Education About Asia: Online Archives

Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow: Our Minamata Disease

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BY ISHIMURE MICHIKO

TRANSLATED BY LIVIA MONNET

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, CENTER FOR JAPANESE STUDIES, 2003

379 PAGES, ISBN 978-1929280254, PAPERBACK

Reviewed by Jason R. Harshman

The study of Japanese environmental literature must begin with the work of author and reluctant activist Ishimure Michiko. This name may be unknown—and underappreciated—by many in the West due to a limited and delayed translation of Ishimure’s work outside of Japan and her unconventional approach to nonfiction writing. Ishimure first gained recognition in Japan for her determination to raise awareness regarding the onset of Minamata disease. Minamata disease is a neurological disorder that was caused by methyl-mercury poisoning of water and shellfish due to industrial pollution during the 1950s. Ishimure published “Sea of Camellias” in 1969, and in 1972 it became the first chapter of her masterpiece, Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow: Our Minamata Disease. This immediate best-seller received the Kumamoto Nichinichi Cultural Prize in 1969, among other awards, for its lyrical quality and exposure of such a serious topic. Parts two and three—The Shiranui Fisherman and What Yuki Had to Say—were published in serial form between 1970 to 1971 and 1972 to 1973 respectively, but the collection of these works was not published in English until 1990.

This immediate best-seller received the Kumamoto Nichinichi Cultural Prize in 1969, among other awards, for its lyrical quality and exposure of such a serious topic.