Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt

Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt is an associate professor of Japanese modern literature at Nagoya University, Japan, whose work has focused on geographies of marginality and marginalization in contemporary Japanese literature.

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Her research is informed by the framework of gender studies, post-colonial literature studies, and eco-critical approaches to literature. She has widely published on Zainichi Korean minority literature, literary representations of precarity, and cultural responses to the 3/11-“Fukushima” disaster of 2011. Recent publications include Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt and Barbara Geilhorn, eds, Fukushima and the Arts: Negotiating Nuclear Disaster. Routledge 2017.

Fictional Fallout – Japanese literature and “Fukushima”

Nine years ago on the day this keynote will be held, a gigantic earthquake struck northeastern Japan. The ensuing tsunamis caused around 18,000 casualties and triggered the worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. According to sociologist Jeffrey Alexander, disasters are neither automatically nor inevitably perceived as such, but are constructed as calamity through a process of cultural narration and social signification. My talk focuses on how Japanese literature has contributed to that process during the past decade. In fact, the first artistic response was literary: Just days after the initial quake, the Fukushima-based poet Wagō Ryōichi turned to Twitter to release a virtual flood of highly documentary disaster poetry, gaining a large followership in no time. While Wagō’s work stands for an immediate, firsthand experience of disaster, it was primarily a mass-mediated experience for others. Some writers are concerned with issues of commemoration and the coming to terms with mass death; others call for a re-evaluation of the position of northeastern Japan—critically referred to as “energy colony”—within the Japanese nation state; still others frame “Fukushima” as environmental disaster or imagine dystopian futures. Scrutinizing various narratives and taking into account national and local perspectives, my presentation sheds light on cultural texts of power, politics, and space.