Japan Since 1945: From Postwar to Post-Bubble.
The question "does Japan matter?" is a tired cliche but one that has persisted over the two and a half decades since Japan's postwar economic bubble burst, taking with it the belief that Japan's already apparent systemic problems of monoculturalism and demographics (to take just two examples) could be overcome by a new model of national economic power. Editors Christopher Gerteis and Timothy George combat this persistent strand of Japan-questioning in popular new discourse by bringing together fourteen leading and emerging scholars. Although most contributors are historians, the collection also includes historically minded contributions from sociologists, anthropologists, and legal scholars in a reflection of what the editors describe as the complex "intellectual boundaries where history leaves off and other disciplines begin" (4).
The book's interdisciplinary focus complicates in constructive ways the now-familiar historical trajectory of Japan as moving from the first non-Western modernizing power in the late nineteenth century, through empire and military defeat, into midcentury economic prosperity, and on to arguably one of the world's first postindustrial societies. The book's focus on the post-1945 period is a welcome update to the now-landmark 1993 collection Postwar Japan as History, which set the parameters of postwar Japanese historiography over the subsequent two decades. This volume may provide a similar function, engaging as it does with history's influence on and by other disciplinary approaches in recent decades, notably in the fields of transnational history and memory and heritage studies.
Japan Since 1945 is divided into four sections, which deal with "civic life, the legacies of war and military occupation, the emergence of a postindustrial economy, and the interaction of public memory with ... social, political and economic trajectories" (4). The uniformly excellent contributions largely take the form of case studies with broader historiographical implications. Particular highlights for this reader included the expected high quality contributions from leading scholars Laura Hein (on Japan's first modern art museum, which sought to decenter nationalism through the valorization of bourgeois art cultures), Christine Yano (on the possibilities provided by Japan's "jet-age nationhood"), and Timothy George (on reinvention strategies for declining rural locales). Two articles contribute to the growing scholarship on Japanese historical memory beyond the war--in Christopher Gerteis's case, through a study of corporate historical initiatives as public relations exercises and in Hiraku Shimoda's examination of an "ode to twentieth century industrial manufacturing" broadcast on the national NHK network (256). Other highlights include Martin Dusinberre's eloquent argument for the necessity of "excavating" stories of the local to rescue "history from the overarching historiographical frame of the nation" and Sally Hastings's exposure of the "historiography of invisibility" of career nurses, who, through their training and work patterns, undercut dominant narratives of gendered work and life in postwar Japan.
The collection is by no means exhaustive, but in the breadth of contributions it offers a glimpse of the richness and diversity of contemporary scholarship on postwar Japan.
University of Sheffield
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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