Retracing the Past: War, Memory and Childhood

Title: 1400 | Retracing the Past: War, Memory and Childhood
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Wakako Suzuki, Bard College, United States (organizer, presenter)
Michael Hayata, University of Wisconsin, Madison, United States (presenter)
Mari Ishida, Wake Forest University, United States (presenter)
Christopher Born, Belmont University, United States (chair, discussant)


The past is generally considered to be inviolable and immutable; as such, people can never retrospectively experience past events. However, when we view old photographs or read historical documents, the past flits through their minds as though the memories and experiences depicted were their own. To put it succinctly, the past is revived through our act of retracing it. When people research past events, stories or narratives emerge from the archives and reconstitute themselves in relation to contemporary events. In a way, the past is continually reshaped by our actions in the present. In this panel, each presenter retraces the discourse of World War II and explains its residual impact on the present. Ishida explores the politics of memories operated in Ibuse’s postwar memoir of his military service and postwar critics discourses on Ibuse’s “The City of Flowers” (1942), a wartime novel set in occupied Singapore. Suzuki retraces wartime children’s literature in Japan and discusses the subversion of literary texts by highlighting Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s writing on children. Hayata examines the politics of cultural transformation within Ainu women's handicrafts during the wartime mobilization of labor. In the process of retracing the past, each presenter illuminates a means to revive memories or discourses related to particular historical moments of modernity.

Panel Abstracts:
Childhood Fantasies in Wartime Japan: Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s Children’s Literature
Japan’s imperial war was characterized by the growing use of children for war efforts. As World War II changed societies in so many ways, Japan also changed its expectations for children. In the midst of total war on a huge scale, everyone, including children of all ages, had to work for the empire of Japan. The formal institutions promoted military ideals and activities to children in the hopes that these might reduce fear, develop the nation-state, prepare people for service, and support the war effort. In doing so, authorities brought war themes to children on a daily basis, thus enacting a militarization of Japanese childhood. During the Pacific War, writers of children’s literature produced war themed stories for children in a surge of national sentimentality. Children’s stories around that time were thus used as a propaganda tool. Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886–1965), who showed great interest in stories about children, also wrote essays and stories for children. However, the childhood Tanizaki portrays is far from innocent and harmless. The children in his stories undermine the state’s power and the symbolic imperial will, reject their social roles, and assert control over adults. In this vein, I demonstrate how the children in Tanizaki’s literary works seemingly follow the codes of the nation-state and perform the role of “little citizens,” but do not become ideal subjects of imperial Japan. The analyses of Tanizaki’s writing show the power and the resilience of the literary imagination, which occasionally fail to yield to the operation of state-apparatus.

The Politics of Ainu Women's Handicrafts: The Anti-Human Trafficking Movement within Hokkaido during the 1930s
This presentation examines the cultural politics of Ainu women’s handicrafts in the context of the anti-human trafficking movements (miuri bōshi undō) within Hokkaido during the 1930s to illuminate the social memories and experiences that are embodied by such objects. As the prefecture underwent large-scale industrialization and urbanization after the Manchurian Incident, the new wartime economy expanded the demand for young rural women to perform indentured work as not only factory workers and domestic servants, but also waitresses, prostitutes, and street vendors. Responding to the growth of these exploitative networks, local women’s associations (fujinkai) organized campaigns to find and rescue victims, educate families on the crimes of such work, and promote household production as an alternative source of income. By situating Ainu handicrafts within such a historical context, this presentation traces the gendered politics of the Ainu community at Asahikawa and its program to transform impoverished young women into economically self-sufficient subjects during the 1930s. Although these efforts began with the promotion of embroidery and woodcarving skills for the tourism industry, they were eventually co-opted by the war effort as the same women formed their own national defense association (kokubō fujinkai) in 1937 to support destitute widows and bereaved families while manufacturing comfort bags for soldiers. Consequently, the desires of Ainu women for financial autonomy from indentured servitude also produced a social space for their war participation, demanding a reconsideration of the politics of Ainu craftmanship beyond narratives of ethnic autonomy in light of the legacies of World War II.

The Politics of Remembering Wartime Violence: The Postwar Discourses on Ibuse Masuji’s Writings on the Occupation of Singapore
During the Asia-Pacific war, along with many other writers, artists, and intellectuals, Japanese writer Ibuse Masuji (1898-1993) was drafted into the Japanese army as a member of the military propaganda unit and sent to Singapore, which imperial Japan conquered in February 1942. Japan’s occupation of Singapore is marked by military violence, as the Japanese army imposed severe measures especially on the Chinese community in Singapore by executing the mass killing of Chinese men. Japan’s brutal domination was also followed by gender violence including indiscriminate sexual violence against local women and institutionalized sexual violence known as the “comfort-women” system, which was set up in Singapore immediately after its fall. Ibuse wrote numerous stories, essays, and memoirs based on his experiences in occupied Singapore during the wartime and postwar periods. While his wartime writings depicted none of the atrocities exercised by Japanese soldiers due to censorship, this paper explores the politics of memories operated in Ibuse’s postwar memoir of his military service and postwar critics’ discourses on Ibuse’s “The City of Flowers” (1942), a wartime novel set in occupied Singapore. Although the Chinese massacre in Singapore has been acknowledged in Ibuse’s memoir and critics’ discussions on Ibuse’s wartime novel, sexual violence against local women and women who were forced to serve as “comfort women” has been rarely mentioned. I argue that such a scheme of (un)recognizability has been informed by the Cold-War Regime under which racial and gender hierarchies were restructured, and accordingly, the value of life was unevenly redistributed across Asia.

This panel is on Thursday - Session 02 - Room 9

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