Japanese writer Yu Miri speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. Miri’s novel “Tokyo Ueno Station” has won the National Book Award 2020 for Translated Literature in the United States. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Japanese writer Yu Miri speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. Miri’s novel “Tokyo Ueno Station” has won the National Book Award 2020 for Translated Literature in the United States. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Novelist Yu Miri: Olympics not helping Fukushima rebuilding

Delayed recovery after March 2011 meltdowns at Fukushima nuclear plant

TOKYO — Yu Miri, who won this year’s National Book Award for translated literature, says Tokyo’s Ueno Park, where a homeless man kills himself in her award-winning story, looks very clean ahead of next summer’s Olympics. Still, she says, that doesn’t help to raise hope amid the coronavirus pandemic and the delayed recovery of the disaster-hit Fukushima region.

The park is a main setting of Yu’s award-winning novel, “Tokyo Ueno Station,” in which the protagonist, Kazu, a seasonal worker from Fukushima, ended up. The elderly man first came to the Japanese capital a year before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for construction work.

Yu said at a Tokyo news conference Wednesday that she visited the park recently and it was surprisingly clean, but that an area where she used to interview homeless residents for her book has largely been eliminated.

The book, first published in Japan in 2014, portrays the life of the seasonal worker without a place to go back — a theme for many of Yu’s works.

The story was based on her interviews with homeless squatters living in huts made of cardboard boxes and blue plastic tarp more than 10 years ago. She said she was also inspired by about 600 Fukushima residents she interviewed while hosting a local radio program that she started a year after the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The triple meltdowns at the plant caused massive radiation leaks to the outside, contaminated the surrounding areas and displaced as many as 160,000 people from the no-go zones and elsewhere in the prefecture. Most of those places have been reopened as the government has tried to showcase the recovery ahead of the Tokyo Games, but those who returned to their homes are largely elderly people.

Many families, especially with small children, say they don’t plan to return to their homes due to radiation concerns as well as loss of their former jobs and communities.

But their lives have significantly changed — for the worse — since Yu finished the book, with a growing sense of isolation among Fukushima residents amid preparations ahead of the Olympics, and the coronavirus pandemic that has made them more isolated, said Yu. She has since moved to Minamisoma, where she opened a book café in hopes of creating a place for locals to get reconnected after displacement due to the nuclear disaster.

“Both the nuclear accident and the coronavirus pandemic have revealed distortion and inequality in society,” Yu said.

“Many people see the situation through a lens of despair instead of a lens of hope,” she said. “Perhaps the story fit their thinking and that’s probably why the book has been widely read.”

She said disaster-hit areas have not recovered enough and preparations for the Olympics have taken away resources and jobs from the recovery projects, becoming part of the reasons delaying their reconstruction. “Organizers should have seen the level of progress of the reconstruction before deciding to host the Games,” she said.

The Olympics, initially planned for July 2020, were postponed until next summer due to the pandemic.

Many of those Yu interviewed had worked as seasonal workers in Tokyo during Japan’s post-war economic advancement. When they finally came back to have an easy retirement life back in their hometown, they lost their homes in the Fukushima disaster. “A man told me it was back luck, and the word got stuck in my chest like a thorn,” she said.

Yu remembered another thorn she has had in her chest from her past conversation with a homeless man. He told her that those who possess the roof and walls don’t understand the feelings of those who don’t.

“So I wrote the story of how the man named Kazu lived and chose death, not from the outside but his inner self, thinking that perhaps I can convey how he felt to those who have places to go back,” she said. “As a novelist, my job is to play a role as an endoscope to look inside of a person, while also showing him or her with an external camera.”

Yu, an ethnic-Korean who was born and raised in Japan, writes in Japanese and has won a number of Japanese literature awards, including the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1997 for “Family Cinema.”

By The Associated Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
UPDATE: Central Alberta cafe owner arrested after anti-restriction protest

The owner of a central Alberta cafe, which was the site of… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

Alberta recorded a single-day record of over 57,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta hits daily record of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Central zone has administered 111,735 doses of the COVID-19

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, is setting off a social media reaction with his calls to stop non essential shopping, such as "buying sandals at Costco", with this photo of his worn sandals, which he published to social media on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dr. Robert Strang, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Nova Scotia’s top doctor sparks meme with caution on non-essential shopping

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s top doctor has launched a social media meme… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Canada's chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Tam warns that full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Canada’s chief public health officer reminded Canadians on Saturday that even those… Continue reading

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour conducts drills during NHL hockey training camp in Morrisville, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
NHL relaxing virus protocols for vaccinated playoff teams

The NHL is relaxing virus protocols for teams that reach a threshold… Continue reading

Canada skip Kerri Einarson directs her teammates against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canada’s Einarson eliminated at curling worlds after 8-3 loss to Sweden’s Hasselborg

CALGARY — Canada’s Kerri Einarson was eliminated at the world women’s curling… Continue reading

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman didn’t expect to get hit with a double whammy at… Continue reading

A courtroom at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton on Friday, June 28, 2019. The effect of the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the Canadian justice system warn a number of legal experts. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench announced Sunday it would adjourn all scheduled trials across the province for at least 10-weeks limiting hearings to only emergency or urgent matters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of five-year-old girl

EDMONTON — An Edmonton woman was found guilty Friday of manslaughter in… Continue reading

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census mailer sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a residence in Ottawa, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Statistics Canada sees more demand to fill out census online during pandemic

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the response to the census is higher… Continue reading

Travellers, who are not affected by new quarantine rules, arrive at Terminal 3 at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Ottawa will create a new digital platform to help in processing immigration applications more quickly and efficiently after COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a digital immigration system, the immigration department said. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process… Continue reading

Most Read