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What can we do for global environmental literature?
—The aims of the International PEN Congress in Tokyo 2010 Literature Forum

Mr. Shinobu Yoshioka
Author, Representative Director of Japan P.E.N Club, Literature Forum Planning Chief-Secretary

How does literature paint the environment?

If we are asked the above question, we authors are puzzled. Since humans have taken over God as the leading player in the world, literature has concentrated on writing about events made in the world by humans. This earth and natural environment would be ignored if there weren't iron and diamonds, or coal and oil buried in it.

But, in this world where modern literature has been focused on humans for over 200 years, when there were only a few hundred million people, now houses 6.8 billion with the population increasing by 100 million people a year. This enormous population, who work furiously to save money to eat three meals, be clothed, live, excrete and dispose, and then sometimes use the money to move around for a change of surroundings, has made the atmosphere swelter and shaved away at the earth.

One of the literature forums. "Cow" training scene

When you think of hot summers, partial winters, polluted oceans, desolate forests and dried up underground water, we have lost fish and insects that should be there, and have an increase in animals that shouldn't be there. Doesn't anybody think that that something is strange in this world of late?

In this kind of world, there is also a space for the earth and nature. Recently we have started to take the human world as one viewpoint of society and earth and nature. Someone once said that globalism is a perfect way to put it. The earth doctrine, different from the international and cosmopolitan we had until then. The reality that the earth and nature have suddenly reached their limits through economic expansion has been inevitably sealed here.

All works that will be presented at this literature forum and the opening ceremony of International PEN Congress in Tokyo 2010 will strongly reflect these circumstances of globalism. Six works will be at the forum, and one reading performance will take place at the opening ceremony (see Japan P.E.N Club website for details).

Stage photo of the Japan P.E.N Club sponsored and hosted World P.E.N Forum, "Natural Disasters and Literature", in February 2008. Due to the favorable reviews of the readings, music and videos from here, it became the trigger for the hosting of the International PEN Congress in Tokyo 2010, as well as the model for the literature forum.

Authors will not talk directly about the loss of biodiversity and climate change. They also won't write about destruction of the environment, or the devastation of forests, rivers and seas. But, they will talk a lot about the endless demands of humans which bring about these, and the systems, customs and prejudices which cause nothing but pain to nature or humans themselves. They will also write plenty about that simplemindedness and ludicrousness.

But how is that different from modern and current literature up until now? It is, without doubt, clearly different. These authors are strongly conscious of that we no longer have the uncivilized earth, outer space, and even utopia in the 21st century. They are clearly aware that we can only live with the crowds in the "here and now" environment that is full of problems.

I want many people to feel the content and texture of these works, so I decided to bring the six works to the stage.

A script was made from a thick book, and will be read aloud by famous actors and announcers, as well as professional storytellers and moving picture interpreters. Enthusiastic artists, sculptors and video artists who had read the script will create visuals to go along with the story, and musicians familiar with world music will give live performances with each presentation. The stage at Waseda University's Okuma Auditorium will be extended in an attempt to make the whole hall a single story space.

For each performance of the works, the author will appear on stage to talk about the background and motif of the work. This will be the first time for these men and women from overseas to see their works read live on stage and colored with visuals and music. With that surprise, even I can't imagine what they will talk about.

Test simulation of the giant screen that will be lowered onto the Okuma Auditorium stage. At Setsu Asakura's studio.

For myself, who is in charge of planning, I would really like the authors and audience alike, to enjoy each work. That is because entertainment is one of the important effects of literature as well.

However, one thing is clear.

After the performance, if you notice in yourself that you look at the ground, the autumn air and the moving clouds, or the grass and trees, the insects and fish, like you do the men and women walking next to you, that is an indication that something has started to change. Our futures will only open up through the possibilities of us changing ourselves.

Literature paints those possibilities, those tiny indications.

Introduction to International PEN Congress in Tokyo

I would like everyone to participate. This is a vibrant event which merits participation. There is only one performance, and if you regret afterwards that you wanted to see it, it is too late. The main venue is Waseda University at the end of September.

International PEN is an international organization of writers, founded in 1921, that advocates freedom of speech. Japan P.E.N Club joined in 1935 through the auspices of Toson Shimazaki, and has a 75 year history. Currently 102 countries (144 centers) participate, and hold a congress each year around the globe. Japan has held the international congress in 1957, under President Yasunari Kawabata, and 1984, under President Yasushi Inoue. This autumn marks Japan's third hosting of the event.

What I especially want to mention is that hopes for Japan are particularly high. The truth is, Of the International PEN Congresses, Japan P.E.N Club's activities have been outstanding. The core of International PEN Congress is, of course, the convention which decided the direction of the organizations activities, but general participation is not encouraged here, and honestly, it has the feel of a very small international meeting. Important as it maybe, it isn't very interesting. Because literature artists gather, "Let's make the Literature Forum lively!" has been the call from Japan P.E.N for some years now, and in that respect, this Tokyo congress will be (regardless if it is the first and last) unprecedented in terms of liveliness.

The theme is, "Literature and Environment. Now, What Shall I Write?" By circulating this theme, many, many functions have been set. The choice of theme, when considering the current situation of the earth, is self-explanatory. Remarkable environmental destruction is plain to see on the earth. The impact is truly frightening. What can writers do in response to that? What function does writing have? Those are the questions we pose. I will come back to details later but, the many works to be read aloud, accompanied by visuals, music and so on, will "entertain the audience" with that spirit. At a meeting with a slightly difficult lecture, we present you with something completely different. We will have appearances from big overseas names. Creators who involve themselves in environmental problems from ground level will also come.

Another point worth noting is that the Tokyo congress is also the International PEN Congress being hosted by Asia. There can be no denying that with International PEN being an organization founded in Europe, it has been centered on Europe and America. But, it is needless to say, that there was no "international" to it. Asia is closely connected to all the aims of this organization, freedom of speech, realization of peace, cultural exchange, and the theme of this congress, environmental issues. This autumn, it is unknown what statements will come from Asia, but it is definitely necessary to have a Pacific Rim viewpoint in addition to Europe, America and Africa. The Tokyo congress has staked large expectations on this vital point, and will be an event responding to those expectations with self-confidence. Also related to this event is how much presence Japan has throughout the world in a cultural sense. If you look at the program, you will see that the enthusiasm isn't half-hearted. All we hope for now is that everyone comes to participate.

As it is a gathering of writers, we are considering a commemorative publication. We have requested that a commemorative logo be printed on all books published by Japan P.E.N Club members in 2010. You will be able to see them in store shelves (some will stand out, some won't, there are many kinds). While somewhat a personal announcement, but also in my position as a Japan P.E.N Club representative, "Yamihiko (God of Darkness)", a novel I have been working hard on has been published by Shinchosha. With an English translation, along with a translation of Hisashi Inoue's chorus reading of "Water Letter", being prepared in a booklet published by Japan P.E.N Club, we intend to cater for foreign participants as well. At any rate, the congress theme is "Environment and Literature", and while my novel may be difficult in places to relate to environmental issues, after a few hardships, I completed it. What is Yamihiko? Everybody knows the myth of Yamabiko (god of the mountain) and Umihiko (god of the sea). Using this as a starting point, I produced a story related to human life.

There will be numerous displays, recitals by poets, and over 200 participants from over 80 countries. Everyone's last ounce of strength will produce exciting demonstrations.

I really hope you'll find it worth waiting for.

Mr. Takashi Atoda

Born in Tokyo in 1935. Novelist. After graduating from Department of French Literature, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Waseda University, worked for a time at the National Diet Library, and then as a lambent columnist. And then in the 1960s and early 1970s he started writing the short novel "A Strange Taste", before winning the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1954 with "The Visitor", and the Naoki Award with the short story collection, "Napoleon-Mania".

A short story writer known for his meticulous works, he has also shown interest in longer stories with "Crimson Trip" and "Ghost Story", as well as historical novels based on ancient European history such as "Alexandros the Lion King". His educational series like, "Do You Know Greek Mythology?" is also enjoyed by readers. He won the Eiji Yoshikawa Award in 1995 for "The New Tale of Troy", the Purple Ribbon in 2003, and the Order of the Rising Sun in 2009. Currently a selection committee member for the Naoki Award and president of Japan P.E.N Club.

Program of International PEN Congress in Tokyo 2010


Mr. Shinobu Yoshioka
Author, Representative Director of Japan P.E.N Club, Literature Forum Planning Chief-Secretary

Author. Representative Director of Japan P.E.N Club. As Literature Forum and Opening Ceremony Planning Chief-Secretary for International PEN Congress in Tokyo 2010, he has been working as general producer.
Born in Nagano Prefecture in 1948. Began writing actively while studying at Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics. On the other side of walking around educational, technological and incident sites, he also continues to take himself to Europe, America, China and Asian countries for research. He won the 1987 Kodansha Nonfiction Award for his depiction of the JAL air crash in "Summer Crash" (Shinchosha). Received the Japan Journalist Club Award in 1999.
Also, in the broadcasting world, is representative chairman of the third party organization "Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization", as well as a member of the screening committee for program contests for National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan (NABLOCAL).

Major publications include, essays and nonfiction works such as "Going to See 'Incidents'", "Playing Japanese", "M/ World's Depression Spearhead" (all published by Bunshun), "Towns I Saw in the Newspaper", "Fairytales on the Street" (Asahi Shimbun), "Falling America" (Chuko), "The Story of the Village That Produced a Miracle", "The Story of a Castaway", "Japanese Disposition" (Chikuma Primer Shinsho), and the novel "The Moon's Knife" (Rironsha).