The 76th International Pen Congress is scheduled in Tokyo on the last week of September. The opening ceremony will take place on Sunday 26th of September at the Keio Plaza Hotel, in the famous and crowded commercial district Shinjuku. The works consist of seminars, a literary forum and the meeting of the delegates coming from all over the world. The leading theme of the congress is ‘Environment and literature’ a vast and very topical subject, which, in the organizers’ mind, shall be discussed not only from the point of view of the global heating and environment destruction, but will be extended to other forms that influence our life.
The Japanese Pen Club turns 75 this year, and this is something to celebrate. How? Hosting for the third time the International PEN Congress, the 76th from the foundation of the International Pen club that unites 144 centres in 102 countries around the world.
The roots of the Japanese Pen are to be found in the 20th century history, as its beginning is strictly bond to a dramatic event: the Manchurian incident in Mukden in 1935. The casus belli was a bomb blast of uncertain origin which took place in Manchuria, near the Northeast border of China. This led to a forced incorporation of the area by Japan. The incident determined Japan’s exclusion from the League of Nations and its international isolation, and this was a cause of concern for the liberal-oriented writers and diplomats. In this context, and answering the requests from London International PEN centre – supported by the main literates and critics all over the world –, on November 26th 1935, the Japanese Pen Club was born in the PEN headquarters in London. The first president of the organization was Toson Shimazaki, a famous novelist who dealt with the difficult task to keep in touch with the free world, even when the freedom of speech was harshly suppressed during the conflict with China, and, later, during the war in the Pacific area.
Ever since its birth, the Japanese Pen club played a first-class role in the Far-east region, thanks to the guidance of the presidents, that followed one another, and a rigorous self-sustainment policy that helped the strengthening of the principles of freedom, independence and individual respect on which the association is based. It is important to underline that the funds destined to its activities come almost entirely from subscription fees, no subsidies are received from the national government or institutions. Supporter associates as well have to be introduced by a Club member.
Today we count 1900 associates, amongst which: poets, writers, translators, journalists and critics. To ensure an efficient organization, considering the remarkable number of initiatives developed, the board avails of 40 directors, 30 of which are elected by the members and 10 are directly appointed by the President. The Board meets every month in order to approve the Pen activities, which are coordinated through 13 committees, and to elect the President every four years. The discussions during the meetings are duly reported and shared with all the Club members through monthly bulletins.
Since 2003, the Japan Pen Club has been publishing, either monthly or every other month, a newsletter that reaches public readers as well. It features: letters and writings from famous authors and up-and-coming writers, news about symposiums and conferences organized by the Club, and updates on the latest literary issues.
The quintessential high-tech country could not do without a digital library, containing 800 works by 650 members of the Club. The collection grows steadily and the database offers free access from Internet either in Japan or worldwide. It’s an important reference point for the modern Japanese literature, from the late Edo age to the current Heisei era.
The Japan Pen club is not only a cultural organization but also a publisher of novels, short stories and essays. Some of which enjoyed a success, selling over 100.000 copies. We cannot forget to mention the number of symposiums and conferences organized to support world-wide projects such the “Peace Days”, the 2005 Congress to sustain the writers in prison, or 2008 world forum about “Natural disasters and culture”, or the long list of petitions shared with other Pen centres.
This year’s International congress will try to define the role of the literature to keep alive the awareness towards the environment preservation.