- Japan's Contested War Memories: The "Memory Rifts" in Historical Consciousness of World War II
Philip A. Seaton, an associate professor of media and communications at Hokkaido University, is to be congratulated for producing a highly readable and well-organized monograph, commendable both for its message and its method. His book is of huge value for disabusing foreign, largely nonacademic, commentators of a widely shared and derisive myth: "the Japanese" suffer from historical amnesia except when wallowing in the self-pity of victim consciousness. They do not know or care about their imperialist war of aggression in the Asia-Pacific and thus compare unfavorably with "the Germans," who are exemplary for coming to terms with their past through remembrance, apologies, and compensation for victims. Japan's Contested War Memories complements recent studies by Takashi Yoshida, Franziska Seraphim, Ming Wan, Alexis Dudden, and others who convey a similar message. Together, they offer a sorely needed corrective that foreign writers on current-day Japan and members of the news media—even at the estimable BBC, in Seaton's view—should take to heart.
For professional Japan scholars, there is an added bonus. Seaton's work discloses the merits and the inherent drawbacks that accrue from cuttingedge media and cultural studies theory, as compared with more conventional disciplines such as my own field of history. Seaton takes pains to define his specialized terms and to present his theoretical constructs lucidly. So, for the uninitiated, this book serves as a primer on the methods in his field as well as a skillful application of them to Japan. Apart from one background chapter on the "long postwar," Seaton deals primarily with the period 1991 [End Page 181] to 2005—from the "coming out" of Korean former sex slaves to the sixtieth anniversary of Japan's surrender.
Seaton's avowed goal is "to account for the nature of Japanese war memories" (p. 188), and the gist of his message is as follows. Some former Allied nations such as the United States, Britain, and the People's Republic of China (PRC) subscribe to a "hegemonic memory" or "master narrative" of World War II that the vast majority of citizens firmly support or at least do not strongly oppose. Such a memory sanctifies the war as unassailably "good" in its aims—to defeat Nazism or expel foreign aggressors—and justifies tactics to win it that normally would earn condemnation, such as carpet bombing of civilians or even nuclear warfare. By contrast, present-day Japan lacks such a hegemonic memory that affirms Japanese goals in World War II as good and legitimizes the atrocious means used to wage it. As for method, Seaton rejects faulty "culturally deterministic approaches" derived from sociological and anthropological theory in favor of an "integrated media and cultural studies approach" to clarify what postwar Japanese war memories (in the plural) are like and how the groups who hold these interact. He analyzes a wide range of forums where everyday opinions find expression, such as television programs, song lyrics, novels, newspapers, museums, memorials, monuments, sacred places, history textbooks, weekly and monthly magazines, opinion polls, movies, nonfiction books, manga, anime, and computer games.
As a result, he finds a wide gamut of hard-to-reconcile war memories that vie for popular support. These include: (1) an "I don't know or care" line; (2) a "progressive" line espoused by the Asahi newspaper, which holds that Japan must offer more sincere apologies and better redress the victims of an immoral, illegal war of imperialist aggression; (3) a "progressive-leaning" line espoused by the Mainichi, which largely concurs with the Asahi but at times will dissent; (4) a "conservative" line espoused by the central government and the Yomiuri, which admits war guilt but insists that Japan has apologized and made amends to the satisfaction of all victimized governments, if not necessarily to all of their citizens; and (5) a right-wing– nationalist line espoused by Yasukuni Shrine and the Sankei, which insists that Japanese war aims...