AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 656

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Session 656: War Literature and War Memory in Shaping Japanese Culture

Organizer: Nanyan Guo, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Japan

Chair: Theodore F. Cook, William Paterson University of New Jersey, USA

In A War Imagined, Samuel Hynes declared the First World War not only “the greatest military and political event of its time…. [It] was also the great imaginative event." He continued, “It altered the ways in which men and women thought not only about war but about the world, and about culture and its expressions.” Not only may this said to be true for that war at the beginning of the last century, but we who study Japan, and all those interested in war as a cultural phenomenon and a formative force in political and social history, need to ask ourselves if such an unqualified statement characterizes the cultural response to Japan's experience of wars fought in the middle of the Twentieth Century. This panel brings together five scholars from three countries who have worked to break down borders between the literature and history of the Asia-Pacific War to explore the place of memory in the creation, verification, and occasional mystification of each. Fusing literary study, oral history, and cultural excavation of Japan's war memories, papers will be made available online and statements by each panelist limited to 10 minutes of interpretation. The bulk of the session will be devoted to open discussion with the audience of the issues raised. While Japan is the nexus, the Chair will actively seek out students of other countries' war experience to join in from the floor, since it is our conviction that all can contribute to and perhaps learn from Japan's "war story."

Shattered Gods: The Unresolved Cultural Consequences of Japan’s Post-1945 Desymbolization Crisis
M. G. Sheftall, Shizuoka University, Japan

In his controversial Haisengoron (1995), literary and social critic Katou Norihiro claimed that Japan’s most important area of unfinished post-Asia Pacific War grief work has been its failure to properly mourn its war dead. However, this paper argues that the psychological fallout from Japan’s 1945 defeat itself has been of far more profoundly traumatic cultural significance, considering that it resulted in the catastrophically rapid and comprehensive delegitimization of the Imperial Era ideological matrix that had provided three generations of Japanese subjects with ontological equilibrium and a psychologically rewarding sense of participation in a transcendent national “immortality project” (Becker 1973). While early postwar attempts at a sincere national discourse of war legacy interpretation to overcome this trauma soon bogged down in political and ideological acrimony, Japan’s dizzying postwar economic growth papered over the cultural scars of the defeat with a replacement ideological matrix focused, similar to the old Imperial Era ideology, on Outgroup competition and provisions for individual and collective self-esteem directly tied to the rising fortunes of the national "enterprise." However, continuous economic doldrums since the early 1990s have crippled this postwar ideology, essentially leaving the Japanese people without a functioning transcendent national “immortality project” for nearly two decades. This paper will trace and chart the discursive dynamics of this process, discuss its cumulative effects on Japanese culture and society today, and finally, explore future possible courses of national subjectivity after the Imperial Era ideological matrix has faded from living Japanese memory.

Muted Voices: The Case of the Tsuru Akira--Prophetic Early Casualty
Haruko Taya Cook, William Paterson University of New Jersey, USA

What happens to someone who raises unpleasant questions in ways that might discomfort and annoy those in authority, particularly in time of conflict? This paper examines how one poet, faced with the frightfulness of his own times, attempted to capture them. The story's outcome is sad, but it challenges ideas about literature's utility in times of crisis and offers those seeking to remember the past key clues about how people living in that "different country" dealt with the contradictions between personal interest and issues of conscience, creativity, and human responsibility. Tsuru Akira (1908-1938), working class and self-educated, chose to express in the brief, biting senryuu 7-5-7 syllable verse-form deep social criticism and prescient views of Japan's fate as it plunged into war in the 1930s. An advocate for the poor and opponent of the military, even when conscripted himself, Tsuru has been "discovered" by contemporary media, but his struggle was largely ignored in recounting Japan's "Greater East Asia War," in part because his life was snuffed out by the State he opposed before the war's worst horrors had been revealed or acknowledged by Japan's literary world. Yet what he said, and how he came to be remembered, is itself vital part to understanding Japan's "imagined war." One of his senryuu may serve to capture his vision of the soldier's reality in a nation caught up in war: "Arms raised in 'Banzai' on departure, left on the Continent upon return" [Banzai to agete itta te o Tairiku ni oite kita]

Hotta Yoshie’s "Time": Overlap Between Perpetrators and Victims
Emiko Takeuchi, Chiba Institute of Technology, Japan

Because the post-war period is a product of the war, the major part of Japan’s post-war literature focuses on the war experience, beginning with the publishing of Noma Hiroshi’s novella A Dark Painting (by Shinzenbisha, 1947) about the agony and frustration of students in the war period. This work is followed by other representative stories and novels written by Umezaki Haruo, Takeda Taijun, Shiina Rinzō, Ōoka Shōhei, Shimao Toshio, Ōnishi Kyojin, Hotta Yoshie, Haniya Yutaka and Mishima Yukio. The so-called post-war period may be said to end in the1970s. Memoirs published after the war mainly show how the Japanese people were victimized. The victims are “war widows” who lost their husbands and had to raise their children by themselves, the people who returned to Japan after extreme suffering overseas, and the people who lost their families to the atomic bombings and air raids. Their memoirs are full of sorrow and anger at the military authorities. However, apart from those narratives written by the innocent victims, there has been a consciousness of damaging and victimized other countries during the war. This paper will discuss Hotta Yoshie (1918-1998)’s novel Time (Jikan, published by Shinchousha in 1955) which shows the fact that victims could be perpetrators at the same time. Through this novel, we will see how post-war literature has dealt with this issue, and why it is necessary to remember the war from the perspective of perpetrators. It allows us to challenge assumptions about guilt and innocence in human terms.

Myth and Memory: Representation of War in Ooba Minako’s Literature
Sachiyo Taniguchi, Ochanomizu University, Japan

Ooba Minako (1930-2007) experienced the end of World War II in Hiroshima. This has a great impact on her. The underlying theme in her literature is the relation between the war and human existence. Her novels thus have a unique place in Japan’s post-war literature. Since the publishing of How the War Has Been Represented (Sensoo wa donoooni katararetekita ka) by Kawamura Minato, et al, and Memorizing the War (Sensoo wo kiokusuru) by Fujiwara Kiichi, narratives of war memory have become an increasingly important issue war literature. From this point of view, Ooba’s literature needs to be carefully studied because it does not write about the war itself, but rather the war memory. The war is reflected by her characters’ reminiscences of their war experiences, such as the atomic bombing and mobilization of students to battlefields in China. In my paper I will analyze her trilogy―Funakuimushi, Urashimaso and Oujo no Namida―, and offer some thoughts on their significance in the war literature. In the trilogy, the characters’ narratives of the war experience. The entanglement is further expanded by mythological expression accompanied by more visual images. In the process of re-telling war experience, the borderline between what happened and what did not happen becomes blurred. Ooba did not intend to describe historical facts. Her aim lies in trying to overcome the dichotomy between good and evil, true and false, and victims and perpetrators. She attempted to describe the war as a grand modern mythology.

Osabe Hideo’s Literature: Mourning War Dead Outside Japan
Nanyan Guo, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Japan

How to mourn war dead reflects how survivors remember the war. Osabe Hideo (born in the Tsugaru region of Japan’s Northeast in 1934, is a contemporary writer and film critic. His older brother died in the Philippines shortly before WWII ended, when Osabe was 11 years old. The death plagued the whole family and scars left by that death can be seen in almost every corner of Osabe’s writing. His mother persistently wanted to hear her son’s voice through the medium of "itako", the blind female shamans of Tsugaru, who call out the dead in their trances. Talking to the soul of the dead is Tsugaru’s way of mourning the dead and comforting the survivors. However, Osabe chose to talk to his brother’s soul not at Yasukuni Shrine, but on a high mountain in the Philippines, where not only was his brother was killed, but where hundreds of Filipinos were victimized by Japanese bullets. To Osabe, both Japanese and Asian war dead need to be mourned. His two novels In the Unknown Battleground [Mishiranu senjoo, 1986] and Visiting Brother Who Died in War [Senjoo de shinda ani wo tazunete, 1988] are devoted to this theme. As a successful writer of popular literature, his influence on ordinary people’s thinking cannot be overlooked and in Osabe’s novels, we may see one possible way Asian victims may find a place in Japanese society's collective war memory, though we need to question such thoughts' place in the broader Japanese and international narratives of war.