Jun 14, 2011

Haruki Murakami's Speech on Catalonia International Prize "As an Unrealistic Dreamer"

Haruki Murakami criticized Japanese Government, TEPCO and Japanese people for the accidents of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plants in his speech on Catalonia International Prize.

I don't agree with all of his opinions, in fact Haruki Murakami is criticized for this speech in Japan.

But his speech caused discussions about the nuclear power and these discussions are very important, so I think it's worth
translating it into English.

I know that it's too long to upload it as a journal on a weblog, but I want as many people as possible to read it, so I'll translate it as follows.

Haruki Murakami's Speech on Catalonia International Prize "As an Unrealistic Dreamer".

The last time when I visited to Barcelona was the spring for two year ago. When I took part of my autograph event in Barcelona, I was surprised that so many readers came. They lined up to wait for getting my autographs. It took more than one and half hour to sign for all of them, because many women of my readers wanted to kiss me. It took much time.

I've taken part of autograph events in many other cities all over the world, but only in Barcelona women wanted to kiss me. I found that Barcelona was a wonderful city from this fact. I'm very glad to come back to this city, which have a long history and a high culture.

But I’m sorry that I have to talk about a more serious story than kissing, today.

As you may know, at 2:46 pm on March eleventh the great earthquake struck the northeast area of Japan. This earthquake was so great that the earth rotation period got faster and a day got shorter 1.8 seconds.

The damage of the earthquake itself was quite serious, but the tsunami after the earthquake caused more serious damage. In some place the tsunami became 39 meters high wave. Since 39 meters high wave came, people couldn't save their lives even to run up the tenth floor of a common building. People living near coast couldn't run away, and about 24,000 people were afflicted and about 9,000 of them are still missing. The great wave over banks took them away, and we've not been able to find their bodies yet. Many of them went under the cold sea. When I think of it and I imagine that I suffered from such a tragedy, I really feel a constriction in my chest. Most survivors also lost their families, friends, houses, properties, communities and bases for their lives. There were villages that were destroyed completely. Many people were deprived of their hope for living.

Being Japanese might mean that living with natural disasters. Typhoons pass through most Japanese territory from summer to autumn. Every year they cause great damages and many lives are lost. There are many active volcanoes in every region. And of course there are many earthquakes. Japan mounts dangerously on the four huge plats in the east end of the Asian Continent. It's said that we almost live on the nest of earthquakes.

We can expect time and route of typhoon to some extent, but we can't predict when and where an earthquake will occur. What we only know is that this isn't the last great earthquake and another great earthquake will happen in the near future. Many specialists predict that a magnitude 8 earthquake will strike Tokyo area in twenty or thirty years. It will happen 10 years later or tomorrow afternoon. No one knows how large damage we will receive precisely, when an inland earthquake strike such a density city like Tokyo.

But there are 13 millions people living "ordinary" lives only in Tokyo area. They take crowded trains to go to offices, and work in skyscrapers. Even after this earthquake I've never heard that a population of Tokyo declines.

Why? You might ask me. Why can so many people live ordinary lives in such a horrible place? Don't they go out of their mind by fear?

We have the word "mujo (無常)" in Japanese. It means that nothing lasting forever. Everything born in this world always has been changing and will disappear after all. There is nothing eternal or immutable, which we can rely on. This view of the world was derived from Buddhism, but the idea "mujo" was burn into the spirit of Japanese people, and unchangeably took over from ancient as an ethnic mentality in the other way of Buddhism.

The idea "everything just has gone" is the view of resignation. We think that it's no use going against the nature, but Japanese people have positively found the ways of beauty in this resignation.

We love cherry blossoms in spring, fireflies in summer and red leaves in autumn in the nature. We think it's obvious that we watch them eagerly, collectively and customarily. It's quite crowed and it's difficult to make a reservation of hotel in the famous places of cherry blossoms, fireflies and red leaves in their high season.


Cherry blossoms, fireflies and red leaves loose their beauty in a very short time. We go far away to watch the glorious moment. And we are rather relieved to confirm that they are not just beautiful but scattering fleetingly, losing their small lights and their vivid beauty. We find peace of mind in the fact that the peak of beauty has passed away and disappeared.

I don't know if natural disasters have affected such a mentality, but I'm sure that we've collectively overcome natural disasters striking one after another and accepted as things that we couldn't avoid in some sense through this mentality. These experiences and sense of beauty might affect us.

Most Japanese were deeply shocked by this earthquake, and we can't accept the scales of its damage until now, even if we were used to earthquakes. We feel unhelpful and are anxious about the future of this country.

Finally we'll revitalize our minds and stand up to revive ourselves. I'm not afraid about it very well. That's just the way how we've been surviving in our long history. We can't help but standing still by shock. Broken houses can be rebuilt and broken road can be restored.

In a word we rent a room on the planet earth without any permission. The planet earth never asks us to live on it. If it shakes a little, we can't complain about it, because sometimes shaking is one of the properties of the earth. Whether we like or not, we have to live with the nature.

What I want to talk about here isn't a thing like buildings or roads, which can be restored, but things which can't be restored easily, such as ethics or norms. They aren't the things, which have their shapes. Once they are broken, it's hard to restore them, because we can't restore them with machines, labors and materials.

What I talk about is concretely the Fukushima nuclear power plants.

As you may know, at least three of six nuclear plants, which got damages by the earthquake and the tsunami and have not been restored yet, have been spreading radioactivity around them. Meltdown occurred, and soil around them has been contaminated. Water, which was contaminated by radioactivity, has been drained to the ocean around them. Winds are spreading radioactivity to wider areas.

Hundreds of thousands people had to evacuate, and farms, ranches, factories and ports are abandoned without any people. People, who had lived there and may not be able to return there. I'm really sorry that the damage of this accident will spread around the countries.

The cause why such a tragic accident occurred is almost clear. People who built these nuclear plants had not supposed such a big tsunami would strike them. Some specialists pointed out that the same scale of tsunami used to strike these regions and insisted that the safety standard should be revised, but the electric power companies ignore them, because the electric power companies, as commercial companies, didn't want to invest much money to prepare for the tsunami, which will occur once in hundreds years.

The government, which should manage the safety of nuclear plants strictly, seemed to lower the safety standers in order to promote nuclear power generation.

We should investigate these reasons, and if we find mistakes, they should be corrected. More than hundreds of thousands people were forced to leave their own lands and change their lives. It's right that we must be angry about it.

I don't know why Japanese people rarely get angry. They are good at being patient but aren't very good at getting angry. They might be different from Barcelona citizens. But now that Japanese people will get angry seriously.

At the same time we have to denounce ourselves, who had allowed or tolerate these disordered systems.

This accident related to our ethics and norms.

As you may know, we, Japanese people, only have the experiences of receiving nuclear bomb attacks. In August 1945, US bombers dropped nuclear bombs at two big cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more then two hundreds thousands people died. Most of them were unarmed common people. But I don't ask if it was right or not, now.

What I want to point out here is that not only two hundreds thousands people died just after the nuclear bombing, but also many survivors would die suffering from radiation with long time. We've learned how large damages radioactivity caused to the world and people from the victims of the nuclear bombs.

We had two fundamental policies after World War II. One was the recovery of economy and the other was the renunciation of war. We would never use armed forces, and get more wealthy economically and pursuit the peace. These two things became new policies of Japan.

These words are carved on the memorial for the victims of the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima.

"Please rest in peace. We will never make the same mistake again."

These are lofty words. These words mean that we are victims and assailants at the same time. Before the predominant power of nuclear, we are victims and assailants. Since we are threatened by the power of nuclear, we all are victims. Since we use it and couldn't prevent using it, we all are assailants, too.

66 years after the nuclear bombing, Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plants have been spreading radioactivity for three months, and contaminating the soil, the ocean and the air around them. No one knows how and what time we can stop it. This is the second damage by nuclear in Japan, but at this time anybody didn't drop a nuclear bomb. We, Japanese people, caused it and made mistakes, and have been destroying our own lands and lives.

Why did this happen? Where had our feeling of rejection of nuclear, which we had held after World War II, gone? What made our peaceful and wealthy society, which we constantly had been pursuing, spoiled?

The reason is simple. That is "efficiency".

The electrical power companies had been insisting that nuclear plants are efficient power generation system. It's the system that they were able to get profit from. And especially after the oil shock, Japanese government doubted the stability of supply of petroleum and had been promoting nuclear power generation as a national policy. The electrical power companies had spent huge money on advertisements to bribe the media to impress Japanese people with the illusion that nuclear power generation was completely safe.

And then we found that 30 percent of electric power generation became to be supplied by nuclear power. Japan, which is a small islands country frequently struck by the earthquake, become the third highest nuclear power generating country, without notice of Japanese people.

We had gone beyond the point of no return. The accomplished fact was created. People, who are afraid of nuclear power generation, are asked the threatening question "Do you allow the lack of electricity?" Japanese people began to think that it couldn't be helped that we relied on nuclear power. It's almost torture to live without air conditioning in hot and humid Japan. People, who doubt nuclear power generation, were labeled as "unrealistic dreamers".

Finally we are here. Nuclear power plants, which should be efficient, become in the awful condition like opening the cover of the hell. This is the reality.

The reality, which people promoting nuclear power generation insisted, isn't the reality at all but just the superficial "convenience". They replaced the problem with something else by referring to "convenience" as "reality".

This is the collapse of the "technology" myth, which Japanese people had been proud of, and the defeat of our Japanese ethics and norms, which had allowed such deception. We blame at the electrical companies and Japanese government. It's right and necessary, but at the same time we should accuse ourselves. We are victims and assailants at the same time. We have to review the fact seriously. If we don't do so, we'll make the same mistake again.

"Please rest in peace. We will never make the same mistake again."

We have to curve these words on our mind.

Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, who was a main person of the development of nuclear bomb, was quite shocked by horrible condition in Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused by nuclear bombs. And he said to president Truman "Our hands are bloody."

Truman took a clean and neat white handkerchief from his pocket and said "Wipe your hands by this handkerchief."

But of course there is no clean handkerchief in the world, which we can wipe so much blood with.

We, Japanese, should have been saying "No" to nuclear. This is my opinion.

We have to develop alternative energy replaced nuclear power at state level by gathering all of technologies, wisdom and social capital. If people all over the world laughed at us and said "Nuclear power is the most effective power generation system, and Japanese people are so silly that they don't use it," we have to keep the allergy to nuclear by the experience of nuclear bombs. We must have made the development of power generation without nuclear power the main policy after World War II.

This should be the way to take our collective responsibility for the victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These fundamental ethics and norms were necessary for us. We should send social messages, and this would have been a chance for our, Japanese, to contribute to the world truly. But we missed that important road, because we take an easy road of the standard of "efficiency" on our rapid economic development.

As I mentioned, we can overcome the damage of natural disaster, even how it is horrible and serious. And sometimes it makes our mind stronger and deeper to overcome it. We can manage to accomplish it.

It is the job for the specialists to restore broken roads and buildings, but it is the duty for all of us to regenerate damaged ethics and norms. We start it from mourning the dead people, taking care of victims of this disaster and natural feeling of not wasting their pains and injuries. It will be an ingenuous and silent handwork, which require us patience. We have to join the forces to do it, as if all of a village people go to fields to cultivate them and to plant seeds in a sunny spring morning. Everyone does what they can do holding their heart together.

We, professional authors, who are specialized in languages, can positively contribute to this large scale collective mission. We should connect new ethics and norms to new words, and create and build new lively stories. We'll be able to share these stories. They have rhythm, which encourage people, such as a song, which farmers sing while planting seeds. We had rebuilt Japan, which had been completely destroyed by World War II. We have to return to the starting point.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this speech, we are living in the changing and impermanent world "mujo (無常)". Every life will be just changing and die out. Human beings have no power before the great nature. The recognition of impermanence is one of the basic ideas in Japanese culture. Although we respect things passing away and think to live in fragile world with full of dangers, at the same time we have silent wills to be living and positive minds.

I'm proud that my works are highly regarded by Catalan people and I was given such a great prize. We live apart from each other and speak different languages. We have different cultures. But at the same time we are the world citizens, who share the same problems, joy and sadness. So stories written by Japanese author were translated into Catalan language, and Catalan people have picked them up. I'm glad to share the same stories with you. Dreaming is the job for novelists, but sharing dreams is more important job for us. We can't be novelists without the sense of sharing something.

I know that Catalan people have overcome many hardships, and have been living vigorously and keeping a rich culture in your history. We must share a lot of things.

It's really wonderful that you and we equally can make "the house of unrealistic dreamers" in Japan and Catalonia, and "the moral community", which are open to every country and culture. This is the start point of our reborn, since we experienced many sever disasters and terrorisms recently. We must not be afraid of dreaming. We should never allow the evil dogs named "efficiency" or "convenience" to catch up us. We must be "unrealistic dreamers", who go forward vigorously. Human beings must die and disappear, but humanity will be lasting, and will be inherited forever. At first we must believe in this power.

At the end I'll give this prize money to victims of the earthquake and the accident of the nuclear plants. I'm deeply grateful to Catalan people who give me such a chance and people in Generalitat de Catalunya. And I express my deepest sympathies on victims of the earthquake in Lorca the other day.

I can't translate his literary expressions very well.

While I was translating it into English, I deeply think of the problem of nuclear plants. I'll write about it on this weblog.


  1. You did a great job - thank you very much

  2. I've been looking for a translation of Murakami's speech for days; since a Japanese friend told me about it. Thank you so much!

  3. Hello,
    I'm sorry, I thought I had written to you yesterday but it seems that my message wasn't sent...so, I'll try again; I was so pleased to find your translation as I have been looking for this since saturday without success. I linked it to my blog www.senrinomichi.com and it generated a lot of visits. The translation is fantastic, I read it and reread it. And after I read it a third time I tried to embellish it as a native english speaker. I don't know which version works better, but it made me think about the words and the meaning of the words and also the meanings of the words which are not said.... It's funny, lots of people say great speech but they haven't read it, only extracts. I think it's a very moving speech, and much moreso having worked on it his evening. Thanks again, Kevin

  4. Thank you so, so much for the translation, you made such a wonderful job here. And Murakami is amazing. Thank you! I am bookmarking your blog, love it...

  5. Simply beautiful, thank you SO much for doing the work so that we could read this thoughtful, poetic speech.

  6. Thank you for all of your comments. I'm really glad to hear that, because it took whole of the last Sunday to translate it, haha.

  7. i'm so grateful for your translation. thanks to you, many can now understand where the evil resides... murakami brilliantly connects the dots and lights the darkest corners.

    great deed, my friend.


  8. 分かち合うことのすばらしさ!ありがとうございます

  9. Japanese friends have been hoping someone would translate this, so English-speakers like me could appreciate it. I am grateful. Thank you.

  10. Welcome, but I don't know if I could translate it well or not....

  11. Thank you very much for taking the time to translate this. Very much appreciated.

  12. Thanks very much for this - great job!!! I am going to bookmark on my blog as well

  13. You are amazing. To translate would be so hard. I really appreciated your work!

  14. Dear Yagian, I could not help doing it without your permission becase I really wanted to introduce it with my friends! Sorry about that! If you are happy to see my blog, that would be great!

  15. Yuko san

    Thank you very much. I'm really glad for many people to read my translation. (I should learn English more to write more natural English...)

  16. Thank you for sharing a moving speech. It brought me nearly to tears for two reasons. First of all, I enjoyed learning more about the Japanese culture and the reason for their joy in transient beauty like the cherry blossoms. As a former resident of the Washington DC area, I have enjoyed the spectacular annual blooming on a number of occasion.

    I am also saddened, however, by my own failure to communicate better about the low level of risk posed by exposure to radioactive materials that have been dispersed by the Fukushima reactors. The material is measurable because radiation is very easy to detect, but the total mass of cesium, for example, that is leaving the site on a daily basis can be measured in fractions of a gram.

    24,000 people were killed by the tsunami, there is a significant probability that no one will ever be killed as a result of having been exposed to the radiation that has leaked from the power station. Part of that is due to good response and protective measures, but part of it is due to the fact that nuclear power plants are designed with numerous barriers that almost never fail. When they do they tend to fail slowly enough so that people can be moved to safety in advance.

    Contrast that to the other reliable energy options that Japan or any other nation has - coal, oil and gas powered machines fail with depressing frequency and often result in instant casualties. They also subject us all to constant exposure to the waste products.

    There is no magical source of unobtainium that will provide reliable energy without any risk at all. History shows that uranium fission is one of the least risky ways of providing reliable, emission free energy to empower people.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights

  17. Thank you for your comment.

    The most important lesson from the accident of Fukushima nuclear plants is that there is no magic wand to solve the problems of energy.

    As you wrote, providing reliable energy must have risks.

  18. This is a great speech from Murakami and I would like to share with my Japanese friends. Where can I find the original copy in Japanese?

  19. Thank you for your comment.

    I'm sorry that his speech in Japanese had been deleted.

    You can see his speech in movies on youtube. He spoke in Japanese.


  20. arigatou gozaimashita, totemo omoshirokatta desu.

  21. Thank you for your comment. I'm glad to hear that.

  22. Thanks for the translation. I was alerted to Murakami's speech in Catalonia by a Japanese another blogger. The speech is absolutely fantastic, as always Murakami's clear view of world events is amazing, always bordering between reality and the "novelist dream world" and at the same time always providing a sharp and transparent view of events. This is a speech that goes way beyond talking about energy. It focused on government, companies and our own attitudes and behaviors as consumers and as citizens.
    Also, interesting how some Japanese cultural characteristics are similar to other cultures in the world, and probably these cultures are somewhat oblivious of this.
    Once again, many thanks for posting the translation!

  23. Pumba san, I'm really glad to hear that. In fact it was hard for me to translate it through.

  24. Yagian san,
    No problem. Actually I decided to add your blog to my list of blogs of interest to keep updated with your posts. I hope it is ok with you. You last post about women always being right is...right. I can only agree.

  25. I also added your beautiful blog to my list.

  26. Thank you for your wonderful work. I was searching for the English version of Murakami's speech, and finally came across to your translation! I could read your translation very smoothly with the nuance of the original Japanese being well reflected in the English version. This is how honestly I felt as a Japanese. I wish if I can write in English as well as you do!

  27. Thank you very much. I don't know how well is my translation. But I tried to do my best, so I'm very glad to hear that.

  28. Thank you for this translation, it must have been hard work and it has helped me get the sense of what Murakami said, before I listen in Japanese. But next time, please get your work checked by an English native speaker - it's full of small but important mistakes. Like "curve" where it should be "carve": there is a critical difference in meaning. I would never dream of letting anything I write in Japanese be seen in public, uless it was checked by a native speaker. Ganbatte kudasai! Laura

  29. Thank you for your comment.

    I know that you are right, but I don't have any native English friend to ask making correction of such a long journal.

    If you'd like to read the translation by a native speaker, you could read it on the blog "Senrinomichi"(http://www.senrinomichi.com/?p=2728).

    He found my journal and wrote his translation from my journal. I recklessly published my journal with full of mistakes, so he could wrote a good translation.

    If I can't publish my writings in English without native check, in fact it means that I can't write anything on the internet in English.

    I know that my English is full of mistakes, but if I didn't write this journal on my weblog in English, nothing would happen and there might not be English translation of his speech.

    I myself don't care about reading imperfect Japanese on the internet, and I actually read imperfect English and Japanese.