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  • Playing War: Children and the Paradoxes of Modern Militarism in Japan by Sabine Frühstück
  • Davinder L. Bhowmik (bio)
Playing War: Children and the Paradoxes of Modern Militarism in Japan. By Sabine Frühstück. University of California Press, Oakland, 2017. xi, 276 pages. $85.00, cloth; $34.95, paper; $34.95, E-book.

The focus of this magnificently illustrated monograph on children, war, and play in Japan's modern and contemporary eras is on the use value of the metaphorical child in an array of textual and visual media. In a nutshell, Frühstück's argument is that children and childhood are instruments by which war is naturalized and peace sentimentalized. That children are similarly deployed in times of national conflict and in the absence of war is the paradox alluded to in the work's subtitle.

Playing War is comprised of two parts, "Playing War" and "Picturing War." "Playing War" consists of two chapters, "Field Games" and "Paper Battles"; chapters on "The Moral Authority of Innocence" and "Queering [End Page 549] War" make up "Picturing War." In the first body chapter, "Field Games," Frühstück examines how children conceive of war as play on the ground, on paper, and on the screen and argues that children's "little wars" connect to the "larger wars" the nation-state of Japan engaged in beginning with the Sino- and Russo-Japanese Wars and extending to the Asia-Pacific War. Readers learn how, from the Meiji period onward, elites in government and education agreed on the importance of raising children to be prepared for war and debated about how best to achieve this end. Following Karatani Kojin whose "The Discovery of the Child" posits the "child" of today was only of recent vintage, Frühstück explains the process whereby in late nineteenth-century Japan the child becomes distinguishable from the adult and molded through education into a citizen-subject. In her 2016 ethnography, The Strange Child: Education and the Psychology of Patriotism in Recessionary Japan, Andrea Gevurtz Arai expounds on this point:

[K]ey theorists and historians of the modern category of childhood— Jacqueline Rose, Claudia Casteneda, Carolyn Steedman, Denise Riley, Stefan Tanaka, and Karatani Kojin—each situate issues of youth management and control within the new times of capitalist modernity and the structures and timelines of comparison that modern nation-states began to impose on each other.1

Through an analysis of contemporary newspapers, textbooks, and journals, Frühstück shows how military play (think King of the Hill) was repeatedly promoted as a means of preparing for war. Indeed, the author argues, such play soon became normalized, and by naturalizing the advance from playing to making war, Japan's elite created a clear trajectory from child to soldier (p. 56). The author deftly uses primary and secondary sources to build her argument, as demonstrated by including discussion of, for example, global concerns about the effects of modernity on children. American historian Lisa Jacobson noted that many adults worried that "an effeminate, postfrontier urbanism was robbing their boys of virility" and added that Daisy Air Rifles promised "to restore manly vigor to pampered middle-class boys" (p. 45). Despite all that separated them, Frühstück concludes that the child is the precursor to the soldier, that child and soldier are both liminal, and that each is the infinite mirror images of the other (p. 56).

Having established a link between child and soldier in chapter 1, in "Paper Battles" the author shows how children's war games, which often included detailed maps, became ever more bound to the development of children's bodies and minds as Japan moved from nation formation to empire building. Sugoroku, games "similar to the ancient Indian game Snakes [End Page 550] and Ladders (known in the United States as Chutes and Ladders)" (p. 64), would presumably reverse the deleterious effects of modernity by allowing children to imagine invasion and war. Children's publications, rife with pictorial maps, added a geographical-imperialist dimension to reading. Wartime cartoons like Norakuro depicted a lowly dog-soldier steeped in adult notions of racial superiority, colonization, and just war (p. 84). In the 1950s...


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pp. 549-552
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