Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Writer’s Week in Japan

By Brian Barr

Due to the hospitality of Japan’s International Cooperation Center (JICE) and my school, I was lucky enough to spend time in Japan for ‘Kakehashi,’ a project aimed at strengthening foreign relations of other countries with Japan. Along with two teachers and twenty-two other students, I visited Tokyo, including Chiba and Narita. We also spent time in Iwate Prefecture, mainly in Kuji City, near Northern coast of Japan.

While in Japan, I learned a great deal about the nation’s current events and problems. While I heard about the aging population epidemic (Japan has a large number of senior citizens and a lower than normal birth rate, which endangers the future of its population) and the demanding work life for employees in companies before I went to Japan, I also learned more about their political parties, the possibility of a new military force, class divisions, and notable economic decline in the recent decades.

My personal reasons for wanting to go to Japan were mixed with pedagogical interests as well as personal ones. Along with being a student and a teacher-in-training, I’m also a writer. I’ve been intrigued by Japan since I was a child, and I’ve written stories set in the country as well. With the research I’ve done on Japan, I’ve worked to make these specific stories as believable in dealing with Japanese culture as possible, even as a speculative writer who mainly writes in horror, science-fiction, and fantasy genres.

From Shion Sono films to Haruki Murakami’s novels, even to the great Akira classic written and drawn by Otomo Katsuhiro, I’ve seen how fictional authors from Japan have dealt with grave and important issues facing Japan. Shion Sono touched on the suicide rate and cults in his classic movie Jisatsu Circle, and the recently deceased Shigeru Mizuki, a WWII vet, challenged social and political issues in his comic books, from Ge Ge Ge No Kitaro to more personal biographical works. Like any other country, Japan is filled with its notable literary creators who investigate and question the world around them in fictional narratives.

As a writer, I set to do the same. From American social and political issues, to foreign dilemmas, I craft stories that are fictional yet have connections to the world we inhabit as human beings. I seek to question situations and understand problems, to create dialogue that may inspire people to solve or at least acknowledge problems. So far, with my Japan-based stories, that have explored technology, organized crime, pop culture, subculture, music, social and sexual politics in the country.

After returning from Japan for the first time, and experiencing the beauty and complexity of this amazing island nation first-hand, I’m inspired to craft more tales set in the land of the rising sun. I want to explore the aging population, business, and military debates of Japan further, along with other issues facing the island nation.

Japan has stolen my heart, and I anticipate my return, in fiction and reality.

1 comment:

Laura Puccia Valtorta said...

I also read and enjoy Haruki Murakami -- especially the short stories (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman). I liked Norwegian Wood but could not get into his latest novel. To me, Murakami is a short-story genius.