Japan Foundation Trip Report, Elizabeth Heineman
Two of my areas of specialization are World War II in Europe and post-war memory - so a trip to Japan was a natural for me. One of my ambitions is to develop a course on World War II as a global event, which is a deviation from the more typical courses which focus on either Asia or Europe, and append the other theater as a footnote (while neglecting North Africa and Europe's overseas colonies entirely). I have also spoken to an academic press about writing a global history of sexuality in World War II; this trip provided fodder for thought for that project.
Since I arrived in Tokyo before the rest of the group, I stopped in at the Memorial Museum for Soldiers, Detainees in Siberia, and Postwar Repatriates. With neither guidance nor English-language signage, I no doubt missed many of the finer (and blunter) points of the exhibit. However, I often give my students materials in languages they don't understand to force them to analyze the images in their own right, without recourse to captions - and my visit to this museum reminded me that this is a valuable practice. The use of photography, maps, and survivor art equipped me with questions to bring to later stages of the tour. The itinerary included a visit to the Osaka Peace Museum and conversation with Prof. Unoda Shoya, who has written on historical memory. Prof. Unoda’s guidance through the museum was very helpful for me in interpreting the choices of the curators in how to present the war. In a separate conversation, he shared with me his impressions of the Memorial Museum at Hiroshima, which I visited later on my own (thereby escaping the typhoon which my colleagues trudged through during their second day in Kyoto). The exhibit at Hiroshima is currently undergoing extensive renovation, and visiting during this moment of transition was an unexpected opportunity to see the revision of memory in the most heavily-visited wartime memory site in Japan.
On my own, I no doubt would have visited the Hiroshima, Tokyo, and Osaka museums. However, the regional focus of the tour and even the theme of manga art gave me opportunities to think about memory in less obvious contexts. Visiting sites related to such manga giants as Mizuki Shigeru prompted me to think about the ways public biographies are shaped to finesse the war years - and, of course, how the war emerges in their art. (I also learned a great deal about manga in Japanese culture more broadly, but in this short essay, I'm focusing on the direct impact on my professional activity.) Discussions with Prof. Unoda about Korean residents in Japan, and a visit to Osaka’s Koreatown, sharpened my awareness of this lingering effect of wartime labor conscription.
Our visits to sites in Japan's south (particularly Kochi City) pushed me to take a longer view of the events leading to the war. Reviving long-buried memories of my undergraduate course in Modern Japan, I was taken back to the Meiji Restoration - now with the ability to understand the importance of geography in reformers' efforts to organize and the Shogunate's difficulty in rising to the challenge. As a Germanist, I've long resisted efforts to conflate German history and the history of Berlin; much of my research has been in provincial locations. But a deep understanding of the provinces is especially hard to gain by reading. For this reason, too, I'm grateful for the careful planning and excellent guidance that went into the tour.
This brief report covers only those sites that most directly related to my professional activity – but the exposure to other sites, themes, and people gave me a far better sense of Japanese history and culture than a self-guided tour could have done.
Lisa Heineman is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Iowa.