Warring memories: Japan’s battle between remembering and forgetting.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of International Relations and Diplomacy
In 1945, Japan was bombed into submission by the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This ended a period in Japan’s history notorious for aggression, atrocities, and the victimisation of East Asian and captive peoples. For seven decades, the country has navigated through the memories of a traumatic past. This has created a variety of collective memories which have been shaped and reshaped through places, symbols, museums, public debate, and politics. This study investigates the collective memories portrayed at Yasukuni Shrine and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, with attention given to the associated Yūshūkan, and Peace Memorial museums. The two sites present markedly different narratives of the war and show evidence of historical revisionism by the altering of content in order to align with their respective objectives. This has produced significant collective forgetting of the unsavoury aspects to Japan’s past, while creating an identity which is closely linked to the notion of nonviolence. Analysis of public debate surrounding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni in 2013, and President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in 2016, showed that the collective memories represented at each site, while contested, are largely effective in producing a sense of national identity among Japanese people. The two sites thus function in tandem, despite contrasting displays of the war, in their forgetting and eliciting of sympathy and gratitude to the sacrifices of the war dead. While contestation of collective memory remains, the two versions analysed in this study show that they are both significant to the production of pride in being Japanese, and in shaping Japan’s internal and external identity.