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Hi Blog. About a month ago, Briton Kazuo Ishiguro, who writes exclusively in English, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Predictably, Japan’s media boasted that a third Japanese writer (with the caveat that he was Japan-born) had won a Nobel.
Well, not really. Imagine, say, Germany claiming as their own all the Nobel-laureate scientists of the Deutsch diaspora living abroad, even those without actual German citizenship, for however many generations?
In Japan, this highly-questionable social science is hardly problematized. As noted below by Reuters, a similar claim was laid to Shuji “Slave” Nakamura, inventor of the LED, who due to his foul treatment by Japan’s scientific and academic communities quite actively disavows his connections to Japan (in fact, he urges them to escape for their own good). Same with Yoichiro Nambu, who got Nobelled as a team in 2008 for Physics, yet had been living in the US since the 1960s, was a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, and had even relinquished Japanese citizenship and taken American.
I suspect these odd claims massage a rather insecure national pride. Also because they are largely unquestioned under the concept of Japan as an ethnostate, where nationality/citizenship is directly linked to blood ties. That is to say, anyone who is of Japanese blood can be claimed as a member of the Japanese societal power structure (i.e., a Wajin). And the converse is indeed true: Even people who take Japanese citizenship but lack the requisite Wajin blood are treated as foreign: Just ask Japan’s “naturalized-but-still-foreign” athletes in, say, the sumo wrestling or rugby communities.
It’s a pretty racist state of affairs. One I discuss in depth in acclaimed book “Embedded Racism” (Lexington Books, 2015). And, as I argue in its closing chapter, one that will ultimately lead to the downfall of a senescent Japan. Dr. Debito Arudou
“Who’s Kazuo Ishiguro?” Japan asks, but celebrates Nobel author as its own
Chang-Ran Kim. Reuters, October 5, 2017, courtesy lots of people
TOKYO (Reuters) – Minutes after Japanese-born Briton Kazuo Ishiguro was announced as the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, Japanese took to Twitter to ask: “Who (the heck) is Kazuo Ishiguro?”
For those who had never heard of the author of “The Remains of the Day” and other award-winning novels, the name that flashed across smartphones and TV screens was puzzling – it was undoubtedly Japanese-sounding, but written in the local script reserved for foreign names and words.
Far from the super-star status that his erstwhile compatriot – and perpetual Nobel favorite – Haruki Murakami enjoys, Ishiguro is not a household name in Japan.
But by Friday morning, the nation was celebrating the 62-year-old British transplant, who writes exclusively in English, as one of its own, seizing on his own declaration of an emotional and cultural connection to Japan, which he left at age five.
“I’ve always said throughout my career that although I’ve grown up in this country (Britain) … that a large part of my way of looking at the world, my artistic approach, is Japanese, because I was brought up by Japanese parents, speaking in Japanese,” Ishiguro said on Thursday.
Japanese newspapers carried his Nobel win as front-page news, describing him as a Nagasaki native who had obtained British citizenship as an adult.
“On behalf of the government, I would like to express our happiness that an ethnic Japanese … has received the Nobel Prize for Literature,” Japan’s chief government spokesman said.
The Sankei daily boasted: “(Ishiguro) follows Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburo Oe as the third Japanese-born writer” to win the prize.
The country similarly celebrated with gusto the 2014 Nobel Prize co-winner in physics, American Shuji Nakamura, despite his having abandoned his Japanese nationality years ago. Japan does not recognize dual citizenship for adults.
Many Japanese are familiar with Ishiguro’s 2005 dystopian novel “Never Let Me Go” through its dramatisation in a local TV series last year, though the fact that Ishiguro wrote the work was less known. In the last 16 years, Hayakawa Publishing, which holds exclusive rights to translate Ishiguro’s works into Japanese, sold less than a million of his eight titles.
Japanese may yet yearn for an elusive Nobel for Murakami, but for now, Ishiguro is their man of the hour.
“Since last night, we’ve received orders for 200,000 copies,” Hiroyuki Chida at Hayakawa Publishing said. “That’s unthinkable in this day and age.” ENDS
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