The Long Defeat: Cultural Trauma, Memory, and Identity in Japan

ISBN : 9780190239169

Akiko Hashimoto
208 Pages
160 x 234 mm
Pub date
Jun 2015


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  • Contributes to the transnational discourse on wars and atrocities
  • Utilizes theories of collective memory and politics of regret
  • Shows how and why defeat remains an indelible part of national life in Japan

This book explores the stakes of war memory in Japan after its defeat in World War II, showing how and why defeat has become an indelible part of national collective life, especially in recent decades. It probes into the heart of the divisive war memories that lie at the root of current disputes over revising Japan's pacifist constitution, remilitarization, and the escalating frictions in East Asia that have come to be known collectively as Japan's "history problem." 

Examining Japan's culture of defeat up to the present day, the book illuminates how memories of national trauma remain relevant to culture and society long after the event, and why the memories of difficult experiences endure, and even intensify, despite people's impulse to avoid remembering a dreadful past and to move on. These memories have endured in Japan for many reasons: the nation's trajectory changed profoundly after its surrender of sovereignty in 1945; collective life had to be regenerated from the catastrophic national fall; and it faced the predicament of living with a discredited, tainted past. 

This book shows that the culture of defeat in Japan has mobilized new and continually revised narratives to explain grievous national failures, mourn the dead, redirect blame, and recover from the burdens of stigma and guilt. The task of making a coherent story of defeat is at the same time a project of repairing the moral backbone of a broken society. Drawing on ethnographic observations and personal interviews as well as testimonial and other popular memory data since the 1980s, the book identifies three preoccupations - national belonging, healing, and justice - in Japan's discourses of defeat. It traces the key memory narratives, and identifies their crucial roles in assessing Japan's choices - nationalism, pacifism, or reconciliationism - for addressing the escalating national and international tensions it faces today.

"A major achievement, theoretically and empirically, The Long Defeat exposes startling fractures in Japanese identity that will affect regional and global politics for decades to come. Timely and empathic, this is also a deeply disturbing book." - Jeffrey C. Alexander, Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology, Yale University

"World War II is no longer a lived experience for the vast majority of people. But in East Asia today the politics of war memory are more divisive than ever. Ihe Long Defeat is must reading for anyone seeking to understand why. With a deeply grounded comparative perspective, Akiko Hashimoto offers a searching and compassionate analysis of the way people in Japan have dealt with the traumatic memory of war over the long postwar decades." - Andrew Gordon, Lee and Juliet Folger Fund Professor of History, Harvard University

"The Long Defeat is a sweeping analysis of Japanese memory from virtually every angle - political, cultural, and personal - across the span of postwar history. There is hardly anything else like it. It is an essential contribution to the scholarly literature as well as an exceptionally compelling read" - Jeffrey Olick, Professor of Sociology and History, University of Virginia

"In this timely, poignant, and eminently readable volume, Hashimoto ... examines Japan's continuing "history problem": the competing narratives of memory seeking to reconcile the present with a very difficult past ... Essential." - T. S. Munson, CHOICE

"The Long Defeat is a highly accessible book on Japan in the period since 1985 that should be of interest to a wide popular audience." - Franziska Seraphim, Monumenta Nipponica

"Hashimoto makes a welcome contribution to the methodology of trauma studies. She proposes and tests an interesting "method of shadow comparisons," the method of data elaboration." - Joanna Rak, Qualitative Sociology


Chapter 1: Cultural Memory in a Fallen Nation
Chapter 2: Repairing Biographies and Aligning Family Memories
Chapter 3: Defeat Reconsidered: Heroes, Victims, & Perpetrators in the Popular Media
Chapter 4: Pedagogies of War and Peace: Teaching World War II to Children
Chapter 5: The Moral Recovery of Defeated Nations: A Global-Comparative Look

About the author: 

Akiko Hashimoto is Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh; author of Imagined Families, Lived Families: Culture and kinship in contemporary Japan (SUNY 2008), The Gift of Generations: Japanese and American Perspectives on Aging and the Social Contract (CUP 1996), and Family Support for the Elderly: The International Experience (OUP 1992).

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