Japan's leading author Haruki Murakami has been under fire recently for acknowledging the Nanjing Massacre in his latest novel titled "Kishidancho Goroshi", or "Killing Commendatore."
The novel, released on Feb. 24 in Japan with 1.3 million copies printed, is Murakami's first multi-volume offering in seven years since 1Q84 and has instantly become a best-seller.
Part of the novel is about the hero, a 36-year-old painter living in the countryside, exploring together with his neighbor the riddles surrounding a painting titled "Killing Commendatore" stored in his attic.
When talking about the life experiences of the author of the painting, the neighbor mentioned a number of things that happened around 1937 and 1938, which were "fatal" to Japan, and also life-changing to the author of the painting and his family, including the full-scale commencement of Japan's invasive war against China and the Nanjing Massacre.
"Yes. It's the Nanjing Massacre. Japan seized the city of Nanjing after fierce battles and killed a lot of people there, both during the battles and after that. The Japanese troops had no time for the captives, so they killed most of the surrendered soldiers and civilians," writes Murakami through the voice of the neighbor in the book.
In the novel, the 20-year-old younger brother of the author of the painting was enlisted into the Japanese army and sent to China in 1938. He returned home in June 1939, but killed himself soon after that.
Why would a man surviving from the war, sound and unhurt, kill himself? Wondered the hero, which also reflects the wonder from the author of the novel.
The invading Japanese military brutally killed some 300,000 Chinese citizens and unarmed soldiers following the capture of Nanjing in 1937.
The novel, however, has drawn criticism from some ultra-right wing factions in Japan, who have been trying to completely deny the massacre ever happened. They have accused Murakami of "trying to be sycophantic to China so as to win a Nobel Prize" by mentioning the massacre in his novel.
Meanwhile, there are also many literary critics and readers praising Murakami's courage to explore such social and historical issues in his works.
"I'm reading the new novel by Murakami. I like it very much. Some people on Twitter attacked him as a traitor. I was surprised, " said a Japanese netizen on Twitter.
"Murakami mentioned the war that Japan has launched...He touched upon things that had aroused disputes. He is very courageous," said Mariko Ozaki, an editor from the Yomiuri Shimbun, a well-read newspaper in Japan.
Literary critics here have also pointed out the continuity in Murakami's works and his attitude towards the past war.
During a 2015 interview with the Tokyo Shimbun, just ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivering his speech to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, Murakami said Japan should repeatedly apologize for the atrocities it committed to its neighbors in the past war.
"I think history is very important, and to apologize sincerely is very important... To apologize is not something that is shameful," said the Nobel Prize Nominee.
In his earlier works, such as the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, published in 1994, he also exposed the atrocities committed by the Japanese troops in the invasive war against China through his characters' dialogues.
"The war that we are undergoing now is not normal in any way... We killed a lot of innocent civilians... In Nanjing, we did some very bad things... We pushed dozens of Chinese into a well and then threw in several hand grenades. We even did things that were unspeakable," he writes in the book.
"Murakami's attention to social and historical issues has been developing in his works. In his earlier works such as Hear the Wind Sing published in 1979, he focused more on his personal world. But the Tokyo Subway Sarin gas incident in 1995 shocked him, and after that, he began to pay more attention to society in his writings, as evidenced by his recent works such as 1Q84," said Li Shengjie, associate professor at Wuhan University in China and expert on Japanese literature.
"There is a kind of continuity in his focus on such issues. He mentioning Nanjing Massacre in his works is not a sudden change of attitude like some right wingers asserted, and definitely not for winning a Nobel Prize," said Li.
"Murakami's works are popular around the world, because he is very good at describing the common feelings of people in cosmopolitan cities, no matter the nationality, ethnicity or social stratum." Takashi Okada, a commentator from Kyodo News, told Xinhua.
"The reason that Murakami mentioned the Nazis and Japan's invasive war in his works, and that he called on Japan to apologize, is possibly that he feels people in different countries and with different opinions have to acknowledge first their common history before they could truly have heart-to-heart communications," he said.