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Knowledge Co-Creation - Profiles of researchers

Fieldwork in the Memories and Narratives of War


Tsuyoshi Kitamura
Assistant Professor, Waseda Institute for Advanced Study

What it the Relevance of the War to the Present?

Recently, the theme of what life after the Second World War means to those people who lived through the war has been frequently raised. The recently released films The Face of Jizo(*1) and Yunagi City, Sakura Country(*2) both portray the post-war life of people who experienced the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. In The Face of Jizo, Rie Miyazawa gives an excellent performance of a daughter whose father died during the experience of the bombing, and who struggles to live with the feeling of indebtedness that came from surviving alone. The daughter finds her own way of living through a series of continuing dialogs with her father, who appears as a kind of spirit. This film presents itself not just as a mere tragedy, but also includes somewhat comical touches.

(*1) Original Manuscript: Hisashi Inoue; Director: Kazuo Kuroki
(*2) Original Manuscript: Fumiyo Kouno; Director: Sasabe Kiyoshi

Until now, the focus of war experience has been experiences during actual wartime where the bullets were flying. The memories and emotional scars of survivors after the war is a theme that has been slow to surface. On the other hand, the very factuality of war experiences which are talked about has become the focus of discussion. An example of this is the court battle surrounding the shudan jiketsu which means "compulsory group suicide" in the Battle of Okinawa. I believe that, in addition to examining the factuality of war experiences, it is necessary to turn our attention to the continuity and relevance to the present of the Second Word War. These themes can be seen in the lingering effects of the war and the relations between survivors and new generations, and are the same themes that are referenced in the two movies which were previously mentioned.

I visited Okinawa when I was a graduate student and walked through natural caverns known as gama in the Okinawan language. During my tour of these caves, I met volunteers who continue to speak about their war experiences, and I strongly felt the presence of a war that does not end even now. Gama which had served as sources of water and burial grounds throughout history became air raid bunkers, hospital bunkers, and troop position bunkers during the war. After the war, the gama became memorials for those who experienced the war and surviving relatives. Today, the gama are a place of study, visited by tens of thousands of students every year on school trips. Gama are a crossing point for many different memories for the people of Okinawa.

My encounter with the gama of Okinawa inspired me to begin working on the theme of viewing the war from a post-war perspective. I have performed fieldwork relating to the war in a variety of research fields which overlap the studies of cultural anthropology, folklore, sociology, and history.

What Can and Cannot Be Told

In addition to examining historical documents for my research, I also use oral history, which is the method of listening to the talk of people who experienced the war. By directly meeting people who experienced the war and their families, and by spending time to acquaint myself with these people, I have heard a variety of talk regarding the war. One of the people to whom I listened is Katsuhiro Hibino, a resident of Aichi Prefecture. Mr. Hibino was conscripted into the army and dispatched to China, after which he was transferred to Okinawa. After experiencing a fierce battle at Kakazu Ridge, he contracted tetanus and spent several months of suffering in a near-death condition within a cavern known as Abuchira-gama. However, he miraculously survived death and was discharged from the army.

In March of this year, a book was published which is a summary of Mr. Hibino's narratives and his memoirs thus far. The title of the book is Even Now, I Live With Corpses(*3). I was also involved in a portion of this book. Although there are countless works which summarize the experiences of Japanese soldiers during the war, most of these works end with the memoirs of the soldier. However, in the case of Even Now, I Live With Corpses, nearly half of the book is devoted to the feelings of Mr. Hibino's 4 daughters in relation to their father and their family in a post-war environment, as seen through their father's experiences. As a result, this book causes the reader to deeply consider the meaning of the war from a post-war perspective.

(*3) Author: Katsuhiro Hibino; Editor: Yume-Kikaku Daichi; Title: Even Now, I Live With Corpses The Battle of Okinawa From the Battleground of Kakazu Ridge to Itokazu Abuchira-Gama(March 2008)

Many soldiers who survived the Battle of Okinawa have visited Okinawa numerous times after the war. Likewise, Mr. Hibino has visited Okinawa with his comrades in the past. However, one of his comrades passed away, followed by a second, and recently Mr. Hibino's daughters accompanied him on his trip. The father and daughters made their way around Okinawa by inputting the information of places to visit into their car navigation system.

What I noticed during my exchanges with Mr. Hibino and his family is that he can only seem to talk about his experience in Okinawa. Furthermore, his experiences that have been documented in writing are almost entirely composed of his suffering in a near-death condition in Itokazu. When the amount of time is considered, his experiences in China are vastly larger. However, there is absolutely no talk about what he experienced in China. (Refer to Diagram 1 and Diagram 2).

This demonstrates that, when talking about war experiences, there is a strong selection of what can be talked about and what cannot be talked about. It also shows that there is a vast amount of things which cannot be talked about in the background of what can be talked about. I believe that it is now necessary to consider that the trauma of a person's war experiences and the trauma of their post-war life truly lie within matters which cannot be talked about.

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

Interdisciplinary Research to Explore Okinawan Trauma

Last year, 110,000 people gathered and a prefectural meeting was held regarding the issue of the mass suicides which occurred in Okinawa. I attended this meeting, and was overwhelmed by the force of so many prefectural residents gathered in one location. Once again, I was made to strongly feel that the war is certainly not over in the eyes of Okinawa.

As shown in the television drama Chura-San, Okinawa has the image of being a cheerful and bright southern paradise. However, issues such as child abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, seclusion from society (people refusing to leave their rooms) and bullying show very high rates of occurrence, even on a national scale. This is the dark side of Okinawa. This present day social problems are certainly not unrelated to the severe history which Okinawa has undergone. The issue of American military bases is also a deep-rooted problem.

At the Institute for Ryukyuan and Okinawan Studies in Waseda University, a project known as the Interdisciplinary Cooperative Study of Okinawan Trauma was started in 2006. This project considers the series of issues listed above to be "Okinawan trauma." Individuals from many different fields such as sociology, cultural anthropology, psychiatry, religious studies and gender research are participants in this project, and I myself am responsible for a portion of the project. Conventional research has been conducted from the perspective of local research of Okinawa according to residents of Okinawa. This has resulted in the development of a field known as "Okinawa-centered research." However, at the Institute for Ryukyuan and Okinawan Studies, we are striving to construct a new kind of Okinawan research, one that utilizes an outside perspective in addition to the internal perspective.

Take the example of Haisai Ojisan, one of the most well known songs of the Okinawa-born musician Shokichi Kina. The actual model for this song was a survivor of the Battle of Okinawa was, and it seems that this man constantly drank alcohol during his life after the war. It is said that Mr. Kina made this song after accepting the war-time and post-war emotional scars of this man. In this song, which seems to be carefree and cheerful when listened to casually, a deeper note of the unending war can be heard.

Furthermore, in the case of people who participated in the Battle of Okinawa, while most were of Okinawan origin, there are people from the Japanese mainland as well, like Mr. Hibino. Actually, among all birthplaces of soldiers from the mainland, Hokkaido has the most war deaths. Hokkaido had over 10,000 war dead, and has many returned soldiers and bereaved families as well. As I was born in Hokkaido, I continued my survey in my hometown. Just as the war is not a problem that only existed at the time of war, the Battle of Okinawa is not a problem of Okinawa alone.

Expanding Post-War Research to Modern Research

I will soon release a book that summarizes the essence of research up until now. The book, which is scheduled to be published at the end of this year, is tentatively titled as "Post-War History of the War Deads." In regards to Okinawa and post-war issues, I do not intend to shield myself in the closed field of research, but rather to actively transmit information and speak out as much as I can in the future.

In the future, in order to expand into new topics of research, I plan to further expand the unique perspective of war research from the post-war period. One such topic is the post-war research of the Russo-Japanese War. By expanding the scope of research from the lost war of Okinawa to the victorious Russo-Japanese War, I intend to change post-war research into research of modern Japan. I would also welcome the opportunity to engage in research of the area previously known as Manchuria. I believe that we must faithfully confront the memories of those who suffered from the sending of a massive number of colonists and the resulting wave of refugees, which is the largest in history.

The 7 types of tools used in field work. A hat and sunglasses are necessities in Okinawa.A flashlight and high boots (not shown here) most also be carried when entering gama (caverns of Okinawa) .

My experience when first visiting the gama of Okinawa has undoubtedly been a major factor in my intense interest in wars. During the war, the Japanese dug holes in every place spanning from the front lines to the home front. This was the work of an abnormal fear. In the end, people fell into what was almost like a state of sickness, no longer even understanding what is was that they feared, and many hid in their holes without coming out for days or months.

It is an extreme theory, but for example, there seems to be some kind of similarity with the phenomenon of seclusion from society. Also, there is the national land development which dug up all of Japan during the economic growth after the war. If post-war trauma is being dragged through history by the Japanese, I want to increase the interest in where this trauma exists and in what form.

Tsuyoshi Kitamura
Assistant Professor, Waseda Institute for Advanced Study
Researcher, Institute for Ryukyuan and Okinawan Studies, Organization for Asian Studies, Waseda University

Graduated from the School of Human Sciences, Waseda University, in 1997. After serving as an education coach at the E-School of the School of Human Sciences, Waseda University, he completed the Doctoral Program at the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Waseda University (Doctor of Human Sciences) in 2006. Before assuming his current post, he served as a research fellow at Okinawa University, a visiting researcher at the Research at Institute for Ryukyuan and Okinawan Studies at Organization for Asian Studies, Waseda University, and a visiting research associate at the Future Institute, Waseda University. His research places focus on the deceased and living of the Battle of Okinawa. In 2006, he received the Grand Prize of the 5th Sakurai Award for his thesis entitled "Okinawan Shamanism and Rituals for the War Dead: Searching for Souls of the War Dead as Seen in Nujifa."

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