You may have heard that legendary Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami runs a blog where he answers questions sent in by readers. He’s tackled subjects ranging from the meaning of life to how to become a writer to what animal ability he’d like to have.
In one of his most recent questions, Murakami gives his opinion on a very touchy subject in Japan: nuclear power. Instead of calling out for reform or regulations though, he suggests one very simple change: that Japanese people refer to what they currently call “atomic energy power plants” as “nuclear power plants” instead.
Ever since the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown, nuclear power has been a very controversial subject in Japan. Just a few months ago the first official steps were taken to restart two nuclear reactors in Sendai, causing outrage among the local population.
All this is probably what caused an anonymous 54-year old female lecturer to ask Haruki Murakami this question:
“In your 1999 collection of essays, you wrote: ‘Japan, as an economic power, should find another source of power besides atomic energy. It may cause a temporary economic dip, but we will be respected as a country that does not use nuclear power.’ …Then in the speech you gave when you received the International Catalunya Prize, in regard to the meltdown, you said: ‘Japan should say “no” to nuclear.’ Now, several years later, what is your opinion?”
Before we get to Murakami’s answer, we need to just clear up a bit of linguistic information. In Japanese, nuclear power plants are referred to as “atomic energy power plants,” using the word genshi (atomic) instead of kaku (nuclear). This may not seem like an incredibly important point, but it is a little strange that “nuclear weapons” is translated into Japanese using kaku, while “nuclear power plant” conveniently avoids that scary word and opts for the less-evocative-of-destruction genshi instead.
Here’s Murakami’s (abridged) response:
“Ah, I did write something like that, didn’t I? Either way though, my thoughts on nuclear energy haven’t changed since then.
“In my opinion, I don’t think we should call them ‘atomic energy power plants.’ They’re called ‘nuclear power plants’ in English, so why is it different in Japanese? Just that small change makes it seem like they’re trying to hide how dangerous these places are from people. It makes them sound more peaceful.
“The big electric companies pour money into these (comparatively) poor areas, get the government on their side, then before you know it they’ve constructed a plant with the approval of only the small area it’s actually being built in (when they really should require the approval of the surrounding areas as well). That’s how disasters like Fukushima happen.
“So can we call them ‘nuclear power plants’ from now on? It would help validate the opinions of the people who oppose them. That’s my two cents on the matter.”
Nuclear energy in Japan is not going to stop being a contentious issue anytime soon. There are those who argue it’s by far the safest and cleanest form of reliable energy, but anyone traumatized by the Fukushima meltdown is going to have a very different opinion.
What do you think? Do you agree with Murakami? Or do you think changing a few words around is just a silly idea? Let us know in the comments!