- Legacies of the Asia-Pacific War: The Yakeato Generation
Legacies of the Asia-Pacific War: The Yakeato Generation taps into the sense of high-stakes and scramble, and of the limited resources, possibilities, and confusion of the postwar years. The collection sets out to investigate the experience of “the yakeato generation.” It promises importance: [End Page 386] a focused interaction by a range of scholars on the generation that came of age in the burnt-out ruins after the Asia-Pacific War and their contributions to, and interactions with, wider areas of culture and art. As coeditor Roman Rosenbaum states in the introduction,
The presence of members of what is known as the yakeato sedai or the generation of people who experienced the fire-bombings of the Asia Pacific War is conspicuous in all areas of contemporary Japan and is usually referred to as a distinct group. From literature to the visual arts, from music to theatre, from architecture to politics, their influence and in many cases guiding principles is evident everywhere and in many cases forms the keystone of modern Japanese society and culture.(p. 4)
Upon close inspection, the pretermitted influence of this generation has been touched upon by many researchers, yet arguably never before has a single study connected all the strands of influence from this generation which transcend all aspects of post-war Japanese artistic production—from drama, theatre, movies, literature, poetry, women’s studies and manga.(p. 5)
I provide this long quote to show both the broad ambition of the volume and its stylistic features. Rosenbaum’s introduction first solidly outlines issues and concerns of postwar society and then shows how the essays highlight the plights and contributions of the disenfranchised and underrepresented.
The volume has a number of compelling essays. The lead article by Suzuki Sadami, translated by coeditor Rosenbaum, is strong in its details. Suzuki approaches the postwar era from three vantage points: “the continuity between the pre-war and post-war eras; how the defeat and the occupation were narrated; and how Japan’s fresh start has been narrated” (p. 25). Suzuki’s scholarly contributions are enormous, and he is a logical and welcome choice to introduce a volume on the postwar years. Suzuki draws from a wide range of secondary sources, leaning especially heavily on John Dower’s and Michael Molasky’s work in English. But a stronger editorial hand would have been welcome. For example, the first of these sections begins “First off, the problem of Class A war criminals will be considered,” leaving Suzuki sounding like one of our undergraduates. His discussion connects a wide group of politicians, intellectuals, and artists to outline how many of their concerns and strategies remained unchanged from pre- to postwar. The short third section reminds us of the canonical writers narrating the postwar moment. The result is a collection of interesting incidents that conforms to a style of Japanese critical discourse that most readers of this journal will well know; those readers will also know that Suzuki is usually much more cogent and concise.
Among other essays deserving mention is Barbara Hartley’s chapter on Ariyoshi Sawako and Sono Ayako. As young women writing after the [End Page 387] war, they gained critical acclaim while remaining somewhat outside the main currents of literary production. Hartley offers nuanced readings of two important early stories that have not received the treatment they deserve.1 Sono remains a complicated figure, not least because of the increasingly conservative politics of her later years; by pairing Sono with Ariyoshi’s very different sort of narrative—a historical tale set prior to the Meiji Restoration—Hartley enriches the achievement of both, namely, that of young women writing about the changed relationships of women in society, and that society’s relationship with the West.
Leith Morton’s considered essay on war and postwar poetry is a sophisticated discussion of “the poetics of war” and also deserving of note. Morton wades straight into the thorny problem of wartime poetry...