily responsible for an enormous positive change in Japanese attitudes to the developmentally disabled in recent years.
For A Personal Matter had an autobiographical basis: Oe’s first child, Hikari, was born with a cranial hernia. This condition is fatal without surgical correction but the surgery entails a risk of serious and permanent impairment; Hikari’s brain was irreversibly damaged by the operation that was needed to save his life. Despite this, and his autism, Hikari grew up to be Japan’s most successful contemporary-classical composer; sales of his first two CDs outstripped those of his father’s books, which often include characters with conditions—if not achievements—similar to Hikari’s. Hikari also sometimes appears in his father’s nonfiction, and in Rouse Up, O Young Men of the New Age! (2002), which is half-factual, half-fictional. In Tokyo to attend concerts and lectures celebrating the release of a CD of his latest compositions, I interviewed Kenzaburo Oe on Hikari’s forty-second birthday.—Lindsley Cameron
You have been associated almost from the beginning of your career with writing about Hiroshima. Can you say something about what Hiroshima has meant to you as a writer?
My experience of Hiroshima is strongly colored by my experience with my son Hikari. My son Hikari was born with a defect in his brain, forty-two years ago. I was thirty-eight years old then, already a writer, and I was not much concerned about the issues surrounding Hiroshima. I went there shortly after my son was born with this defect—that was on the thirteenth of June, 1963. I was extremely confused at that time. For about a month, I had been going to the hospital where my son was being kept. I was doing everything I could, and so were the doctors, but we couldn’t imagine how that baby was going to survive. At that time there was a major conference in Hiroshima, and I was asked to report on it as a journalist. During that June and July, I was agonizing over Hikari’s problems and I wanted to escape from Tokyo and from that hospital. I accepted this assignment from an important leftist magazine to research and write about this conference.
I went to Hiroshima from the 15th of July until the anniversary of the bombing, on August 6th; I was working there about three weeks. The conference began, I think, on the 4th of August, lasting until the 6th. In the days before it began, I studied the situation of bomb survivors in Hiroshima and the movements of the leftist groups there—there were many small struggles between those leftist groups. Then I attended the conference. It was troubled by many complications. The reasons for that were not as simple then as they might seem today. At that time, some of the leftist groups in Japan were strongly influenced by China and others by the USSR The Soviet-influenced groups wanted to believe that Soviet nuclear arms were somehow clean, the armaments of justice. The Maoists were attacking both Soviet Russia and the USA, saying that all nuclear arms were menacing world peace, so there could be no such thing as “clean” nuclear arms. The Chinese-influenced groups were right about that, but after China got the bomb, those groups changed their stance and a new confusion was introduced. Anyway, at that time one group was pro-China and against Soviet nuclear arms and the other groups were pro-Russia or pro-USA The viewpoints of these groups were incompatible, could not be reconciled in any way, and these various incompatible factions were all assembled in Hiroshima.
As an intellectual—or as a free, nonaffiliated novelist—I felt compelled to create another point of view, an independent one, repudiating all the factions at the conference. On the last day, I stopped attending their meetings, and I was introduced to the director of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivors Hospital. I have written about that in my Hiroshima Notes. You can look up what I wrote there. Anyway, I met Dr. Shigeto. [Dr. Fumio Shigeto was director of Hiroshima’s Red Cross Hospital at the time the bomb was dropped. As recounted in Oe’s book, Dr. Shigeto subsequently also became the director of the A-Bomb Hospital, a facility dedicated to treatment and study of the victims of the bombing.] He was a survivor of the bombing, and although injured himself, he continued to treat survivors, to do his work, for a long time. He opened his mind to me, and he introduced me to many, many survivors in that hospital, so for two weeks or so I kept interviewing them, talking with them, and then, at the end of that summer, I published a long reportage. I was writing from the side of the hibakusha [A-bomb survivors], speaking about the meaning of their experiences and about the need for a new philosophy after the war. Ever since then I have been writing in that spirit; that summer was when it began. So, for more than forty years now, I have continued to work for the Hiroshima survivors, continued to write about them. I wanted to represent their point of view, writing and thinking on their side, and I published “Hiroshima Notes,” and later created television programs about Hiroshima survivors and their hospital. So my standpoint is not political, although sometimes I have found myself able to collaborate with important political groups in Hiroshima. I am speaking of professional activists, from political parties or labor unions. With them, I could sometimes create extensive—and genuine—communication between many parties, and even today I believe we are still creating new ways of looking at the Hiroshima experience. So, that is my history with Hiroshima.
And it is history. I found, through my research and through my involvements with various movements, that it was necessary to begin again and to keep beginning again, to start from zero at Hiroshima, facing the worst situation possible and then creating a new way to live. I am talking about both Hiroshima and the bomb survivors, and my need to find a way to live with my son, starting from zero with him, too. His situation was terribly bad at that time, and there was no sign of any reason to hope for him, but we followed the doctors’ recommendations and did what we could. In fact it was three or four years before my son began to live—as a severely handicapped, but genuinely human being. He began to listen to music then, and he and I have been growing together since then. He has turned forty-two years old today, and he has been continuing to create his music for the past several decades while I have continued my literary work and have continued to be concerned with Hiroshima-related problems, right up until today.
Recently you have been working to preserve Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Please talk about that.
In Japan we had a new constitution after the war. But our government, our bureaucracy, and, especially in these past two or three years, wealthy businessmen from the private sector have been openly opposing our so-called Peace Constitution, saying it must be changed. In fact, today Japanese conservatives are always saying the Peace Constitution must be destroyed and that we must return to futsu-no [ordinary or normal] government.
[The interview was interrupted again here while Oe refined his translation of futsu-no with the aid first of an electronic dictionary, then an old-fashioned bound one. He wasn’t satisfied with either “ordinary” or “normal” in this context but agreed to settle for both given together.]
So, we in Japan created, one or two years after the war, a new constitution. We adopted it and we used it. I was only twelve years old at the time, but I was influenced by the movement for teaching the people the spirit of the new constitution. Even at such a young age, I found it truly wonderful, especially in two points. First there was the preface, where it was written that we must create a new country and wanted to make clear to Asia and to all the other nations on this planet that we were determined to compensate for our wartime activities and that we must transform ourselves and must create a new attitude in Japan. This attitude would entail abolishing all arms. We would not have weapons and we would not use war as a method for solving difficult international problems. Very simply, no war and no arms. That was the concept of the ninth article of our constitution, and the spirit behind that article was expressed in the style of the preface, which was particularly moving to me. I was also moved by what was written about ‘the fundamental role of education.” That section was short, and clearly and simply written; even as a twelve-year-old boy, I could understand it. When I was a child, I was always reading—many, many books—but I was not interested in literary books at that time. I was always reading mathematics or physics or chemistry or history. I wasn’t strongly attracted to literature, except that my mother gave me Selma Lagerlöf’s Wonderful Adventures of Nils, and that was an important experience for me. My mother also asked someone to send me the Japanese translation of Huckleberry Finn—that was most important book of my boyhood. As I continued to read and re-read.that book, I found I had memorized almost one third of it—I could recite it from memory, without the text, so in school my teachers always asked me to recite passages from Huckleberry Finn in front of my classmates. After some years, I had been tested in that way in front of every class in my school.
All this time, you were still reading it in the Japanese translation?
Yes. But then, when I was sixteen, I changed my high school and went to Matsuyama, which was a large provincial city and the capital of the prefecture, and the American Army library was there. You know, the USA, right after the war, especially in the first five or ten years—they brought the best of American democracy to Japan.
In the immediate postwar period?
In the first half of the Occupation. There were leftist Democrats from the USA who came to Japan, there was for example Colonel Charles Kades. He was the head of the drafting committee, and he had worked with Roosevelt. There were many radical Democrats who influenced the occupying army, so there was a real spate of the best kind of American democracy. During my student days and after I became a writer, I was always opposing American policies in Japan—I was especially opposed to the U. S. base on Okinawa—but at the same time, I believed in American democracy. That was my creed. I was always criticized by leftist groups here, but I have upheld an ideal of American democracy influenced by French humanism, and I think this synthesis could be used to create a new Japanese attitude. That was the creed I adopted for my use. And, really, the foundation of this creed was that American library in Matsuyama, where young high-school boys could go to study, using the good chairs and tables and large desks in a perfectly clean room. Anybody could use these things, and the American bureaucrats working there didn’t oppress us; we were completely free. So the clever boys in Matsuyama went there to read. It was my first experience of the open-shelf system in a library.
I found Huckleberry Finn there, and because I had read it so thoroughly in translation, I remembered it and could understand the meaning of the original when I found it there. I found some especially precious books, first editions with important illustrations, original colored lithographs or engravings by Joan Miro and Jean Dubuffet and some other French artists. These were charming small prints, and one day, when I was riding in a streetcar in Matsuyama, I overheard some people talking about going to that American library to steal those precious books. They were planning to sell them in Tokyo or Osaka. These people were working for secondhand book dealers in Matsuyama.
I went to the library and found the place where these books were displayed and I changed them around to make it difficult to find them. Then I arranged a meeting with the man in charge and warned him that someone was planning to steal these books, and a Japanese man who was working there asked me why I wanted to save them. I explained what made them valuable—the artists’ signatures and so on—and all this was news to the librarian. That was how he found out those precious books were in the library. The U.S. was generous in sending rare and precious things like those special editions to Japan. So, due to my efforts three or four of those good books were preserved in that library. Even today in Matsuyama there is a collection of the books from the American library and if you go there you can see the volumes that Kenzaburo Oe saved when he was a boy in high school.
My Huckleberry Finn was in two volumes, with color illustrations, and the paper was good; it smelled of printing, too—the paper was actually fragrant. At the beginning, I would write the meanings of some of the words after looking them up in the dictionary, but after one or two months of my reading in that way, that man, the one to whom I reported the plot to steal books— that librarian allowed me to take the books home to read, for a week at a time. I would return them on the weekend. Then, years later, I went to Matsuyama and found that book with my handwriting in it, and I wrote about this in the Matsuyama city newspaper, and yet another rare book dealer tried to steal it—but then I wrote about that in the newspaper, and the bookseller returned it.
I had a sense of style even when I was very young—that was one aspect of my character. I found the preface of the constitution good. It was written well, expressing sorrow. We Japanese were grieving, and this grief is expressed both in the preface and in the “fundamental role of education” section, so I thought I could believe in that constitution and in that writing, in the writer who had written this sad, sincere, honest prose. Because of that, I wanted to keep—and to continue to appreciate—these two laws. I was a high-school boy then, and fifty years have now passed since that time, and this constitution that was new then is in crisis now, so I and some of my friends got together to see what we could do for the goals expressed in that constitution and especially “the fundamental role of education.”
One of these friends is Shuichi Kato, a cultural critic. He is one of the best intellectuals in Japan.
Is he an academic?
His specialty is modern Japanese thought. He has taught in Japan, in Germany, in Canada, in France, and there are some good translations of his work in French or in German.
Another of the friends in this group is the philosopher Shunsuke Tsurumi. He was educated in the USA, and left when he was 20 years old. He had been interned shortly after the war began.
Interned in one of the prison camps for Japanese-Americans?
He was waiting to be repatriated to Japan. There was only one seaport for the Japanese then that could be used by Japanese students or scholars who were sent back when the war began. Tsurumi was a twenty-year-old boy then. The week before he was sent back to Japan, while he was waiting for the ship, he saw in the newspaper that Harvard had given him his degree. After that, he did not return to the USA for sixty years. But he was an important scholar, who introduced American Pragmatism to Japan.
You mean Pragmatism in the formal sense, the philosophy of William James?
Yes. The best spirit of pragmatism was introduced into Japan by Tsurumi, to create a Japanese way of democracy. His efforts were important, and he was a strong member of the anti-Vietnam War movement in Japan. He is one of our group. There is also Hisashi Inoue, a very good dramatist and novelist—and [grinning] that very good novelist Kenzaburo Oe is also a member. We created a group of nine people for supporting Article 9 of our constitution. I am always talking about the reasons the style of the Preface and “the fundamental role of education” is so good. At the end of the war we had a strong passion to create a new Japan, and we had strong feelings about Japanese brutality in Asia and we also had strong feelings about the Japanese people who were killed in the war. Our grieving about the war was entirely genuine, and we started from this grief, but I think we must continue with that grief about the war, too. That is the important background of our relationships with China and with Korea. Just when we were beginning to re-create good relationships with these countries, our Prime Minister, Koizumi, wanted to mourn our dead soldiers, so he went to Yasukuni Shrine, but there are Class A war criminals enshrined there, so many people from China and Korea were against Koizumi’s visit, but Koizumi said—and I believe he is going to say again—that he wanted to go to Yasukuni shrine to mourn our dead soldiers, and felt he should do this. But at the beginning of the end of the war, we had strong grief and strong compassion. We must return to this initial feeling of grief and compassion, both for our dead soldiers and for the people we killed in Asia. If we can return to this beginning point, to this strong feeling of grief that is expressed in our constitution, we can make a sincere effort to reconcile with other Asian people. Koizumi and the conservative politicians, the bureaucrats and the head of the Keidanren [Japan’s “Federation of Economic Organizations,” a league of business leaders] say they must change the constitution. They want to destroy this expression of our deep grief at the result of the war. There is a strong contradiction there. To go to Yasukuni and to abolish the constitution and find a new future for the relationship with China or Korea is impossible. Recently I went to Korea and gave lectures, to students and to ordinary citizens, talking about the meaning of the constitution. I wanted to be on record as maintaining Article 9 of our constitution and as creating new efforts for our relationships with other Asian countries.
When did your pro-Article 9 movement begin?
It began last June.
And what has the group been doing since then?
We have organized ten conferences in the past year. We have been traveling around the country giving lectures and holding discussions. These events are all open to the public. Usually three members of our group will go and speak at each conference.
[At this point the phone rang. It has a Beethoven-melody ring tone. Hikari answered it; the call was for Kenzaburo. Watching his son fussing with some CDs, Kenzaburo said that Hikari is always rearranging them, as though reconstituting the exterior expression of some interior order or structure in terms of the arrangement of objects such as scores and recordings.]
Sorry for the interruption. I am having a disagreement with my editor about [Jean-Marie Gustave] Le Clézio. He is an important French novelist; even his first book was important. His father was English, his mother French. He was born in Aix-en-Provence. He had a reputation of being sophisticated. When I was young—he is five years younger than I am—he was a symbol of Frenchness or Eurocentrism. I just met him at that conference in Korea.
Tell me about his novels.
For example, Procès-verbal. You know what that means? If I go into a police station to talk about something and they write down what I said. [Here, Oe hauled out a dictionary but it added nothing to his explanation.]
Yes. Also, I believe in the1960s, he wrote a novel La Fièvre [Fever]—one of those really extraordinary works, sophisticated and elegant. He is that kind of author. [Despite our agreement on the word’s meaning, Oe continued looking in the dictionary.]– A young man wakes up and feels the beginning of a fever . He caught a cold and something is happening in his body. He describes his changing state and the progress of the fever in a miniaturized, delicate way. Then, one day, he gets a toothache, too. That begins, and then for some thirty or forty pages he writes about that—the pain, etc. the feeling of deep uneasiness. He goes to the dentist and has a conversation with the dentist and he returns from the dentist and feels malaise, etc. Le Clézio is a very good writer. This novel came out when I was about thirty years old. I almost gave up writing because this kind of book appeared, making me feel that I myself was already démodé— outmoded—and I felt immense respect for him. And I met him and he was tough, big—not fat but robust, although a middle-aged or older man—and he was talking about being a man of the periphery in Europe. He was born in the Midi and his father was English and took the family to Africa.
After that he went back to France, back to Aix-en-Provence, and was educated there, which made him a bit marginal. Then he became interested in South and Central America, especially in Indian cultures. He had also been discovering South Pacific cultures, the traditions of those peoples. At this conference in Korea, he was speaking about this kind of thing, and connecting himself with Asian literary authors, especially Korean ones. That was an extraordinary new idea for me, and made a great impression on me. I wrote about him, and my editor at the Asahi, who has also been a fan of Le Clézio’s for the past fifty years, doesn’t agree with what I wrote about him.
So, what happened? Did you refuse to change what you had written?
Yes, and the editor accepted it. I reported a conversation about nationalism in South Korea, and I talked about the conflict between Korea and Japan. Especially now, there is not only the problem of Korea’s relations with Japan but also China’s—Yasukuni visits and also our history textbooks. My group has been working to oppose the use of nationalistic textbooks. For most of us, this fight began four years ago, when the Japanese government admitted the possibility of rewriting these history texts. The ones in current use had deeply shocked China and Korea, because these books made no admission of Japan’s aggression and brutality in Asia. My group had been working for the revision of that text and I believed we could win. And in fact, in the end, there were only two schools in Japan to use the unrevised book. The first was Governor Ishihara’s city, Tokyo. [Ishihara is notoriously conservative.] You know, in Tokyo the governor has the power to select texts in use in special-education facilities for the mentally handicapped such as the one my son attended, and in fact the governor had that power when my son was going there. Ordinarily there is a committee of teachers and education experts and a city educational committee to approve or disapprove the texts for ordinary schools but these procedures are suspended in the case of special-education schools. So the right-wing history textbook was used there and in one other place, in Ehime Prefecture, where it was also possible for the governor to circumvent the normal process.
Tokyo is where I live and Ehime Prefecture is where I was born, so it was especially ironic that these were the only two places in Japan where this text was used. I wrote an essay denouncing Ishihara for this, and at first only twenty or thirty copies of this essay were sold, but that was only at first. Later, the campaign picked up, and finally, when it came time for the textbook to be revised—they are revised every three or four years—a new version was adopted for consideration. Whether that one will actually be used will not be clear until next year. Anyway, Korea and China are being cautious, wary about whether the new revision will be acceptable.
There is also the problem with the Yasukuni shrine, and also with the island we Japanese call Takeshima and the Koreans call Dokto. The Japanese say it’s Japanese and the Koreans say it’s Korean. Just one hundred years ago, in 1905, which was of course wartime, before Japan had become a democratic country, they decided this small island was Japanese but now the Koreans want to say it is Korean and call it Dokto.
How big is this island?
Is it inhabited?
No, there is no one there. But it is important in terms of fishing. If this small island is Japanese, the sea around it is a Japanese fishing area. It is the same problem with Sengaku, which China would like to claim. Chinese people are drilling for oil in Sengaku, and Ishihara is claiming it is a part of Tokyo and says we must send our Self-Defense Force navy to defend it.
This is the kind of thing that is happening. So, when I visited Korea recently I said exactly what I say about these issues when I am speaking in Japan, without changing my argument or the way I expressed myself, even my tone of voice. I want to say the same thing to the Korean people and then to listen to their response. I talked about nationalism, about how nationalism doesn’t solve any important problems today. We must not let that spoil the interchanges between Koreans and Japanese and Chinese. Nobody in the audience threw tomatoes at me, no one even contradicted me, not at the university and not in a big bookshop where I went to lecture and sign books. I worked hard, and I think I did something good. I received many positive letters from the university and from the organizers of the conference.
I gave four lectures and I got completely exhausted. Not long after I got back I went to give speeches in Akita prefecture, and I was so tired that I had a severe migraine attack there. The people there were shocked by my condition. Anyway, I wrote a newspaper article which will be published tomorrow, criticizing Koizumi’s attitude. I believe that some time during the next two weeks, by the August 15th anniversary of Japan’s defeat, Koizumi will go to Yasukuni shrine. I have been writing half-page essays once a month, every month, for the Asahi, continuing to criticize the Japanese government’s neonationalism. They don’t care. But anyway, this is my last chance before that date to say no to Koizumi’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine.
What is it you are working to prevent? What is the worst-case scenario, what are you fighting? What would the conservatives like to see? And if the rightists had their way and Article 9 were abolished, how would that realign the nations of the world?
Our politicians, especially our President, want to rearm. But honestly speaking, Japan is already rearmed. We have a strong army, even a navy, and a large modern air force for war. This is a problem. Japan is a very big military power, but our armed forces and our government are under U.S. control. Our army follows U.S policy, so if world peace is maintained by the U.S. army—or by the power of U.S. arms—we Japanese have to follow U.S. policies, and backing up the American armed forces with our own armed power is seen as the way to maintain peace among nations.
Who believes this? Conservatives?
When newspapers do polls now, more than 50% agree that they want to remove Article 9 from the constitution. This is a common notion in Japan: that because we are in fact rearmed today but the constitution says we aren’t, this contradiction is harmful. We can’t educate our young people properly. They can’t be upright in spirit because of our mensonge [dishonesty] or mauvais foi [bad faith]in the constitution. We say we go along with what is constitutional but there is a huge gap between the reality and the constitutional model, and Japanese people’s morality will decay because of this contradiction. That is what the conservatives say, to make a case for repealing Article 9. Our point of view—my group and I myself—is: yes, we admit, I myself admit, realistically speaking, yes, we are armed and are in fact collaborating with the USA and under its nuclear umbrella. But I am writing and working to maintain our constitution, and working for the Hiroshima people to abolish nuclear arms. But I cannot deny this fundamental weakness, I must admit we are under the nuclear umbrella of the USA Eighty or ninety percent of the Japanese people believe that without this nuclear umbrella, it would be impossible to keep Japan peaceful, so when I say I must remember the misery of the Hiroshima people in thinking about our nuclear rearmament, in reality I myself am under the power of U.S. nuclear arms. I have always continued to write about the problem of the U.S. base on Okinawa, the fact that even today there is a big U.S. Army base there, with nuclear weapons, and every month a big warship carrying nuclear arms comes to Japan there. So this is where there is a weakness in my argument, this reliance on the protection of U.S. nuclear weapons. I am aware that we will have to walk a very long way to be free of that, but I won’t give up opposing nuclear armaments and I am heartened by the endurance of the antinuclear movement. At the same time, France has resumed nuclear testing. I published some writing strongly opposing that, but that made no difference. Such opposition can’t make much difference in the near future but I hope that in the longer term, maybe by 2030, the world’s major powers may change their policies about nuclear arms. For now, with North Korea entering the circle of countries with nuclear arms, the situation is worsening steadily.
Does the fiction you’re writing now reflect your anxieties about these issues?
In my next book I will finish the trilogy that began with my “Changeling” book. I am writing about an old writer who has almost lost his life-long hope of abolishing nuclear armaments. I am in a critical situation about nuclear problems now and have been for a long time. I had hoped for many years that the United Nations would become increasingly powerful, to oppose the overwhelming power of the USA, and I wanted to see—and to believe in—a new system that might create new possibilities for peace, through the U.N. That was a lifelong dream of mine, but it is not so easy to accomplish and the situation is rapidly growing worse and worse. That is my concept of international politics, and the past thirty years has been the most despondent period of my life. But within this bad situation, speaking out from Japan I want to show something positive about the peace movement and the antinuclear movement. I want especially to create something positive in Asia, and I have spoken in Korea about the movement to preserve Article 9. I think there might be an English version of the speech I gave there. If I can find it, would you like to see it?
[Oe went off to try to find this speech but came back empty-handed.] I am sorry, I couldn’t find it. You know, our situation is very bad, with our government and our business leaders planning to change our constitution. In Japan we didn’t export arms to other countries. So, for example, if Sony created a small but important weapons technology, especially some IT thing, then we couldn’t export it. Because of our constitution, we didn’t export any arms or arms-related technologies. We couldn’t do that. But last year, in the beginning of the year, the Keidanren —you know they are powerful, their president is the president of Toyota—asked the government to change this law prohibiting exports of arms or arms-related technologies.
You mean change the constitution?
No, this is not in the constitution. This is one of the laws created by our ministries to address subsidiary problems. This one was created forty years ago, under Miki [Takeo Miki, prime minister from 1974-1976. His widow, Mutsuko, is one of the nine members of the Group]. We weren’t exporting arms to countries in the Soviet bloc, but at that time the Miki cabinet revised the law so that all arms exports—to any country in the world—were forbidden. Now at the beginning of this year, the Keidanren asked the government to rescind this law. The constitution could not be changed without a referendum, but this kind of law can be changed by politicians. The Keidanren asked them to do it because of the weakness of the Japanese economy, saying that since the government wouldn’t increase subsidies to the arms industry for some time, some other kind of help was needed to shore up the industry. If the government wouldn’t help with direct subsidies, the government must allow them to make money by exporting their products, they said. This was the impetus for forming the movement to retain Article 9. What I want to do with this movement is to re-create that crucial feeling for democracy and peace—in Asia and in the world—which was so strong at the end of the war. At that time, at the time the postwar democracy was being created, we Japanese wanted to understand how to create peace and we saw the need to find a way to establish a new kind of relationship with other Asian countries, but now that sixty years have passed we are destroying our constitution, looking for a way to export arms, and a new nationalism is coming into being. In China a new nationalism is being born specifically in opposition to Japan, and if we Japanese create a new nationalism of our own it will be the biggest danger in Asia and—ultimately—in the world. So I am trying to create a people’s movement, a quiet but very positive one, to maintain our constitution and its “fundamental role of education” to oppose this new rising of nationalism and to return to the spirit that fashioned the constitution after our defeat at the end of the war. That is what I am trying to do, but I think I will be not able to continue my work longer than five more years.
You always say you are going to stop writing, but you keep on after all.
Whether or not I stop writing, I will continue my movement.
June 13, 2005