Anatomy of Ashes: Fiction and Non-Fiction responding to Fukushima Disaster

Hello, all. My name’s Jordan Sutlive, and as of this blog post I’m a junior and English major at the college. (The junior status will change in less than a week; being an English major, however, has been part of the plan since middle school.) I’m here to inform y’all about my summer research, which will involve extensive traveling and secondary research in order to create an anthology of creative writing which addresses the recent disaster in Japan known as 3/11.
On March 11th, 2011, an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown devastated the Tohoku region of Japan, which resulted in the loss of billions of dollars worth of damage, and over fifteen thousand lives. While much has been made about Japan’s complicated relationship with nuclear power, and blame has been directed towards organizations such as TEPCO, partially responsible for the construction and facilitation of the nuclear plants in Fukushima, I want to look at how the disaster affected Japan on both a cultural and individual level. That is, I want to move away from pointing fingers and political commentary and simply ask, “How do people internalize and/or represent the trauma experienced on March 11th?”
The difficulty with this, as you might have gathered, is that my relationship with Japan is indirect and distant at best. While I’ve been passionate and willing to learn about Japanese culture since middle school, I’ve never visited, and have only started to learn the language. Thus I’m caught in the position of the outsider, someone who is aware of but has never actually experienced the nation or area affected by a particular disaster. I strongly believe this provides me with as many potential benefits as there are challenges in representing Fukushima’s cultural trauma to a wider audience. Although my grasp of the language is limited, I have friends who live in Japan and are willing to provide me with interview subjects who were there on that day. But I think most importantly that my position as an outsider will in effect allow me to become a bridge, or medium, to allow communication between the Japanese and American cultures. That is, my primary audience is American, because the main goal of this research is to show an American audience the particular trauma the Japanese faced, in the hopes of creating a bond between the two cultures and fostering sympathy for the victims. If I remind my audience that I too am an outsider, they are more likely to identify with me and will thus listen more acutely to the stories I have to tell.
This research will be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, with regards to my creative writing. I want to be faithful to my subjects when I write both my fiction and nonfiction, but above all I want people to know that people living in the Tohoku region still need our help. Writing stories is a somewhat insignificant step in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still a step, and it’s something I know I want to do for the rest of my life. I hope you’ll continue reading this blog as I update you on the stories and experiences of the victims of Fukushima.