Japan's World War II in Asia: 70 Years On


Abstracts (in order of appearance)
Click each title to expand/close.

Japan’s Early Modern Wars (1894-1905): A Point of Reference for Rational Engagement in the Pacific in the Early 1940s, Rotem Kowner, Haifa University
Japan's onslaught on American bases in the Pacific in December 1941 is often considered the beginning of its imperial collapse—an unsound, even irrational, decision that  brought about surrender four years later. But was it indeed irrational? When referring to national actions in the international arena, “rationality,” and especially “irrationality,” tend to be an ex post facto designation rather than an objective assessment. That is, when an “against all odds” decision is successful it is labeled “daring” and “rational,” but when it fails it is dismissed as “irrational.”  This is not to say that there are no “rational” and “irrational” decisions and actions, but that their ultimate gauge is often their outcomes rather than the conditions when they are made. The First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, the two major war Japan took part in until the late 1930s, may serve as a case in point. Had Japan lost in them, its decision to go to war with vast Qing China and mighty Imperial Russia would be considered irrational as well. After all, contemporary China had 10 times larger population and about four times larger army, whereas Russia had three times larger population, GNP, Army and Navy. But Japan won both wars and therefore no scholar today regards the Japanese decision for war as irrational. Still, neither ante-bellum China nor Russia seemed fundamentally different from the United States on the eve of the Pacific War. True, the American GNP was relatively larger (six times greater than that of Japan), but its population was only 2.5 times bigger and in terms of size its navy in the Pacific, and especially army, was relatively weaker. If any, this comparison suggests that in term of GNP Imperial Japan displayed a gradual willingness to take risks against larger powers, but otherwise, there was nothing fundamentally different in Japan’s risk taking, perhaps even the opposite. Eventually, however, there was one crucial difference between the Pacific War and its predecessors: Here Japan lost while previously it won. In this presentation I seek to examine the role of Japan’s victories in the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War in shaping its strategical  design, risk taking in particular, on the eve of the Pacific War. My main thesis is that certain reality, but also constructed memories and partial myths regarding success in these two early engagements (e.g., initial surprise attacks,“spiritual” superiority displayed in warfare, early denouement via negotiations, and gains of further territory and international recognition) made the Japanese decision making in the late 1930s and early 1940s look risky but still feasible and even rational in that context.
Yamada Yoshio and the Language of Nationalism in Imperial Japan, Paul Clark, West Texas A&M

By the end of the Meiji period, modern kokugo was well on its way to becoming the national standard and had become an essential element of Japanese national identity.  The "statist" ideology which undergirded it was clearly ascendant. In the struggle to define and create kokugo in the Meiji period, officials had been careful to control the discussion about the form and function of the national language.  They characterized it as the patriotic duty of all Japanese subjects to learn and necessary for the continued development of moral education.  The linguists and educators of the next generation, however, were divided.  Hoshina Kōichi (1872-1955), a pure linguist, felt that the language could still benefit from continued rationalization and standardization.  Yamada Yoshio (1873-1958), a literature specialist, was concerned that language reform had gone far enough.  Any further and the language would be corrupted. 
In the 1930s, Yamada was one of a handful of officials with the power to both influence public discourse about language and set government policy on language education.  This paper will outline the ideas he championed and demonstrate how kokugo shifted from being an important instrument for the development of (generally positive) national identity to a practical tool for social control. 

War in the Public Imagination: Portrayals of Violence in the 1920s and 1930s, Eiko Maruko Siniawer, Williams College
The domestic politics of prewar Japan witnessed ruffianism, assassinations, and massacres that became a subject of conversation in intellectual journals, newspapers, and fiction of the time.  This paper will examine the ways in which such kinds of political violence were portrayed, imagined, and contested during the 1920s and early 1930s.  Some attention will also be given to how memories of recent wars past compared to understandings of domestic state, state-sponsored, and non-state violence so as to consider how the violence of war was distinguished from other forms of political violence.  This examination will shed light on how the use of physical force was imbued with, and refracted, various ideological, moral, and political commitments by illustrating how reactions to violence differed based on who wielded it, in which ways, for what reasons, and in what contexts.  Debates about what justified the use of political violence—who had that authority, what the legitimizing ideologies were, which ends required forceful means—provide hints about the lack of meaningful public resistance to Japan’s wars of the 1930s and 1940s.  We might consider too how romanticization and criticism of certain kinds of political violence in the prewar period provided a conceptual vocabulary of justification on which to draw in subsequent decades, and at times inadvertently supported the ideologies and forms of social control that made possible the waging of war.
All You Fascists Bound to Lose: Guns, Not Spirit, Win Wars, Richard Smethurst, University of Pittsburgh

72,000 Japanese soldiers defended the islands of Saipan, Guam, and Tinian in the summer of 1944; 69,000 of them died.  22,000 Japanese soldiers defended Iwo Jima in February and March of 1945; 21,000 died. 1,500 American and British ships gathered off the shores of Okinawa in April 1945 to bombard the Japanese defensive positions and send US troops ashore. 10,000 young Japanese men died in 1944-45 by using airplanes and ships as suicide bombs. 500,000 Japanese civilians died in the same years courtesy of fire and atomic bombs dropped by American B-29s. These six statistics indicate, among other things, the overwhelming superiority of American money, raw materials, technology, and productive capacity before and during World War II. A number of Japanese, most clearly to me Takahashi Korekiyo, because I wrote a book that emphasized his realistic approach to Japan’s weak prewar geopolitical position, pointed out not only that Japan could not win a war against the United States and Great Britain, but also that it would weaken itself in the process—it would not have access to the benefits of the raw materials, capital, markets, and technology that those two major world powers provided Japan. The point of my paper will be to analyze why both Japanese leaders and ordinary citizens rejected Takahashi’s warnings and came to believe that Japan was a greater world power than it actually was (in 1941, Italy had a larger per capita GNP than Japan), how they misread history, particularly the history of Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905, and how they acted on these incorrect assumptions.

Spaces of State: Schools, Education and Society in Interwar and Wartime Japan, Janet Borland, Hong Kong University

My research to date has focused on how and why the 117 primary schools reconstructed in Tokyo following the Great Kanto Earthquake were designed and built the way they were. Shaped by experiences of the 1923 disaster as well as international trends in school design, the modern reinforced concrete buildings completed in 1930 were not only earthquake resistant and fire proof, they were equipped with features and facilities that aimed to better cultivate the moral and physical qualities of school children as well as manage and maintain their health and fitness. Moreover, the facilities such as large gymnasiums-cum-auditoriums were built with a view to opening them after-hours for use by local residents. The question I now seek to answer is this: how were schools used to fulfil these goals and visions in interwar and wartime Japan?

By tracing the period from 1931 to 1945, I will examine how the state sought to mobilize not only children, but also families and local communities through activities centred around primary schools and adjoining small parks in Tokyo.  From activities ranging from sports days and rajio taisō, to public lectures and film, I will suggest that by the late-1930s schools as well as the ceremonies and events they hosted, were firmly established in the daily lives of children and local residents, thus enabling the state to successfully use these institutions and networks as centres for successive mobilization campaigns. My paper seeks to explore why the state believed it was important to maintain a sense of community, especially in wartime, that focused on schools. It will also examine how children and residents were affected by the ever-changing role of schools as they were transformed from sites of learning, into sites of emergency, shelter and defence.
Who Owns the Dead? The Mothers of Yasukuni and Manufacturing Memory in the Midst of War, Haruko Taya Cook, William Paterson University

Since the founding of Yasukuni Shrine in the years after the Meiji Restoration, what may be called the "Yasukuni belief" slowly evolved in popular perception, governmental instigation, and political significance. A series of wars, incidents, and excursions that claimed the lives of Japanese soldiers generation by generation each contributed to creating space for Yasukuni Jinja in the mind of the Japanese public as well as in the physical heart of the nation's capital. Yet each conflict, savage and bloody as some were, ended with a kind of 'victory,' after a period of engagement lasting less than two years in most cases. By the time a full-scale— if undeclared— war broke out in China in the summer of 1937, thousands of "spirits" of men who had died in Japan's wars had been enshrined at Yasukuni.
Soon this new war presented a significant new challenge to Japan's leaders in a 'nation-state' requiring the active participation and support of a mass population for the military endeavor upon which they had embarked. It required an ideological, social, and spiritual commitment—openly referred to as "spiritual mobilization." The agency of the people themselves was required in sending off their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers as the military and the government inexorably ramped up for a total war.
We may hear the purest form of the Yasukuni cult among the elderly mothers' words expressed after having attended the Special Grand Ceremonies at Yasukuni held in April 1939 at a moment when death in war had assumed a new scale that began to consume the lives of Japanese soldiers in unprecedented numbers and no longer seemed to have a clear end.  This shocking reality required officials to expand the very idea of what it meant "to serve" the Emperor. Military service, with all its terrible impact on family and life for individuals and communities, had to be transfigured into what would become a justification for the mass murder of Japan's population by its own leadership. Those who died at the front themselves became a central tool in conducting this "Sacred War."
Captured in the monthly magazine Shufu no Tomo, [The Housewife's Friend], in expansive coverage in May and June that year, especially in an extraordinary round table discussion among mothers "Who Offered Their Only Dear Son to the State," , in the words of the magazine headline writers, we may read how Imperial Japan wished its mothers to react to the death of their sons, and also develop ways to frame historical queries that may deconstruct both the belief system and its objectives going forward into the total war that lay ahead and would consume all of East Asia by 1945. Each elderly mother who lost her only son at the battle of Shanghai in 1937 had just returned from the "Rite of Summoning the Souls" [Shōkon-shiki] at Yasukuni and revealed how she felt about her son's death and his enshrinement. Each mother in turn expressed her extreme delight in her son's being allowed to serve the Imperial Highness{お天子さま}and gratitude that he bestowed this honor of enshrinement at Yaskuni after her son's death in the cause of "Peace in the East."
By examining the place of the cult of Yasukuni belief—linking the emperor closely with the war dead, and expanding that fatal bond to surviving family members—we may see how firmly were the formalities of this system established even early in the Japan-China War. The loss of financial support for old mothers who brought their sons single-handedly, the extinction of a family line due the death of an only son and breadwinner, pale in comparison to the imperial benevolence of their sovereign who used their son for maintaining "Eastern Peace" for these exemplars. The readers were also moved by this extreme hardship on the side of mothers in a classic expression of the "Beautiful Story" technique, so prevalent in wartime Japanese journalism.
Viewing this relationship between the war dead and their erstwhile families, the state religion, and their emperor often appears to be the template for future historical analysis and descriptions Yasukuni Belief when Japan's war mobilization is discussed, but this is the moment in time when this view became orthodox. It was created and firmly proclaimed in these few months with these mothers among the agents exploited to impress on the public mind the proper attitude toward death in the imperial cause in this conflict.  Even a year before in Shufu no Tomo a major spread had featured family members, wives and mothers, at a "Psychic Round Table" talking through a medium to their dead husbands and sons. This story earned the open condemnation of some "true believers," and semi-official, reprobation at that time, through a pamphlet that declared such a practice "scandalous" and "deceptive," and condemned the magazine for claiming that the article was a "must-read for those who would like to know the posthumous world of the dear husbands and sons." By 1941 the Army General who was then Head Priest of Yasukuni would secretly condemn such ideas and urge the officer corps to purge them from the military. He declared, "The dead belonged not to the families but to the State."
All Japan did not share these beliefs then or later. Not all mothers who lost their sons were prepared to express happiness and gratitude towards those who had taken them away. Even the radio rebroadcast of the Yasukuni Ceremonies, sent out across the Japanese Empire, including Korea and Manchukuo, was marred by audible cries of "Murderers!" and "Give me back my son!" but these shouts-out in the dark within the sanctified confines of Yasukuni Shrine itself were ignored, submerged in the overwhelming solemnity and pomp of the occasion and perhaps the bugle fanfare accompanying the passage of the cortège. Government documents reveal deep and bitter disputes at town and village level at the meager government monies provided and the legacies of the war dead as "bereaved families" were split asunder in arguments over inheritance, while some widowed women had their children taken from them by their in-laws or were forced into marriages with their brothers-in-law, or simply driven out now that they no longer had a place in the patriarchal structure of the countryside. Yet it became virtually impossible to express such feelings openly in the wartime state where the dead now were possessions of the Emperor, and all his people were urged to view themselves as tools in his service.
A crescendo of mourning—or "celebration" as the propagandists would have it—in the spring of 1939 provides us with a point of access to what will become a devastating expansion of the State's capability and efforts to grip all the "nationals" in its embrace of death in service to their Emperor. This was just the beginning.

An Undeclared War: The Sino-Japanese War and the Neutrality Act, Yoko Nojima Kato, Tokyo University

Throughout his life, the political scholar Bunzou Hashikawa pursued the question of what China meant to pre-War Showa-era Japanese. His incisively delved into the question of whether the Japanese of that time considered the Sino-Japanese War (which broke out in July 1937) - referred to as the “China Incident” - to be a war at all. Hashikawa doubts that the Japanese viewed it as a war, and believes that the fatal disconnection between the realities of the Sino-Japanese War and the consciousness of it back in Japan caused a derangement in judgment, from the highest political echelons down to the general populace, at the time of the plunge into the Pacific War. It is a fact that the historical records include a document written on June 7 1938 by intellectuals who made up the Showa Kenkyukai, the think tank to the prime minister Fumimaro Konoe, in which the Sino-Japanese War is styled thus: “Nature of the combat: a type of suppression of banditry.” Rather than being a war against a foreign power, it was considered a battle to quell marauding bands. This study elucidates the features of the Sino-Japanese War that made it an unprecedented and new form of a war following November 1937 when Japan made its decision over whether or not a declaration of war should be issued, a decision based on consideration of the effects of the Neutrality Act of May 1 1937.

The Varieties of Popular Resistance to Government Policies in WWII Japan, Samuel Yamashita, Pomona College

During World War II, American propaganda depicted the Japanese homefront population as loyal and obedient supporters of the emperor who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their country. Although true of most Japanese, surviving wartime letters and diaries as well as postwar memoirs reveal exceptions: someone in Shizuoka wrote angry letters to government and military leaders urging them to end the war; a navy man expressed his contempt for his superiors by shaking his dandruff into their rice; a teacher condemned the Nazis in public lectures; most urban Japanese defied the prohibitions on buying food on the black market or from farmers; and evacuated school children routinely stole food. This paper will explore the varieties of popular resistance to the wartime government and its policies. My sources will be the hundred and ten wartime diaries and several dozen postwar memoirs written by ordinary Japanese that I have collected over the last twenty years.

Geopolitical Perspectives in Wartime Japan: Visions of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, Janis Mimura, Stony Brook University

In wartime planning for Japan’s empire, the strategies to organize and mobilize the resources, population, and industries of Asia differed among the various practitioners of geopolitics. Members of the Kyoto school of geopolitics sought to ground geopolitics within Japanism and pan-Asianism and incorporate a critical, anticapitalist view of urban and regional planning into their planning. Specialists of German geopolitics, in contrast, devoted their efforts to primarily introducing German geopolitical concepts and theories such as spatial planning (Raumordnung), national planning (Reichsplanung), and Haushofer’s writings on autarky, living space, and geographical determinism to the Japanese public. Both the newly established Pacific Society (Taiheiyo kyōkai) and Japanese Geopolitical Society (Nihon chiseigaku kyōkai), which were composed of bureaucrats, military officers, politicians, geographers, and journalists, aimed to increase awareness and knowledge about China, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific and mobilize expertise in science, technology, geography, and industry for the project of building the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Although there was a lack of consensus among and within the three groups about how to define geopolitics and whether it could even be called a science, the groups did contribute to forging an image of Japan as a world class geopolitical power. In this paper I examine the underlying assumptions and common visions of geopolitics that, despite the political and ideological battles, did inform Japan’s self-perception as a great power and leader of Asia.

Finding Resolve: Commitment to Total War in the Diaries of Ordinary People, Aaron William Moore, Manchester University (UK)

In evaluating the origins of the Pacific War, it is critical to understand why the Japanese Empire and Nationalist China committed themselves to total war in 1937, because the “China quagmire” was one of the main factors behind the decision to attack the US fleet in Pearl Harbor. While research into government policy and military strategy has gone far into understanding how this transpired, why so many ordinary people in China and Japan supported the war remains something of a mystery. In this paper, I use diaries by soldiers and civilians to discuss the “resolve” so many Chinese and Japanese embraced, even at great personal cost, to support a conflict that would cost millions of lives and persist for eight years.

Diarists discussed their personal “resolve” to win the war in many ways, using terms such as kakugo (Ch. juewu) and juexin (Jp. Kakushin); while this often reflected mobilizational rhetoric utilized by the mass media, it also was linked to the diarists’ sense of self. For soldiers, in particular, resolve was discussed as a consequence of personal discipline (shūyō / xiuyang), but this was true for some civilians as well.  For many civilians, the struggle of the nation to “resolve” the war was personalized through diary writing, even in accounts by children and adolescents. An examination of wartime diary writing reveals the extent to which the political struggle for dominance over China became a personal struggle for the individual citizen / subject; grasping the mechanics of subjectivity, thus, is critical to understanding how “the people” could become, in the era of mass politics, a powerful weapon for total war, and even an obstacle to peaceful negotiation.

Japan’s Wartime Diplomatic Pageantry: The Greater East Asia Conference of 1943, Naoko Shimazu, Birbeck College, London University

The interwar world was an era of increasing ‘globalisation’ amongst revolutionaries. In fact, the ‘cosmopolitanism’ of interwar revolutionary networks is increasingly gaining scholarly interest amongst those who are interested in the history of associations and connections. Through this line of historical enquiry, we can see continuity from the pre-war to post-war period, as many of the newly independent post-war Asian and African leaders operated as part of the elite cosmopolitan circle of nationalists and revolutionaries, becoming part of the fabric of imperial and colonial networks of intellectuals and activists of the pre-1945 world. They met through a variety of international forums, such as the Pan-African Congress and the League against Imperialism. Within this context, this paper attempts to examine Japan’s wartime political project of forging an alternative pan-Asian network by focusing on the Greater East Asia Conference of November 1943. It seeks to ask two questions. First, what was the significance of the pan-Asian network created at this conference for the occupied territories? How did it operate in comparison with other such networks? Secondly, what was the significance of this conference as a case of wartime diplomatic pageantry?

Japan in the Shadow of the Bomber, Charles Schencking, Hong Kong University

In the weeks and months after Japan’s first great urban calamity of the modern period, the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, a constellation of commentators, bureaucratic elites, and military men grew anxious when thoughts turned to the future. While the tasks of relief, recovery, and reconstruction weighed heavy on the minds of many elites, more than a few individuals worried that the panic, murderous anarchy, and conflagrations that followed the 1923 catastrophe provided a terrible harbinger of what all of Japan’s major cities might experience in a future war. Writing five days after 1 September 1923, future Army Ministry Ugaki Kazushige summarized his sense of foreboding writing, “Chills run down my spine when I think the next time Tokyo suffers a catastrophic fire and tragedy on this scale, it could come at the hand of an enemy air attack.” Moral philosopher Shimamoto Ainosuke suggested that the spread of unfounded rumors and the massacre of innocent people following the 1923 earthquake demonstrated how a “mass psychology of fear” had gripped Japan and that this “had to be corrected before it was too late.” He concluded, “If a foreign enemy attacks our imperial capital, we will have no confidence as we used to have as a victorious nation . . . the thought of a future war makes me shudder.” General Yamanashi Hanzō, suggested that no event had “introduced the citizens of Tokyo to the harsh realities of war” better than the 1923 earthquake. “We should not let this opportunity pass,” he extolled army colleagues and cabinet officials in a 1924 confidential report, but rather “use it to spread concepts of national security amongst the population.”

How did Japanese elites inculcate a culture of air mindedness in interwar Japan? How was the memory of Japan’s 1923 disaster used in this undertaking? How else did Japanese officials embed concepts of civil and air defence and programmes of urban mobilization during the 1920s and 1930s? How did citizens respond to these initiatives? How were the dangers of potential air raids constructed and disseminated through popular culture, the media, and official publications? Were government officials able to use the “fear of the next urban calamity” to alter the urban landscape and neighborhood structures in Japan’s largest cities? Why, given all of the emphasis military elite placed on mitigating a potential calamity at the hands of an enemy air power did Japan’s air defence system fail so miserably during the eight-month period between December 1944 and August 1945? These are just some of the questions that will guide my next monograph-length book project that I am beginning entitled Japan in the Shadow of the Bomber.

Given that the focus of this conference is on wartime Japan, I will therefore direct my attention to the period between December 1944 and August 1945 when Japan’s air defence system was put to the ultimate test. How effective was it? Put simply, it failed on every level. Of the 28,782 bombing sorties launched by B-29s based in the Marianas Islands, Japanese air defence aircraft were able to intercept and destroy only 50 planes. This “success rate” was approximately 0.17%. What were the results of this failure for Japan? In a word it was devastation. By the middle of August 1945, nearly 41% of Japan’s 82 largest cities lay in ruins.

In many regards, my preliminary research to date suggests that the tactical failure of Japan’s air defence system serves as an almost perfect microcosm of the factors that contributed to its overall strategic defeat. First, for all of the bluster created about the importance of air defence, Japan’s military was vastly underprepared at the start of hostilities against America in 1941. Japan, in fact, had deployed only 30 fighter aircraft from the 244th flying regiment of the Eastern Division Army for air defence duties. Second, Japan’s military and industrial complex failed to develop new military technologies such as radar or fuel-injected inline engines necessary for the maintenance of a state-of-the-art air defence system. Third, army-navy rivalry led to a wasteful duplication of services and squandered precious research and development Yen. In December of 1944 the army and navy both operated poor quality air defence systems independent of one another; full integration did not occur until 9 July 1945 when only 95 planes suitable for air interceptor activities remained operational. Finally, even if Japan had possessed a technological state-of-the-art system, Japan could simply not produce enough planes or refine enough fuel by May of 1945 to operate an adequate system. In short, a leviathan that could, in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, deploy a “crushing superiority of equipment in any theater of the world war” overwhelmed Japan’s air defence system, both quantitatively and qualitatively.   

The Rhetoric of National Crisis, 1929-1945, Sandra Wilson, Murdoch University

Public discourse during the 1930s and into the 1940s in Japan included three powerful ideas, the combination of which narrowed the scope of political rhetoric and impoverished the possibilities of official decision-making.  One was the notion, familiar since the 1890s, that Japan was a ‘great nation’.  A second thread, also long established, portrayed Japan as an international victim, notwithstanding its supposed high rank in the world.  The third idea originated in the 1930s, and was encapsulated in a new rhetoric of perpetual national crisis. 
Between 1929 and 1945, public commentary in Japan constantly emphasised the idea of crisis, beginning with the very real emergency of the Great Depression and continuing to encompass the Manchurian Incident of 1931-32, withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933, the supposed naval crisis of 1935-36, the China ‘incident’ of 1937, and finally war with the USA and its allies from 1941 onwards.  All commentators, not just representatives of the state, presented the successive crises as national ones that would require a unified response and the suppression of sectional interest for the sake of the national good.  Accordingly the labour movement, feminism, and other alternatives to national identification were downplayed, in favour of identification with the nation as a whole.  In the public arena, very few voices contradicted this view.  A wide range of liberals and Marxists came to support or cease to oppose state-endorsed versions of nationalism.  The common thread linking their disparate positions was ‘national interest’.  The crisis over Manchuria, as the first major test of loyalties for those who had lived through and often participated in ‘Taisho democracy’, played a significant role in uncovering this commonality, and in showing, for example, how feminism could be made to intersect with ideas of nation.  By the time full-scale war with China came, liberals were well used to identifying with state priorities, while the Japan Communist Party had been destroyed. 
In this paper I explore the nature and consequences of the idea of national crisis in the 1930s and beyond, including its disastrous articulation with the inflated rhetoric of Japan as the ‘great nation’ and the equally inflated notion of Japan as victim of the international order.

The Revolution in Equality, Gregory Kasza, University of Indiana

The conventional image of wartime Japan is one of authoritarianism and inequality.  A military-bureaucratic elite suppressed civil liberties and dominated society.  Meanwhile, the conventional image of the postwar U.S. Occupation (in its effects if not its methods) is that of an egalitarian social revolution.  The undeniable suppression of civil liberties during the war has blinded many to an egalitarian social revolution that occurred during the war itself.  My paper will survey the wartime policies that enhanced social equality in Japanese society, including economic controls, official mass organizations, welfare policies, agricultural policies, military conscription, and official propaganda.  My argument is that in the socio-economic realm, wartime egalitarianism was almost as consequential as the Occupation’s egalitarianism in altering the social structure and social psychology of the Japanese people.  Thus the correct image of this period is that two revolutions in equality occurred one after the other, each reinforcing the effects of the other.

Taming Memories of the Asian-Pacific War: The National Museum of History and ‘Modern Times, Theodore Cook, William Paterson University

What can museums contribute to the preservation and discussion of memory? Can formal institutions lead to the containment of the past and a fuller understanding of it without themselves altering the realities of historical experience by the very processes and patterns inherent to their creation?  Who should have the right to contribute to them? Such poorly framed questions and a deep curiosity about what might be taking shape in Chiba, not far from Tokyo, led me to approach  Professor Yasuda Tsuneo, then deputy director of the National Museum of History and Ethnography [Kokuritsu Rekishi Minzoku Hakubutsukan] in the summer of 2009, to inquire about a new permanent exhibition I had heard was scheduled to open March 16, 2010, then designated simply as "Gallery 6: Contemporary History." The Museum website said it would feature two main themes—"War and Peace" and "The Postwar Lifestyle Revolution"— developed through numerous research projects and broadly based academic exchanges stretching back several years at least.
Professor Yasuda invited me to apply to become a Foreign Research Scholar at the institution, known popularly by the abbreviation 歴博 "Rekihaku" in order to pursue a hastily conjured "War and Memory in Shaping Postwar Culture" project that grew from my previous research and writing which had somehow inexplicably omitted including museums as an obvious repository of "memory" heretofore. I soon learned I would be one of two scholars accepted last year and I was privileged to spend June through October 2010 at Rekihaku in Sakura City, Chiba prefecture, a former castle town and home of a prewar infantry regiment. I had the unique and unprecedented opportunity to observe at close hand not only the often pointed critiques and analysis from outside the museum, coming from academic and civic individuals and groups across the country and the self-criticism of the museum's own professionals. That taking on such topics would spawn reactions, both positive and negative, was fully anticipated by the professional museum staff and historians associated with the project, including Prof. Katō Yōko, who will be among our number in Pittsburgh.
My five months began by getting to know the contents of the Gallery and I learned the first day that it actually spanned the final years of the 19th Century, beginning with Japan's experiences of wars with China and Russia and the annexation of Korea (subjects that somehow had been omitted from the Museum's neighboring permanent Gallery No. 5 devoted to Japanese social issues from Meiji through early Shōwa) and ran straight through the years of continental expansion in Manchuria, the war with China, the Pacific War, and then on into postwar and reconstruction down to the emergence of Japanese mass culture in the 1970s. All of modern history seemed to be on the agenda. But vital to me, although such subjects are of course addressed in some way by museums and memorial halls across Japan—from the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, Ritsumeikan University's Kyoto Museum for World Peace, or the Himeyuri Museum in Okinawa to Tokyo's Shōwa Kan or Yasukuni's Yūshūkan, or the Battleship Yamato Museum in Kure— but what must be remembered, and what attracted me to this opportunity, is that this Gallery was to be the FIRST treatment of the 1931-1945 conflict by a museum sanctioned directly by the Japanese government and part of Japan's National Institutes for the Humanities.
Conceived as a unified project Sōgō Tenji No. 6 <Gendai> as it actually opened now consists of three distinct parts: "War and Peace," " Peoples' Lives under Occupation," and " Mass Culture in Postwar Japan." Each was developed from many months of arduous choice and years of projection, planning, and experimentation to shape what the Museum intends to be not a transient exhibition, but a permanent gallery.  Each can cause the casual visitor or researcher to reexamine long-established premises or suddenly question the judgment of the curators. For our purposes, most of my remarks are confined to the first part of the exhibition, "War and Peace." I focus on the strengths and weaknesses as I, just one historian interested in the past, perceive them.
Experiencing "Modern Times" at Rekihaku raises many problems familiar to investigators of the "Century of Total War," but affords a new opportunity for their systematic analysis when applied to Japan:  the broad issue of historicization; the problematic of historical representation as events of the war pass from living memory; the place of personal and collective memories in historical narratives; and what Gulie Ne'eman Arad called, "the uneasy question of who should/can/may write whose history/ies". Yet the collective effort needed to address such questions is not for historians only; indeed, historians' perspectives may not even be the key to understanding the problems posed here.  Literary art, popular culture in all its evolving forms and varieties, social attitudes and values in terms of sexuality, justice, values, and politics, the study of the body, death, and the structuring of physical spaces and institutions as impacted by war memory and memories of war are all available as subthemes for analysis.
Capturing "Total War" in a Gallery is impossible, as I believe all students of war will readily concede, yet looking beyond the obvious seems in our time even more vital than I believed a year ago. The experiences of March 11, 2011 and the subsequent nuclear shadow that hangs over Japan's present and future certainly form one more layer impacting the way events of 70 or more years ago seem to be integral to national perceptions of tragedy and the culpability of "leaders" and "authorities" in both initiating and shaping popular perceptions of events and their long term consequences. They have certainly led me to reopen questions and issues I thought I had resolved in my own mind toward Gallery No. 6 "Modern Times" when I returned to the U.S. in November last year.

Japan’s Island Disputes as Fragments of a Larger Terrain, Alexis Dudden, University of Connecticut

The small groups of islands to Japan’s northeast, west, and southwest that are at the core of major international disputes today. The potential for devastating armed conflict over the islands is real and would bring catastrophic human and environmental loss should it come about. Russia, Korea, China, Taiwan, and the United States each make their claims, yet at the center and in open conflict with everyone, Japan has the most to win or lose.

The islands sustain minimal populations — if any at all — and are of themselves of limited economic value. Current international law governing boundary lines and ocean resource extraction have made these islands extremely significant, however. Around the islands, the ocean and sea floor areas are exceptionally rich in rare earth minerals, liquid natural gas, and expensive seafood among other things. Securing sovereign possession of the islands would add hundreds of miles — in some cases thousands — in exclusive economic zones to each nation involved. Above and below the water the islands are border markers, yet in each case their sovereignty is disputed making boundary lines ripe for conflict.

Japan and its neighbors have argued over control of the islands throughout the post-1945 era, yet in recent years the standoffs over who owns what have grown markedly in frequency and violence. On all sides, politicians and editorial writers justify their nation’s respective claims in the name of history, although the narratives in play are as shifting and arbitrary as the ocean floor itself. During the past two decades, the stories justifying these watery demarcations have, moreover, become entangled in the region’s so-called history problems stemming from Japan’s empire and war (1895-1945). Different from heated issues such as the Nanjing massacre and the notorious comfort women system, however, the islands themselves have very little human history at stake. As age increasingly takes the survivors of Japan’s empire and war, the island disputes have taken their place as the pre-eminent objects and markers with which to navigate this highly unstable terrain. As such, the islands offer relatively blank fields on which to battle the past in the present without problems of collaboration and complicity.

             The conference has been organized by Professor Richard Smethurst of the Pitt history department, with the assistance of the staff of the University’s Asian Studies Center. Funding has been provided by the Japan Iron and Steel Federation and Mitsubishi endowments of the University of Pittsburgh.  Everyone is welcome, but space is limited.  For more information or to RSVP, please contact Dianne Dakis in the Asian Studies Center, dakis@pitt.edu.


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