ASLE-Japan Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

By Ikue Kina, University of the Ryukyus, PR representative, ASLE-Japan

ASLE-Japan, an organization launched in 1994 and the second oldest ASLE affiliate, is observing its 20th anniversary this year. We decided to implement two special projects as a way of demonstrating development toward our goal of fulfilling our organizational responsibilities, both social and academic, not only within Japan but also as part of the network of East Asian ASLE affiliates.

We expect the first project, the International Symposium of Literature and Environment in East Asia (ISLE-EA), which will be held on November 22-23, 2014, at Meio University in Okinawa, Japan, to become a touchstone to measure that growth and build upon the past three East Asian conferences that took place biennially in turn in Japan, Korea, and most recently, Taiwan. For the 2014 meeting entitled “Unsettling Boundaries: Nature, Technologies, and Art,” we have invited Professor Ursula K. Heise from UCLA as the keynote speaker and will pursue a continuing theme, which is to reconfirm and theorize our own particular ecocritical perspectives based on our commonly shared cultural traditions in East Asian regions.

sagittata1aThe other 20th anniversary project is publishing a Japanese anthology of ecocritical writings. In addition to selected academic papers authored by ASLE-J members, the book includes interviews with two novelists. One is with Kyoko Hayashi, an award-winning Japanese writer who has been writing on resistance and protests against the use of nuclear power based on her own experience as a survivor of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki during WWII, when she was a teenager. The other interview is with Karen Tei Yamashita, a Japanese American nominee for the National Book Award, who kindly contributed to our book her short story, “I, Kitty,” a story about near-future technologies that enable androids and cyborgs to replace human beings. Both writers are pivotal to ASLE-Japan and/or Japan today, as their writings pertain to our current concerns of a post-disaster ecological and social order and the question of humanity after the 3/11 earthquake and Fukushima.

The graduate students and younger members of ASLE-Japan made a great contribution to the production of this anthology. The volume includes their collaborative effort in translating the landmark article “Literature and Environment” originally published in the 2011 issue of Annual Review of Environment and Resources . The idea of publishing a Japanese translation of this article grew out of the reading workshop at ASLE-J’s 2012 annual meeting at Kinki University in Osaka. The book also compiles the definitions of key words and issues of ecocriticism, so this publication will familiarize both academic and non-academic readers in Japan with where we feel the concept of ecocriticism needs to go through further dissemination. We especially appreciate Gakuto Hayama and Keitaro Morita for their editorship of those sections.

The two 20th anniversary-related special projects suggest only part of ASLE- Japan’s organizational activities. Our 19th annual meeting, held at Shirayuri College in Tokyo on August 31 and September 1, 2013, included not only academic paper presentations but also a keynote performance by Dorian Sukegawa, an avant- garde Japanese artist who is also celebrated as a musician and a writer. The annual meeting was followed by a field trip to Minamisouma, a disaster-stricken area in Fukushima, which had a profound impact on those who participated in it.

It’s been three years since 3/11, the Great East Japan Earthquake. The memory of loss is still painful, and the radioactive contamination issues in Fukushima still continue unresolved. On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, ASLE-Japan, as an environmental organization, will continue pursuing our goals with the same aspirations yet with a different historical experience, and with new questions that we might not have needed to ask without it.