- Japanese Media at the Beginning of the 21st Century: Consuming the Past by Katsuyuki Hidaka
Hidaka's award-winning Japanese Media at the Beginning of the 21st Century is an important book, a personal translation of his 2014 study. It was selected as the Outstanding Book for 2015 by the Japan Communication Association, an appropriate recognition for an insightful study about the intersection of historical understanding and the representation of Japan's postwar miracle in film and television. As described by Hidaka, the book was extremely well received at the time of publication in Japanese, selling well with the public and attracting critical acclaim.
Japanese Media at the Beginning of the 21st Century brings together two important themes: the transformation of Japanese society in the postwar era and Japan's effort to come to terms with the dramatic transitional decades of the 1960s and 1970s. For the Western world, these decades saw the relegation of most memories of Japan's wartime aggression to the background and the emergence of a new narrative, one based on economic resurgence, a reputation for technological innovation, and global prominence. Subsequently, as Japan entered the years of stagnation and its place in global [End Page 191] affairs was taken over by a resurgent China, nostalgia for the halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s surged. So did the recollection of the difficulties of this era, including serious ecological damage, protests over Narita Airport, rapid urbanization, and the related decline of small-town Japan.
The author builds his case systematically and convincingly. The introduction outlines several of the key theoretical and conceptual aspects of the topic. There is an excellent study of the social role of nostalgia, both in terms of national awareness and the potential misrepresentation of the past. Hidaka demonstrates the particular weakness of Japanese journalism in handling this era, arguing: "It is unfortunate that Japanese newspaper articles discussing Showa nostalgia are never based on an understanding of the intricate historical context of the meaning of nostalgia" (p. 10). While the realization that contemporary journalism is often shallow and uninformed is hardly a revelation, this section provides an important foundation for the study. Hidaka seeks to demonstrate that what seem harmless misrepresentations of the recent past can, in fact, undercut contemporary understandings of social and economic forces in the country. As he notes, "it should be called a complex and critical engagement with the recent past aimed at retrospection, and in which love and hate, remorse, dissatisfaction, reflection on past wrongs, rebuttals, apologies, justifications, and so forth are intermingled" (p. 13).
This study begins with an extensive analysis of historical and historiographical nostalgia in Japan. Hidaka draws extensively on recent social science research on the role of memory in public affairs. He contrasts the complex understanding of memory among social scientists with the superficial use and misuse of historical recollection by journalists. He demonstrates that post–World War II nostalgia has become a prominent part of Japanese discourse and public conversation, affecting the political system and public affairs generally. This conceptually rich chapter includes a lengthy reflection on the role and meaning of history and outlines innovative approaches to the understanding of collective memory. Here, as throughout the study, Hidaka uses extensive content analysis of popular media, specifically television programs and movies, to highlight the preoccupation with the 1960s and 1970s and the prevailing Japanese view that this was an era of positive transformation in the country.
The second chapter finds the foundation of Showa nostalgia in films like Tokyo Tower and Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad. This film and others celebrated the dramatic—stunning, in fact—economic growth of the 1960s, a macroeconomic miracle that was matched by a related increase in personal incomes and quality of life. The author skillfully shows how the Tokyo Tower became a widely (misused) symbol of Japan's rise to economic prominence. As he notes, "a sense of antagonism toward Japan's post-war [End Page 192] history may have...