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Sunday, June 26, 2011
Post 3/11 Japan: war literature
One's immediate reaction to the start this month of a new collection of war literature to mark publisher Shueisha's 85th anniversary might well be puzzlement. Why now, after more than half a century of peace in Japan, are we offered 20 volumes on literature related to war?
Perhaps the timing is in sync with the disaster mood in Japan since the March 11 quake-tsunami and subsequent nuclear accidents, in which old certainties have been upended and the future rendered opaque.
The 20 volumes of "Korekushon Senso X Bungaku" (Collection: War and Literature) are divided into four groupings: contemporary (from the Korean War to 9/11), modern (from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to the Occupation), thematic (voices of the dead, youth in wartime, etc.), and regional (Manchuria, the Japanese empire).
This month, two volumes were issued — Volume 8 on the Asia-Pacific War and Volume 19 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hereafter a volume a month will come out, completing the set in early 2013.
Gathering together short stories and novellas as well as essays, poetry and reportage from some 270 authors, the series includes works written in Japanese by Manchurian, Korean and Taiwanese authors under Japanese colonial rule.
Of particular interest will be the thematic volumes, such as Volume 14 on women and war, and the contemporary volumes, such as Volume 4 on 9/11 and Volume 5 on wars of the imagination, the latter of which includes fantasy and science fiction.
Also out this month from Shueisha is "Senso e, bungaku e" (Toward War, Toward Literature) by Toshifumi Jinno, looking at war literature in Japan since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.
Jinno believes that war literature in some form or other will be increasing now as people feel the similarities of the present time to the immediate postwar era and attempt to deal with the nuclear problem using the more metaphorical methods of literature, according to an article published in the June 19 edition of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.
Certainly the age of carefree escapism in popular culture is over. Even after the siege mentality, reminiscent of wartime, of the immediate postquake period ends, it will be interesting to see what creative works of the imagination emerge to illuminate a new age of anxiety and inwardness.