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The reconstruction of self and society in early postwar Japan 1945-1949 Griffiths, Owen


This dissertation examines a moment of unprecedented crisis in Japan's modern history - the crisis of defeat - and the impact it had on the Japanese self-image. Defeat unleashed a wide range of responses, from profound despair (kyodatsu) to a sense of new life (shinsei). Just as the material destruction of defeat defined the landscape of Japan's cities, so too did the coexistence of these two emotions create the psychological ground from which public discussion about Japan's past, present, and future emerged. From these discussions arose two interrelated debates, one concerning who was responsible for war and defeat, and the other focusing on the defects in the national character. In both cases, many Japanese believed that the resolution of these debates was a necessary first step in constructing a peace-loving, democratic nation. The deconstruction of the national character was akin to the process of negation through which many Japanese people believed they could discard the "sins of the past" and move smoothly forward into the new postwar world order. It is in this context that Tanabe Hajime's "philosophy of repentance" (zangedd) is relevant, both as a model and a metaphor for the Japanese attempt to overcome the past. Ultimately, however, Tanabe's road to salvation was not taken by many, partly due to the intellectual difficulty of his message, but also due to the re-emergence of the Emperor whose reconstruction as a symbol of new life circumscribed the public debates over war responsibility and the deconstruction of the national character, leaving unresolved fundamental questions concerning the Japanese peoples' relationship with their own past. Drawing on a broad variety of primary sources, this study explores these debates and the Emperor's resurrection in a brief but intense four-year period after Japan's defeat. Any appreciation of later postwar history must begin from this era. Through the experiences and memories of the "generation of the scorched earth" (yakeato jidai) we can gain new insights into Japan's re-emergence as an economic power, the preoccupation with "new," and the enduring sense of particularism that predominates in Japan today.

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