Buried Giants in Japan: A Talk With Joseph Essertier

Joseph Essertier, professor at Nagoya Institute of Technology and coordinator of World BEYOND War Japan, holding up a "No War" sign at a protest

By Marc Eliot Stein, World BEYOND War, April 28, 2023

Episode 47 of the World BEYOND War podcast is an interview with Joseph Essertier, professor at the Nagoya Institute of Technology and chapter coordinator of World BEYOND War Japan. Our conversation was prompted by a distressing global development: prompted by the United States in its rising hostility to China, Japan is rapidly “remilitarizing” for the first time since the unspeakable decades of tragedy that reached a ghastly conclusion in August 1945.

The world recognizes the obscenity of USA and Japan’s wealthy governments marching, sailing and flying arm-in-arm towards the third world war. But there has been far too little visible popular resistance to Japan’s remilitarization inside either USA or Japan. This was the starting point for my interview with Joseph Essertier, who has lived and taught in Japan for over 30 years.

I’ve known Joe as part of World BEYOND War for many years, but never before had a chance to ask him about his background, and some of this interview involves us discovering how much we had in common. We both read Noam Chomsky in college, and were both visited by Ralph Nader at our separate PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups, CALPIRG in California for Joseph and NYPIRG in New York for me). We also discovered a common interest in books and classic literature, and during this podcast interview we talk about a few great Japanese writers: Shimazaki Toson, Natsume Soseki, Yukio Mishima and Kazuo Ishiguro (who was born in Japan but has lived and written in England).

A fascinating recent novel by Kazuo Ishiguro provides the title for this episode. His 2015 book The Buried Giant is classified as a fantasy novel, and it takes place in a familiar realm of misty British fantasy: the scattered villages and hamlets of England in the anarchic decades after the fall of King Arthur, when Briton and Saxon populations coexisted in the barren lands that would eventually become London and southwest England. The Britons and Saxons seem to be dire enemies, and there is evidence that horrifying scenes of brutal war have recently taken place. But a strange mental phenomenon is also taking place: everybody keeps forgetting things, and nobody can remember exactly what happened in the last war. I hope it’s not a spoiler for this enigmatic novel when I reveal that the Buried Giant of the title is the buried awareness, the buried knowledge of past war. The forgetting, it turns out, is a survival mechanism, because it can be traumatic to face the truth.

There are buried giants inside the earth today. They’re buried in Hiroshima, in Nagasaki, in Tokyo and Nagoya, in Okinawa, in Zaporizhzha, in Bakhmut, in Brussels, in Paris, in London, in New York City, in Washington DC. Will we ever become brave enough to face the absurdities and tragedies of our own histories? Will we ever become brave enough to forge a better world of peace and freedom together?

Book cover of "The Buried Giant" by Kazuo Ishiguro

Thanks to Joseph Essertier for this fascinating and wide-ranging conversation! Musical excerpt for this episode: Ryuichi Sakamoto. Here’s more information about the G7 protests planned for Hiroshima:

An Invitation to Visit Hiroshima and Stand Up For Peace During the G7 Summit

The G7 in Hiroshima Must Make Plan to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Here’s World BEYOND War’s fact sheet about military bases in Okinawa and interactive map of US military bases around the world.

The World BEYOND War Podcast page is here. All episodes are free and permanently available. Please subscribe and give us a good rating at any of the services below:

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