When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Japanese-German writer Yoko Tawada
Japanese-German writer Yoko Tawada
Ric Wasserman

STOCKHOLM — Some say Japanese-born Yoko Tawada who has adopted Germany as her home is a writer with a split cultural personality. After 30 years, she still struggles to reconcile the differences.

“Like two personalities, they don’t want to be one,” she says. “They didn’t want to tell one story. I couldn’t put them together. It’s impossible.”

In Sweden to launch her 23rd book, The Naked Eye, the award-winning author says the story has links to her own experience traveling by train from Japan to Germany. “I came to Europe by the Trans-Siberian Railway,” she says. “It is a slow way. It’s not like flying to Europe. You’re in Siberia and all the other cities and places that are between Japan and Europe.”

Somehow, Tawada has stayed in limbo, between two worlds — Asia and the West. After moving to Germany, she saw that Germans looked at things very differently than the Japanese. “In Germany, people try to understand the world as a problem, and they criticize it and they try to find the answer, how to change it.”

Not so in Japan, a country where Confucianism has strong roots, and where people tend to take a different, softer approach. There, Tawada says, “You try to understand the universe as one, and you are a part of something that you criticize.”

There are many examples. In the West, anger is often directed at inanimate objects, Tawada says. Not in Japan. “In Japan, tradition tools — like a pen for the writer, or knife for the cook — they have respect for those tools. So you can’t say ‘stupid pen!’ If something is stupid, it’s you, not the knife or the pen.”

Standing in line at the book signing is Niklas Broman, a longtime admirer of Tawada’s work on the subject of alienation in society. “As a European myself, I can relate to it. Maybe because I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in.”

For the launch of her book, the German Goethe Institute is hosting a reading and discussion, the sort of event that would never happen in Japan. For the Japanese, reading is a personal experience, not something shared with an audience, Tawada says. “In Japan, the readers don’t ask questions to the author. So you never have to answer questions. You just write.”

Tawada has inspired many others to write, among them one of her readers, Miniko Vaneuler. “I also cherish a dream of writing something in Swedish and Japanese, and I actually translate and interpret sometimes,” Vaneuler says. “So I wondered if I could try — as she did.”

Keep reading...Show less
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Is Soft Power Dead?

With an activist Supreme Court creating a gap between democratic rhetoric and reality in the U.S., and Russia and China eager to flex military muscle, the full-force return to hard power looks bound for dominance.

U.S. flag and Chinese flag

Dominique Moïsi

-Analysis-

PARIS — Russia's war in Ukraine rages on, tensions are erupting in the South China Sea and now abortion rights are being stripped away in the U.S.: Looking around the world, we have to ask: what is left of the notion of soft power?

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

How can we talk about the power to convince when the power to coerce is increasingly the norm? And when there is such a gap between rhetoric and reality in the U.S. and in Russia and China, hard power almost seems to have become part of soft power?

“We will lead the world not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Joe Biden said the day after his election. But what kind of example was he talking about? That of the Supreme Court’s judges, whose decision promises a terrible future to women and to all those who still wanted to believe in an enlightened and liberal America?

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ