Heroes, Victims, and Perpetrators: The Landscape of War Memories in Japan
Department of Sociology
University of Pittsburgh
How do memories of national trauma remain relevant to culture and society long after the event? Why do the memories of difficult experiences endure, and even intensify, despite people’s impulse to avoid remembering a dreadful past and to move on? My project explores these questions by examining Japan’s culture of defeat. It surveys the stakes of war memory in Japan after its defeat in World War II, and shows how and why defeat has become an indelible part of national collective life, especially in recent decades. Drawing on ethnographic observations and personal interviews as well as testimonial and other popular memory data since the 1980s, it probes into the heart of the divisive war memories that lie at the root of current disputes and escalating frictions in East Asia, known collectively as Japan's “history problem.”
My project examines this divisive national project, drawing on the sociological insights of cultural trauma theory and collective memory theory. Contrary to the western stereotype that describes Japan as suffering from “collective amnesia,” Japan’s war memories are deeply encoded in the everyday culture, and much more varied than the caricatured image suggests. I identify three conflicting trauma narratives in Japan's war memories – narratives of victims, perpetrators and fallen heroes – that are motivated by the desire to heal the wounds, redress the wrongs, and restore a positive moral and national identity.