Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies早稲田大学 大学院アジア太平洋研究科


History, Memory, Narrative in Contemporary Japanese Politics



History, Memory, and Narrative in Contemporary Japanese Politics


レーニー デイビッド教授


This project is designed to contribute to our knowledge of how history and memory become codified in politics through its structuring as narrative. Building from the principal investigator’s recent book (Empire of Hope: The Sentimental Politics of Japanese Decline; Cornell University Press, 2018), it traces representations of Meiji, Taisho, and Showa Japan in reference to contemporary Japanese politics, particularly debates about decline and revitalization.


Much of the research on history and memory in Japan focuses narrowly on the Pacific War and its implications for Japanese politics and foreign policy today. While these issues have been important, they obscure the more complex ways in which national foundation in the Meiji Restoration, the country’s postwar growth, and its relations to other countries have been narrated as part of a story that gives contemporary politics its meaning. This project, like the initial book, will make important contributions to scholarship on historical representation, emotion and politics, and the tensions of “constructivism” in contemporary political science. The goal will be speak to important work done in Japanese by scholars like Oguma Eiji and Miyagi Taizo as well as in English by scholars like Carol Gluck and Dominick LaCapra.


The project will seek to draw on the expertise of members in considering the cultural politics of memory and history, focusing especially on three crucial moments for modern Japan’s political and economic relationships: the Meiji Restoration and its aftermath; the “Nissho Maru Incident” and the notion of energy independence and security; and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. All of these have been commemorated in recent novels and films, and all of them find ready discussions among key legislators and intellectuals in the press. These specific cases have been chosen in part because of political decisions involving both the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, which is being commemorated in Tokyo and in the prefectures that served as provincial homes of the rebellious samurai, and the 2020 Olympics, whose creative director for the opening ceremonies, Yamazaki Takashi, is the widely celebrated director of important films involving postwar Japanese history. Two of them – Always: Sanchome no Yuhi 64 and Kaizoku to Yobareta Otoku – deal specifically with two of the cases at hand: the ’64 Olympics that ostensibly opened postwar Japan to the world and the Nissho Maru Incident that symbolized both Japan’s energy independence and its willingness to flaunt international law when it seemed to support the interests of Western imperial powers rather than the newly independent nations, like Iran, that had been controlled by them.


The goal of this project is both to extend discussions within GSAPS and across Waseda’s campus discussions of the relationships between history and politics in ways that allow us to get beyond simplistic divisions between “revisionists” and “mainstreamists.” Instead, we will consider how these history and memory projects get shaped by traditional narrative structures that simultaneously embed the history while also pointing at an ending, a climax, to which a national community is expected to aspire.

There will therefore be four distribution goals. First,a paper on Idemitsu Sazô and contemporary representations of his life will be submitted to a leading journal, probably Public Culture or Journal of Asian Studies, by April 2021.

Second, a co-authored paper with group member Robert Hellyer will be submitted to the Journal of Japanese Studies by spring 2021. The autors have consulted with the editors on the paper, and they look forward to receiving it.

Third, the PI will focus on a book manuscript to follow the (possible) 2020 Olympic games, hoping to submit to press by Spring 2022.



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