So, while away in Chicago stuffing my face on pizza and red meat, I took some time to read a book which is hot off the press here in Canada, David Pilling’s Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival. To say the book is simply a well-written account of the days and months after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent nuclear meltdown at Fukushima (though authorities at the governing Tepco organization were loathe to use the word “meltdown,” perhaps because they were suffering meltdowns themselves), is a grave understatement. The Financial Times’ former Tokyo correspondent has accomplished so much more in this look at Japan and its ability to bounce back from horror while remaining resilient in the face of indescribable hardship.
The title of the book is a reference to a phrase he heard someone use once in reference to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima – wazawai wo tenjite fuku to nasu – which the author translates as “bend adversity and turn it into happiness.”
Pilling has written both an investigative journal on Japan and its uncanny ability to rebound from unspeakable tragedy as well as a personal account of certain Japanese people who are shaping their country’s future path as we speak. Murakami Haruki (of wild sheep chasing bird chronicle fame) and Natsuo Kirino (whose novel Out is incredible) are among the numerous rock stars Pilling got together with and interviewed for the book.
For many reasons, I’ve long enjoyed reading fiction and non-fiction on and about Japan. For me, Pilling’s offering now joins the ranks of Herbert Bix’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan and Haruko Taya Cook & Theodore F. Cook’s Japan at War: An Oral History as seminal non-fiction works on the country.