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Reviewed by:
  • Japan's Cold War: Media, Literature, and the Law
  • Urs Matthias Zachmann (bio)
Japan's Cold War: Media, Literature, and the Law. By Ann Sherif. Columbia University Press, New York, 2009. xiii, 282 pages. $50.00.

The sakoku paradigm, which intellectuals such as Tsurumi Shunsuke and others have frequently invoked for postwar Japan, has served—perhaps consciously so—to obscure certain aspects of Japan's development after 1945, especially in terms of the impact of the cold war on Japan's cultural production. According to their interpretations, Japan's course during the latter half of the twentieth century led down a narrow corridor under the auspices of the Pax Americana which isolated Japan from the rest of the bipolar world. Along with this rigid pathway came certain mental blinders, such as the postwar myth of ethnic homogeneity, the narratives of cultural exception, and a national belief in the existence of an all-encompassing middle class and in total consumerism as well. These fictions not only drowned out the memory of wars gone by and an empire lost but also shut out the tense present, dominated by the cold war. Of course, a number of histories have dealt with Japan's politics and diplomatic relations during this period. But considering that the cold war was first and foremost fought in the minds and hearts of the people, not on the battlefield, the scant attention devoted to the cultural realm as the primary arena of the cold war equals something of an "amnesia" in Japanese cultural historiography.

Ann Sherif's fascinating study sets out to explore the long-neglected [End Page 239] cultural aspect of "Japan's Cold War" by regarding Japan as part of the global nexus and looking at "local cultural responses to and articulations of the uncertain, often frightening, and sometimes exciting international Cold War" (p. 11). It does so in four chapter-length case studies of cold war literature and media of Japan. Listed here in chronological order, they deal with the writer Hara Tamiki, best known for his A-bomb novella Natsu no hana (Summer flowers) published in 1947 (chapter 3); the Lady Chatterley trial at Tokyo Municipal Court in 1951-52 (chapter 1); film director Kamei Fumio's anti-U.S. military base protest films in 1955 and 1956 and atomic documentaries between 1956 and 1961 (chapter 4); and Ishihara Shintarō's award-winning novel Taiyō no kisetsu (Season of the sun) published as a book in 1955 and released on screen the same year (chapter 5). Thus, despite the book's title, Sherif places her study of cold war culture into the formative period between 1945 and the early 1960s, the "high Cold War," when things were most unstable and the situation most threatening. The four case studies serve well to highlight the central elements that came to constitute cold war culture in Japan for the following decades.

As Sherif indicates in the exposé of her task and as she elaborates more clearly in an introductory chapter on the meanings of war and peace after 1945, contemporaries—not only Japanese, but in the global community as well—shared a distinctly ambivalent attitude toward the cold war, torn between pure terror and subdued excitement. This attitude becomes particularly clear in confronting the most visible caesura in human progress to date (and led to the belief that the cold war times were, indeed, "exceptional"): the atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the uses of nuclear power afterward. On the one hand, this infused "shock and awe" at the sheer destructive force of the bombs, which multiplied every time a new test revealed new dimensions of annihilation. The sublime terror at such life-taking power, however, was paired with an equally religious wonder at the god-like faculties of scientists who could create life-serving energy, as it seemed, out of nothing. Such a mélange of sentiments we can observe, for example, in the utterance of one Japanese intellectual who, when watching a newsreel of the first hydrogen bomb test in 1952, is reported to have exclaimed: "It's a stanza from an epic poem" (p. 31). Similarly, one year after "Test Bravo...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-4721
Print ISSN
0095-6848
Pages
pp. 239-243
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-28
Open Access
No
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