AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 748

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Session 748: War, Memory, and Japanese National Identity Construction over Time and Space

Organizer: Kaori Yoshida, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan

Chair: Shunichi Takekawa, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan

Discussant: Manfred Henningsen, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

People understand their national identity through the past by means of memories, which are born through the dark narratives of war. These narratives are often encoded as the visual archives of our society, not only in the form of war monuments, shrines, and museums, but also in popular media. Approached from different disciplines—political science, sociology, media studies, and gender studies—all papers share an attempt to examine the formation of Japan’s national identity associated with war narratives, focusing on specific time(s) and site(s). Kim will examine the Atomic Bomb Dome’s commemorative processes, by looking at how Hiroshima has treated the rhetoric of memories, which manifest Japan as an aggressor and a victim. Taking a cultural trauma perspective, Hashimoto’s paper examines history manga to provide insights into recent efforts to (re)discover a renewed identity of Japan through translating war stories into cultural memories. As a specific example, two papers on the panel are concerned with the Battleship Yamato—a cultural/national icon—that links Japanese identity and war memory in a complex manner: Takekawa analyzes different films and manga of the battleship, attempting to explicate the intertwined concepts of realism, pacifism, internationalism, and anti-Americanism. Yoshida, while also examining the popular narrative of the Yamato, discusses Japan’s gender(ed) identity, which is articulated through recurring motifs of the battleship narrative. With a different methodology, Fukuoka, referring to college students’ surveys and interviews, will demonstrate Japanese people’s understanding of their identity in relation to national symbols such as the Rising Sun flag.

Commemorating the Dark Past: The Atomic Bomb Dome and Hiroshima History Movement
Mikyoung Kim, Hiroshima City University, Japan

This paper examines UNESCO’s designation of Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome a world cultural heritage from history movement’s perspective. In doing so, it will focus on two dynamics: utilization of rhetorical frame and mobilization of support networks. As a part of UNESCO application, the city had to provide justifications for the Dome’s values as a tangible cultural heritage site. The municipal government framed the rhetoric of “Hiroshima Spirit,” converting the city’s dark past into a powerful symbol of anti-nuclear pacifism. The negative history of colonial conquests, war-making, massive scale casualties and human potential of self-annihilation was transformed into moral advocacy against war and nuclear weapons. Another is to look at the mobilization of multi-level support networks. The municipal government coordinated with a non-governmental group (susumerukai), experts in local history and architectural conservation, three Cabinets (Hosokawa, Hata, and Murayama), and both houses of the national diet for the cause. This paper concludes by pointing out two lessons in Hiroshima’s history movement. One is effective combination of rhetorical frame and multi-level mobilization---a useful model for others. Another lies with problematic moral superiority drawing on victim-consciousness. The edifice testifies to Japan’s historical irony: it tells a story of the complicated past while standing tall as a world cultural heritage---a site of shame and pride.

Between Banality and Apathy: A Study of Japanese Nationalism
Kazuya Fukuoka, Saint Joseph's University, USA

The study of taken-for-granted nationalism has been bourgeoning in the last decade or so. With Michael Billig’s seminal thesis of banal nationalism, it is now more common to see those studies that focus on day-to-day unconscious flagging of established (as opposed to new) nations. How do the nation uphold once established? In this line, there are also studies that re-emphasize Durkheimian moment of collective effervescence in these societies, i.e., "ecstatic events" (such as Olympics and World Cup) that concretize national identities. By critically engaging with the above concepts, this study examines how ordinary Japanese people perceive their nation. Although survey evidence suggests that great majority of Japanese people love their own country and are proud to be Japanese, there is no evidence to suggest that these traits necessarily tap into more nuanced patriotic feelings and attitudes. Also importantly, little empirical research has been done on how people in Japan generally understand national symbols such as Hinomaru national flag in relation to national identity. What are the sources of national pride? How proud are they? Or, not? What is the nature of Japanese nationalism? These questions also penetrate into the very notion of memory-nation nexus in Japan. How do the Japanese people perceive Japan’s past wrongs in Asia, and how is this perception associated with their sense of nation? This study is exploratory in nature and employs three levels of data, including public opinion polls, college student surveys, and semi-structured interviews.

Heroes, Victims, and Perpetrators: The Shifting Mnemonic Landscape in Heisei Japan
Akiko Hashimoto, University of Pittsburgh, USA

Winners and losers remember wars differently. For every victor who remembers a good, honorable war, there is a vanquished counterpart who remembers a humiliating failure. If winners accept victory as a mostly uncomplicated affair, losers, by contrast, face a predicament of living with a discredited past that stains national history. This paper illuminates the impact of this quandary in post-World War II Japan, and its search for a renewed identity in the global world at the turn of the century. The paper explores the contours of national memory of war in Japan with a focus on the renewed efforts in the 1990s and 2000s to “translate” war stories into cultural memory as the wartime generation diminishes in size and influence. Specifically, the paper will examine a range of mainstream history manga that depict heroes, victims and perpetrators of the war. Comparisons with other narrative forms in the cultural media will also be offered.

Nationalisms in Battleship Yamato-Featured Stories: How the Japanese Have Entertained Conflicting Ideas for Postwar National Identity Construction
Shunichi Takekawa, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan

Battleship Yamato of the Imperial Japanese Navy, sunk by US airplanes southwest of Kyushu on its “one-way” voyage to Okinawa in 1945, has inspired many creators of animations, manga, and films to write various narratives over last six decades. Some find shadows of prewar militarism or ultranationalism in such narratives; however, ideological perspectives reflected in those narratives are more than that. Two of the most successful Yamato-featured narratives, a TV anime series, Uchu Senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato), and a manga series, Chinmoku no Kantai (The Silent Service), reflect a variety of ideological perspectives such as internationalism, world federalism, pacifism, anti-Americanism, and environmentalism while both attempt to restore Japan’s national pride against the backdrop of respective time periods. The former started in 1974 when Japan emerged as an economic power in world politics but its economic growth slowed down. The latter was serialized from 1988 to 1996 against the backdrop of the ending of the Cold War. This paper examines those popular narratives as well as others like a live-action film, Otokotachi no Yamato (The Men of Yamato), reconsiders Yamato as a cultural and national icon, and demonstrates how conflicting, diverse ideological perspectives are reflected in the Battleship Yamato-featured narratives as part of postwar Japanese national identity reconstruction.

Lost in Memory: Gendered Identity of Japan in Narratives of The Battleship Yamato
Kaori Yoshida, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan

Japanese war cinema has addressed troubled gender identity, as well as feminization of the hitherto patriarchal “Japaneseness,” effectively projecting the problematic in the concept of gender and sexuality of postwar Japan. This paper examines gendered manifestations of “Japaneseness” in one of the most popular war narratives, the battleship Yamato, as it plays a significant role in national identity formation. The popularity of the story is exhibited by the successive releases of Otokotachi no Yamato (The Men of the Yamato) in 2005, the animated film Battleship Yamato in 2009, and a live-action film The Space Battleship Yamato scheduled to hit theaters in December, 2010. War narratives are often heavily gendered, or male-centered. As suggested in the film title “The Men of the Yamato,” the existence of female figures is often trivialized in popular war narratives. In this sense, Japan’s national identity through media representation is articulated based on the binary discourse; men have been associated with war, while women with peace. The trivialization of women has contributed to re-masculinization of the nation after the war, though it certainly does not do justice to the significant role that Japanese women played during and after the war. Based on these observations, this paper, examining narratives of the battleship Yamato in both animated and live-action films, attempts to clarify the mechanisms by which gendered memories of war articulate national identity. It also explicates how femininity—“marginalized gender” in the war scenario—may play a part in the rebuilding and recovery of Japan’s national identity.