On Becoming ‘a Japanese’: The Community of Oblivion and Memories of the Battlefield


October 12, 2005

On Becoming ‘a Japanese’: The Community of Oblivion and Memories of the Battlefield
On Becoming ‘a Japanese’: The Community of Oblivion and Memories of the Battlefield

On Becoming ‘a Japanese’: The Community of Oblivion and Memories of the Battlefield

By Tomiyama Ichiro

Translation by Noah McCormack

[Written in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, and later re-worked in Memories of the Battlefield published on the fiftieth anniversary of Japan’s surrender, this essay presents wartime violence not as something distant and exceptional, but rather as a pervasive condition of our lives. Tomiyama attempts here ‘to bring out the battlefield in the everyday’, and then from the battlefield, ‘to reconstitute the everyday’. In a time when war and violence can be seen everywhere and yet felt at a remove, his ideas are as pertinent as ever. N.M.]

The community of oblivion

Just what sort of business is it, to become ‘a Japanese’? Given that ‘the Japanese’ exist as an outcome of imagining, it is necessary to examine how they are concretely enacted as an ‘imagined community’. [1] Without such an examination, we cannot critique the ‘myth of the mono-ethnic nation’. For, merely to propose the existence of ‘minority groups’, including the Ainu people, Okinawan people, Korean people and ‘foreign people’, thereby to point to the ‘diversity’ of Japanese society, leaves intact the ‘ethnic myth’ that there exist ‘the Japanese’, merely restating it into the gentler language of ‘we “Japanese people” who are the majority group in Japanese society’. This essay problematizes ‘the Japanese’, and what it is to become ‘a Japanese’.

Needless to say, when problematizing ‘the Japanese’ as an outcome of imagining, the main issue is the ‘invented tradition’ [2] of the ‘emperor system’. But the perspective of ‘Japanese Orientalism’ drawn from Edward Said’s concept of ‘Orientalism’ and used by Kang Sangjung and others to explore ‘the Japanese’ as a mode of controlling and re-making Others [3], is also extremely important in analyzing ‘the Japanese’ in the emperor-system state that from the first so consistently conducted the colonization of the Ainu Moshir, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, Korea, the Southern Islands, ‘Manchuria’, and Asia. Here, I wish to take up Murai Osamu’s work in which he, like Kang, uses the perspective of ‘Orientalism’, in Murai’s case to examine Yanagita Kunio’s concept of ‘the common people’ (jomin). [4]

An underlying concern with the question, ‘who are the Japanese?’ ran through Yanagita’s thinking, and this concern is inseparable from his concept of the ‘common people’. Murai sees two critical moments in Yanagita’s forging of that concept. The first was when, himself deeply involved as an official in the ‘annexation’ of Korea, and witnessing at first hand the massacre of Koreans in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake, Yanagita found himself unable to assimilate the emperor-system state’s imperialist violence into his own theory of Japaneseness, and sought refuge in flight. The second came when Yanagita discovered the ‘Southern Islands’ (Nanto), the destination of his flight, as a ‘place of healing’. These ‘Southern Islands’ were an Other, to be ‘taken, domesticated, and modelled into a difference, thereby to create a “Japan” that could be identified with’ [5]; this Other was to be discovered, educated, and disciplined as ‘a proto-Japanese’ or as a child of ‘Japan’. In short, having fled because of an inability to face down the Others subjugated by imperialism’s violence who yet irrepressibly rose up against it, Yanagita attempted to retain his identity as ‘a Japanese’ by re-establishing a subservient Other who required instruction.

Murai’s essay directs our attention to how the ‘imagined community’ of ‘the Japanese’ was born of the discovery of an Other, as well as to how the power of discourse determines our relations with the Other in, for example, the very instant are uttered the words, ‘we Japanese people’. More concrete inquiry along these lines is necessary. Here, however, rather than looking at issues relating to this kind of discourse analysis, I would like to make some points concerning the limits of discourse analysis.

In examining the discourse equating ‘the common people’ with ‘the Japanese’, it is highly significant that Murai directed his attention to the turning points of Yanagita’s life history: ‘flight from the site of imperialism, oblivion, and then his discovery of a subservient Other’. He thereby makes the point that, above all, ‘the Japanese’ are ‘a community of oblivion’ [6], as well as a discourse that requires oblivion to come into being. So what is it that needs forgetting? Nothing other than the actual sites of imperialism, and imperialism’s violence.

The major pitfall of discourse analysis lies in supposing that power operates exclusively through discourse and speech acts. However, it was not discourse, but primarily the state apparatus of violence that is the military, which realized the processes of invasion so consistently conducted by the emperor-system state against the Ainu Moshir, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, Korea, the Southern Islands, Manchuria, and Asia. And it is none other than ‘the Japanese’ who first come into being through flight from these sites of violence, who are oblivious to imperialism’s violence. Further, the Other who is inaugurated together with the ‘Japanese’ is not just an Other in cultural and social relations, but also in state-mediated relations. [7]

If in this way we consider imperialism’s actual scenes, which exceed the discourse of ‘the Japanese’, it becomes necessary to examine ‘the Japanese people’ at these sometimes violent actual scenes, rather than the intellectuals’ visions of, and structured discourses about, ‘the Japanese’.

In a letter from the battlegrounds of Bougainville Island, a Japanese soldier from Okinawa wrote on his son’s birthday, ‘From the dawn of our victory in this Greater East Asian War, we people of Okinawa will be treated the same as the Japanese people. That’s why, if we win this battle, our family will be able to go to Japan, to live in friendly harmony.’ [8] In these short last words, the aggression that was the Greater East Asian War and a family life of ‘friendly harmony’ are laid out together as the process of becoming ‘Japanese’. This series of linkages, in which everyday yearnings beget the dream of becoming ‘a Japanese’, and eventuate in the exercise of violence against others, encompasses all the issues that I wish to consider in this essay.

There are two points of note. One is that everyday life is where one actually becomes ‘a Japanese’. The other is that related to this process of becoming ‘a Japanese’, it is from the sites of everyday life that mobilization for the violent invasion of others is realised. At these sites, there is a risk that actual scenes of imperialism, which cannot be explained within the ‘community of oblivion’, of the sort from which Yanagita fled, may come into view. Since this violence that comes into view needs already to have been forgotten, it is not immediately voiced, but gives rise to silence. However, silence is not oblivion, but no less than internalized memory. [9] How should memories of the past be narrated as experience?

Tsurumi Shunsuke says, ‘from the kitchen, there is no severance in history on the 15th of August 1945’, and attaches importance to this ‘unsevered kitchen’ as a site of resistance. [10] But whilst fully agreeing with Tsurumi’s point, or precisely because I agree with him, I want to draw attention to the point that many people marched forth from their kitchens as imperial soldiers. Becoming ‘a Japanese’ is no less than a process mediating everyday life and mobilization for the battlefield, enacting them as one. The imperial soldier from Okinawa died in battle. The Greater East Asian War ended in defeat, and his attempt to become ‘a Japanese’ ended in failure. However, this failure was neither the death of ‘emperor-system ideology’ nor of ‘ultra-nationalism’, but first and foremost the death of everyday life, the death of the kitchen. It is true that everyday life was not severed on the fifteenth of August 1945. But surely its continuity must be informed by the deaths within it. How should the death of daily life, that battlefield mobilization etched as memory, be narrated?

Lifestyle reform

With reference to Koreans resident in Japan, Kang Sangjung writes about the current situation of ‘Japanese Orientalism’ as follows. ‘Because of the astonishing “productivity” of [Japanese] Orientalism, “South Korean and North Korean people resident in Japan” have continually been tempted to apply it to themselves and to others.’ [11] The lure of daily life being improved and getting better inclines them towards becoming ‘Japanese people’. This is by no means an issue concerning only Korean people resident in Japan. In the psychological make-up of Japanese colonists in Korea and ‘Manchuria’, Yoon Keuncha sees the coexistence of a sense, which was expressed as imperial consciousness in colonial society, of being Japanese, with animosity towards hometowns, of a sense of victimhood. [12] Concerning the latter, this sentiment can also be seen among those who were forced to leave their villages by economic circumstances. Therein lies bitterness at no longer being able to survive at home, together with a powerful desire to better everyday lives. The wish to improve everyday living even a little is connected to becoming ‘a Japanese’.

Of course, the existence of living people who ply their Japanese nationality strategically must also be noted here, for to assume that such a wish for betterment leads directly to becoming ‘a Japanese’ would be to lose sight of their ‘soft resistance’. [13] However, as mentioned above, here I wish to emphasize the point that it was from everyday life that mobilization towards the violent invasion of others was realized.

As is well known, many of the colonists of Manchuria, whose imperial consciousness Yoon demonstrates, were recruited from peasant villages during the Economic Reorganization Campaign starting in 1932, in which lifestyle reform was a central pillar. However, it was not for impoverished peasants alone that lifestyle reform was tied to ‘the Japanese people’. For Ainu people, Okinawan people, and Korean people resident in Japan too, all invaded and violently ‘annexed’ by the emperor-system state, lifestyle reform lay at the heart of the so-called kominka or imperial subject-making policy.

It must not be overlooked that in the case of the Ainu and the Okinawans, lifestyle reform was by no means just a government-devised slogan. Among the activities of the Hokkaido Ainu Association founded in 1930 was lifestyle reform conducted by the Ainu people themselves, and their activities connected up with the campaign to abolish the ‘Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Law’. [14] The case of Okinawa was analogous. As I will explain below, the campaign for the promotion of standard Japanese, which was a central element in lifestyle reform, penetrated profoundly. Use of the Okinawan language was subjected to daily surveillance, such that by the 1930s, it is said that people spoke standard Japanese even within their homes. Similarly, the campaign for the abolition of secondary Okinawan-style funeral rites (senkotsu) was conducted by Okinawan women and was aimed at their own liberation. [15] Further, these lifestyle reform movements linked up with Ainu people’s push into a ‘Manchuria without discrimination’, as well as with the southern push by Okinawan people as ‘leaders of the Southern Ocean’.

For anti-discriminatory movements to be co-opted by nationalism even as they proclaim lifestyle reform, thereby to be mobilized towards invasion, is a pattern that not even the Levelers’ Association (Suiheisha) that combatted Buraku discrimination was able to avoid. As Kim Jonmi points out, the National Levelers’ Association, some members of which saw themselves at the time as being of a different race from ‘the Japanese’, converted to Japanese nationalism during the [Taisho – early Showa] Conciliation Movement centered on lifestyle reform, and promoted emigration by Burakumin to ‘Manchuria’ on the grounds that, ‘if we live in Manchuria, discrimination will fade away’. Kim strongly attacks this switch as ‘an alliance for “defending lifestyle and rights against Buraku discrimination” based on the sacrifices of the people of Asia’. [16]

Lifestyle reform meshed with becoming ‘a Japanese’, with the result that people were mobilized into violent invasion of Others. Thus lifestyle reform offered people a path to participation in the ‘community of oblivion.’ Focusing on this point, let us consider a framework in which to think about lifestyle reform. [17]

Firstly, just what did lifestyle reform target for improvement? To list the categories for lifestyle reform in the case of Okinawa, they reached deep into everyday life, including such things as the Okinawan language, going barefoot, pit toilets, graves, Okinawan-style funeral rites, family names, divining, shamanism, Ryukyuan clothing, drinking alcohol, dating parties, songs accompanied by the sanshin, festivals, hygiene, and local methods of keeping time. The categories for reform in the case of Okinawans who had come to live in Osaka likewise touched on all parts of their lives, including the Okinawan language, Ryukyuan clothing, Ryukyuan dance, songs accompanied by the sanshin, living in enclaves of Okinawans, festivals, child-rearing methods, diet, the drinking of Awamori liquor, and so on. A similar attention to detail can be seen in the lifestyle reforms of the Ainu people.

From these few examples, rather than concluding that imperial subject-making, in the form of ‘becoming Japanese’, constituted the oppression of a specific culture, we can make the point that it unfolded as the performance of a model lifestyle, and of improvements towards its achievement. The categories targeted by lifestyle reform were both tangible and detailed; these directives indicated the requisite or model lifestyle in various daily scenes. If one were to take just the case of the eradication of the Okinawan language, that is indeed the elimination of a particular language. However, I would like to concentrate on the point that such eradication, in combination with, for example, reforms targeting drinking and bare feet, constituted the performance of a model lifestyle. Of course, no doubt there were degrees of difference in the importance of each directive, and it is necessary to consider those differences. But whatever the case may be, the categories for improvement must not be construed as a particular culture that can be somehow objectively defined. It was concrete ways of doing things in everyday life that were problematized. For people generally, to become ‘a Japanese’ was to engage in lifestyle reforms aiming for the better life performed by ‘the Japanese’.

Why, then, were these detailed directives accepted as improvements towards a better life? There is another aspect of lifestyle reform here, which cannot simply be reduced to the issue of nationality. Concrete directives about everyday life do not alone constitute lifestyle reform. Polarized normative values such as ‘clean / unclean’, ‘healthy / sick’, ‘science / custom’, ‘advanced life / backward life’, and ‘prosperous people / poor people’ are also involved. The various categories needing to be improved are set up so as to indicate the negative values of ‘uncleanness’, ‘sickness’, ‘customs’, the ‘backward’, and so on, with their improvement posited as proof of the positive values of the ‘clean’, the ‘healthy’, the ‘advanced’, and so on. As recent work in urban history and social history indicates, a society in which people are caught between such polarized normative values, and in which they begin to move unidirectionally, is precisely a modern society. Following Anbo Norio, let us call that society possessing the desirable positive values, the ‘society of good people’. [18] Lifestyle reform is a movement aimed at attaining this ‘society of good people’.

In the better life performed by lifestyle reform are joined the two vectors of becoming ‘a Japanese’ and becoming ‘good people’. And everyday life is where the joining of the ‘society of good people’ and of nationality actually takes place. Consequently, moves seeking participation in the ‘society of good people’ connect with nationalism. It needs to be noted that no society constituted by ‘good people’ exists separate from nationality. It is the joining of ‘the Japanese’ and ‘the good people’ that indicates the very ‘society of good people’ of Japan enclosed by the state. Thus, this tendency for nationality and ‘good people’ to join, that can be seen in the lifestyle reform of the Okinawan people and the Ainu people, is by no means a limited issue solely concerning Okinawans and Ainu contained within Japanese society as ‘heterogeneous groups’. [19]

Also, the fact that ‘the Japanese’ and ‘the good people’ are joined allows the suggestion that non-‘Japanese people’ are associated with those various values, namely ‘uncleanness’, ‘sickness’, ‘customs’, ‘backwardness’, ‘poverty’ and so on, that are excluded from the ‘society of good people’. Non-‘Japanese people’ can consequently be set up as objects requiring education, treatment, and improvement. This point overlaps with the above-mentioned issue of the other in ‘Japanese Orientalism’.

Edward Said writes, ‘The Oriental was linked thus to elements in Western society (delinquents, the insane, women, the poor) having in common an identity best described as lamentably alien. Orientals were rarely seen or looked at; they were seen through, analyzed not as citizens, or even people, but as problems to be solved or confined or – as the colonial powers openly coveted their territory – taken over.’ [20] There is a need to examine concretely just what sorts of others are made to embody the various elements excluded from the ‘society of good people’ as needing treatment and improvement, in the process of becoming ‘a Japanese’.

The particularity of lifestyle reform is that it is a form of self-help, in which one attempts to improve one’s own daily life. In other words, one attempts to improve the self, thereby to become ‘a Japanese’. This involves a subjectivity like that of a good patient who treats and improves the self to get better, as well as an auto-disciplining of the self, in which one engages in surveillance over one’s own everyday life. Moreover, because the categories of surveillance cover everyday minutiae, this also advances the disciplining of everyday life. In exhortations such as ‘don’t lose to the Japanese! (yamatonchu)’ or slogans such as ‘advance Okinawa, beginning with its language!’ that surfaced frequently in lifestyle reform, there can obviously be grasped a dynamic that can be called subjectivity, but which at the same time is also oriented towards disciplining.

If ‘the Japanese’ were exclusively defined as a ‘natural entity’ and the boundary between ‘Japanese people’ and non-‘Japanese people’ were postulated to be natural, or in other words if ‘the Japanese’ were to be set as something utterly unalterable, then discrimination against the Ainu people and the Okinawan people, contained within ‘the Japanese’ as ‘heterogeneous groups’, would become an unrelenting racism. However, as a consequence of the joining of ‘the Japanese’ and ‘the good people’, it is not simply ‘different races’ who are excluded, but ‘different races’ who are ‘lazy’ and ‘unclean’.

Étienne Balibar has made this point with reference to France’s ‘foreign labour problem’. Namely, it is not the ‘Arab’ or the ‘Black’ who is excluded, but the ‘Arab (as) junky’ or ‘delinquent’ or ‘rapist’ and so on, or equally, ‘rapists’ and ‘delinquents’ as ‘Arabs’ and ‘Blacks’. Balibar considers this to be a new development in racism, terming it neo-racism. [21] Underlying the self-help attempts by the people of Okinawa to eliminate ‘Okinawan people’ who are ‘unclean’ and ‘lazy’ is precisely this kind of complex condition that Balibar terms neo-racism.

This structure of self-help signifies that even as the Other is excluded, it is also internalized. And it is precisely this internalized Other which functions as the menace that brings about discrimination against, surveillance over, and disciplining of, the self. Further, to promote that function, the internal Other is sometimes given a concrete face and excluded so as to provide a cautionary example. This can be said to correspond to Kan Takayuki’s point about the structure of the emperor system, in which ‘only on assenting to discrimination can one become a member of the community’. [22]

Incidentally, the kinds of subjectification and self-disciplining visible in self-help have the potential to tie up readily with labour discipline and military discipline. That is, self-help unfolds as the process of becoming ‘a Japanese’, but the eventual outcome is a disciplining that lays the groundwork for mobilization as labour force or military force. Even so, the processes in which people are constituted as labour force or military force proceeds as the fact of subjectively becoming ‘a Japanese’. Based on this point, the ‘Japanese people’ is none other than an aggregation of ‘resourceful persons’. [23] The everyday life that lifestyle reform performed was one that induced mobilization.

Death of a teacher

Keeping in mind this somewhat abstract framework concerning lifestyle reform, I would like to take up the life history of a teacher who set about lifestyle reform in Okinawa. [24]

Born in Izumi, Motobu village, Okinawa prefecture in 1892, Teruya Chuei entered Okinawa Teacher’s College in 1911. In Okinawa at that time, apart from success outside of the prefecture, prospects for advancement were largely limited to accumulating schooling and becoming an official or a teacher. And even for success outside of Okinawa, academic qualifications were a decisive factor. Consequently, the notion that advancement required education was extremely powerful. But people were confronted by the economic problem posed by education fees; the proportion of the peasant strata able to cover secondary education costs was less than 20 percent. [25] There was, however, a somewhat unusual way of getting ahead in the world, in which this obstacle was overcome by means of parents going overseas as migrants, and remitting funds for their children’s secondary education. [26] And so it was in Teruya’s case, with remittances from his father, who had migrated alone to North America, enabling him to proceed on to Okinawa Teacher’s College.

After graduating from Okinawa Teacher’s College in 1914, Teruya began his teaching career as an instructor at Ogimison Kijoka Middle School, and he then became primary instructor at Haneji Yagachi Middle School in 1916. In 1919, he was named deputy to the headmaster at Motobu Middle School. In 1920, he began as an instructor at Okinawa Teacher’s College Elementary School, and in 1924, at the youthful age of 32, he became the headmaster of Kunigami Middle School. After that, in 1927 he took the position of headmaster of Nakijinson Amesoko Elementary School, working there for 15 years. In 1942, he became Motobu National School headmaster. While Teruya may have devoted himself to public education, his curriculum vitae obviously reflects a record of personal advancement.

During his teaching career, and especially during his long stint as headmaster at Amesoko, Teruya actively promoted lifestyle reform. To give a few examples of his activities, firstly regarding hygiene issues, to borrow the words of one of his then colleagues, he bewailed ‘constantly the Okinawan people’s deficient sense of hygiene’, and strived for ‘domestic cleanliness, order and neatness, and the eradication of trachoma and skin diseases such as scabies’. He also took part in study groups and educational activities, and as headmaster, undertook analyses of drinking water quality in the school area, stationed a hygiene officer at the school, encouraged the installation of improved toilets, and so on. [27] These lifestyle reform activities brought not just students but people in the 6 districts and 41 hamlets of the school area to establish and follow comprehensive standards of living. In 1938, he was decorated by the Imperial School Hygiene Association in recognition of his activities.

About Teruya’s education in standard Japanese, a former student related that, ‘One day, I was cleaning the classroom with a few friends. It was after school hours, and perhaps we relaxed a little. Before we knew it, we were speaking in dialect, which was easier for us. Then suddenly Teruya appeared, his angry voice roared out like thunder, and he hurled chairs at us.’ [28] Similar unswerving insistence on the education of standard Japanese appeared also on the occasion of the establishment of a Children’s Association, in Teruya’s declaration that he wished to ‘discipline the sluggish minds of the Okinawan people, who are unable to present their own opinions before others confidently.’ [29] Teruya was also enthusiastic about improving Okinawa’s ‘outdated customs’, and patrolling at night with a bamboo staff, he would rail against dating parties and the singing of songs accompanied by the sanshin. [30]

It is easy to see an orientation towards becoming ‘a Japanese’ in Teruya’s lifestyle reform. As we can see from his statements, when he said ‘the Okinawan people’ had a poor sense of hygiene and were poor speakers, ‘the Japanese people’ were always in mind as the model objects of comparison. When Teruya was a youth, the Moral Improvement Campaign – part of the post-Russo-Japanese War Local Improvement Campaign – was unfolding in Okinawa. This Moral Improvement Campaign, which was to link up with lifestyle reform, targeted not just the Okinawan language, Ryukyuan clothing and tattoos, but also called for hair to be cropped short. Given the existence among the former Ryukyuan military classes of an ‘Obdurate Party’ of Sinophiles opposed to ‘annexation’ by Japan, cutting one’s hair became an important act in becoming ‘a Japanese’. Teruya was a primary school student at the time of the Moral Improvement Campaign, and said that when he had his hair cut short, he was overjoyed at his success in becoming ‘a Japanese’ [yamatonchu]. [31] Teruya grew up in the midst of the lifestyle reforms that modern Okinawa ceaselessly promoted.

This orientation of Teruya’s, towards becoming ‘a Japanese’ or ‘a Yamato’, can also be discerned in the fact that during his time as headmaster of Amesoko Elementary School, he was the first in the prefecture to construct a shrine to house the Imperial Portrait and the Imperial Rescript on Education, and to erect a statue of Ninomiya Sontoku [the nineteenth century model of the upwardly mobile Japanese peasant]. But in those acts there was, at the same time, a concern for his ‘native land’, Okinawa. What Teruya emphasized above all in his educational practices as a teacher was education about local and rural matters. In his essay, ‘Thoughts on the subject of geography’, published in the journal Okinawa Education (vol. 12, 1928), he raised the case of Okinawa in arguing for the need for a geography education that drew on local resources, from which can be grasped his strong attachment to his ‘native land’ of Okinawa. Further, he delimited this native land as ‘that area which the children are able constantly to see and hear’, with local resources comprising ‘everyday living materials’. His concern for his ‘native land’ of Okinawa tied up with the area that one could ‘constantly see and hear’, and was further to link up with lifestyle reform.

In the midst of the Lifestyle Reform Movement in 1939, the then Okinawan governor Fuchigami Fusataro argued for the ‘annihilation of Okinawan culture’, and he and the Folk Art Movement’s Yanagi Soetsu, who visited Okinawa the following year, engaged in the ‘Okinawan Dialect Debate’. Born in Fukuoka prefecture, Fuchigami became an Interior Ministry bureaucrat after graduation from Tokyo University’s Law Faculty, and in that capacity he was dispatched to Okinawa as prefectural governor in 1938. While it can be said that both Fuchigami’s call for the ‘annihilation of Okinawan culture’ and Teruya’s lifestyle reform both arose within the same process of imperial subject-making that took the form of ‘becoming Japanese’, I wish to distinguish clearly between the two. What can be grasped from Teruya’s orientation towards Japan as Yamato is concern for his ‘native land’ of Okinawa, and his discovery of everyday life as the site in which to translate that concern into practice. An acquaintance of Teruya’s later termed him ‘a teacher who loved Okinawa, and a teacher who loved Japan’. [32] These two facets, which at first glance appear contradictory within the context of the policy of imperial subject-making, were understood to be the same thing in the domain of everyday life. Because he loved his ‘native land’ of Okinawa, Teruya neither called for the ‘eradication of Okinawan culture’, as Fuchigami did, nor did he urge the protection of ‘Okinawan culture’ as having a ‘national treasure-like value’, as Yanagi Soetsu did. Instead, he turned to the site of practice that was everyday life. This means, to put it differently, that becoming ‘a Japanese’ is something ceaselessly confirmed within specific individual practices.

People like Teruya were by no means exceptional cases. Many Teruyas existed throughout Okinawa’s modernity, practicing lifestyle reform. This is why there is a need to confirm the social consequences of that fact. It can first be pointed out that wherever his concern for improvement sprang from, Teruya was a leader who engaged in surveillance over and denunciation of detailed aspects of everyday life. On hearing the Okinawan language being spoken, he would hurl chairs at the speakers, while at night, he would patrol with a staff, listening for echoes of the sanshin. Many such Teruyas created and maintained the mutual surveillance regime of Okinawan society manifested in people’s secret denunciations of each other as ‘moral criminals’ for speaking the Okinawan language [33], in the policing by regulations of going barefoot as ‘unclean’, and in the massive crackdowns on shamans as symbols of ‘outdated custom’. Moreover, surveillance extended to the leaders themselves. At the time, the leaders of lifestyle reform, as moral leaders who engaged in surveillance over ‘moral criminals’, themselves had to present a model to emulate, through embodying the morality that was lifestyle reform. [34] It is this self-disciplining, in which people engage not just in mutual surveillance but also in auto-surveillance, that is the social result of lifestyle reform.

There is another point that needs to be made regarding the union of Teruya’s concern for his native land and his orientation towards becoming ‘a Japanese’. Namely, from the latter part of the 1930s, a path enabling the two to join without the mediation of everyday life was being formed. This path was provided by the emergence of the discourse of Okinawa as the ‘leader of the Southern Ocean’, which accompanied Japan’s southwards advance. From the late 1930s to the 1940s, when it is generally held that imperial subject-making policies penetrated Okinawa even more profoundly, a positive reappraisal of Ryukyuan culture, especially by the Okinawan Cultural League, was taking place. In this reappraisal, as can most evidently be seen in Asato En’s History of Okinawa’s Oceanic Development [35], the tradition of ‘the Okinawan people’ as ‘an ocean-going people’ was lauded, and the tradition of ‘the Okinawan people’ as leaders of the ‘Southern Ocean’ was ‘invented’. This new discourse did not replace lifestyle reform; rather, it functioned to reinforce it. That is, in order to become ‘a Japanese’ and ‘an Okinawan’ who was a ‘leader of the Southern Ocean’, it was even more necessary to improve daily life. [36] I wish to draw attention to the point that the Other known as the ‘Southern Ocean’ appeared in the process of becoming ‘Japanese people’ that gripped the people of Okinawa.

Lastly, the fate of the discipline constructed by lifestyle reform must be mentioned. As Japan advanced into Asia, the work of Teruya in, for example, organizing women’s patriotic labour units and soliciting and convincing volunteers for the navy took on the character of war mobilization. And when prefectural administrative functions were transferred to the 32nd Army stationed in Okinawa, and as a full battlefield administration was established, those teachers and officials and others who until then had been the leaders of lifestyle reform began preparations for the steadily approaching battlefield mobilization by arming the populace, forming militias and defence units. A certain Colonel Udo’s unit was stationed in Motobu, where Teruya had been appointed school headmaster after his time in Amesoko, and it is said that Teruya’s cooperation in assisting in the provision of food and labour was quite exceptional.

The moral leaders of lifestyle reform changed into leaders of battlefield mobilization, just as the discipline that lifestyle reform gave birth to changed into military discipline. And another name was given to those ‘moral criminals’ who were interior Others: that of ‘spy’. During the battle of Okinawa, Japanese troops massacred numerous residents for being ‘spies’. A violence beyond words rules the battlefield, and at first glance, this discourse about ‘spies’ is but the written form of allegations made by Japanese troops as they exercised violence. But more than that, it was the wartime shape taken by the peacetime discourse about ‘moral criminals’. For it was the ‘suspicious characters’ of peacetime who were re-construed as wartime ‘spies’. [37]

Having furthered lifestyle reform and enthusiastically cooperated with the Japanese military, Teruya Chuei was slaughtered as a ‘spy’ by Japanese forces at the height of the battle of Okinawa. News of his slaughter spread rapidly across the battlefields. In the midst of incredulity, anger, and fear, one person, his whole body shuddering violently, cried out, ‘If it has come to this, then even my own life is no longer precious! What is this talk of friendly troops, they’re worse than the US forces!’ [38] Teruya’s death decisively propelled residents’ estrangement from the military discipline of the Japanese troops. This estrangement was not just driven by fear, it also contained an anti-military resolve replete with anger. This was an anger at having been betrayed, fuelled by the fact that Teruya had so obviously been a fervent cooperator with the Japanese troops. This anger at betrayal, intense because of the prior cooperation, was widely seen on the battlefields of Okinawa, and led to the formation of various anti-military movements.

However, the impact that Teruya’s death had upon people was not solely due to the fact that he had been a cooperator with the Japanese military. It was also conditioned by Teruya’s own life, which had led him to cooperate with the Japanese military, and ultimately mobilized him to his death.

Memories of the battlefield – back in daily life

Tsurumi Shunsuke introduces as an exemplary case of a soldier’s ideological conversion that of Yoshida Mitsuru: ‘Although aware of the collapse of the old hierarchical order in the external world’, Yoshida Mitsuru, a communications sub-officer on board the battleship Yamato that was sunk en route to the Battle of Okinawa, ‘continued in his own inner world to cling to a correctly-ordered hierarchy of the past that he held separate from the outside world.’ [39] The discipline that brought about his mobilization into the navy survived intact into the post-war as a bank worker’s discipline. Everyday life gave rise to discipline, and discipline tied up with mobilization. Regarding Yoshida’s ideological conversion, in which discipline carried over into the postwar, it is necessary first to point out the continuity of the everyday life that enabled conversion. Given this continuity, ‘the post-war situation, in which more Japanese people are company employees and civil servants than soldiers, does not constitute proof that Japan has switched to pacifism from militarism.’ [40] However, it is also the case that Yoshida Mitsuru was troubled by this continuity; he tried to stop to consider it, and that brought him to write his recollections of war.

While attempts to narrate battlefield memories are premised on an everyday life that preserves an astonishing continuity with the pre-war even as it moves into the post-war, they are also concerned with discovering and trying to explain battlefield memories that do not harmonize with that continuity. Furthermore, and to repeat the point, the everyday life that continues is still one that fosters mobilization. How are memories of the battlefield narrated? Or how are they forgotten? To consider these questions is also to discover everyday life as the scene of ideological struggles over mobilization.

In 1977, on the 33rd anniversary of Teruya’s death, a memorial stone was erected in Motobu town, Okinawa prefecture, and the following year in 1978 appeared a compilation of memoirs about him written by 67 of his friends, acquaintances, former students and relatives. It is entitled Spirit Appeasing Elegy. But the writings collected within it feel as if thoughts that people had stored away in their hearts for 33 years after the war had suddenly erupted. Rather than ‘appeasing spirits’, it raises them. [41]

It hardly needs to be said that the cause of this ‘spirit raising’ is the fact that Teruya was not just killed in action on the battlefield, but was killed by Japanese troops as a ‘spy’. On this point, memories of the battle of Okinawa concerning Teruya differ from those relating to Yoshida Mitsuru. For Teruya was not only mobilized towards his death, he was killed as an ‘enemy’ despite being mobilized.

Discipline did not only bring about mobilization towards death. There is no telling when the internal Other who maintains discipline will appear as an enemy. We must look here at the intervention of the state, which organizes and conducts mobilization. But graver still, since the enemy is tied to the internal Other, the enemy may appear as one’s own self. Teruya’s tragedy lies in the fact that the Other born of his lifestyle reform suddenly appeared as his own self, to be killed as the ‘enemy Other’. The Teruya who lived for lifestyle reform and the Teruya as the ‘enemy Other’ are mutually exclusive. Herein lies the reason why Teruya’s death exists as a trauma for all those involved in lifestyle reform.

How can this trauma be narrated? The most common approach in the above-mentioned compilation was to praise the Teruya who lived for lifestyle reform, and to denounce the Japanese troops who attributed to him the face of the Other and killed him as an enemy on that basis. For example, the epitaph on his memorial stone reads: ‘Our teacher Teruya Chuei, of exalted character, faithful and wise, with a strong sense of duty, was a practical educator who lived according to his own teachings. However, during the Greater East Asian War, here in the land of his birth, in the confusion of the decisive battle for Okinawa, he was dealt a cruel end. We, former students, colleagues, friends and acquaintances, recall the greatness of our teacher, and erect here a sorrowful stone of remembrance.’

The more the fact that he was a ‘practical educator who lived according to his own teachings’ is stressed, the more the sorrow increases, and leads to intense anger towards ‘the crazed and hateful friendly troops’, towards the ‘madness of the Japanese troops’. Such anger has much in common with that which arose as news of Teruya’s massacre spread across the battlefield. Thus it leads also to anti-militarism and attempts to determine responsibility. But beyond the fact that it is based on Teruya being a ‘practical educator’ who enthusiastically advanced lifestyle reform, and who did not hold back in cooperating with the Imperial Army, this ‘sorrow’ cannot but make the attribution to him of the face of the ‘enemy Other’ a factor of the madness of war and the responsibility of ‘crazed’ Japanese troops. While we must not understate the significance of the anti-military movements and attempts to determine responsibility based on the anger arising from this ‘sorrow’, nor must we forget that the resultant style of critique, depending on the degree of anger involved, held that ‘his murder was a misunderstanding’, a ‘step too far’, or ‘deplorable’. By making his murder as the Other a factor of the external problems of ‘insanity’ and the ‘battlefield’, this kind of approach skirts the trauma of Teruya’s death. Also, the life recounted therein is limited to that of the Teruya who lived for lifestyle reform.

The next approach visible in the compilation is to seek the cause of his murder not in ‘madness’ or ‘misunderstanding’, but rather in the lifestyle reform movement. In the assertion that the history of imperial subject-making in pre-war Okinawa laid the groundwork for the battle of Okinawa, there is a slim chance of simultaneously narrating the two mutually exclusive Teruyas. But in this approach, lifestyle reform is equated with the policy of imperial subject-making, and narration of Teruya’s own practice in daily life is avoided. The policy and practice of imperial subject-making are made responsible for his death. With regard to this approach, too, we cannot understate its significance as agitation denouncing imperial subject-making. But by making his murder a factor of the external issues of ‘politics’ and ‘policy’, the trauma of Teruya’s death is again avoided. This approach does not narrate Teruya’s life, nor does it hold the possibility of referring to the fate of the interior Other born of lifestyle reform. In fact, it might even be said that this approach could turn everybody into a victim of imperial subject-making.

There is no mistaking that both these approaches are ‘spirit raising’, with regard to memories of the battlefield. And it is certain that both provide potential foundation for organizing movements against the military and against the emperor. But within them there is also the avoidance of trauma, and oblivion. Further, they also contain the danger of bringing about oblivion of the fate of discarded Others.

The compilation contains a piece by Teruya’s third daughter Mariko, who was in her penultimate year at Okinawa First Prefectural Girls High School at the time of his death. [42] She was with Teruya up until just before his death. When she first heard the news of her father’s passing, she was not told that he had been massacred as a ‘spy’. She says that she thought, ‘so, as I feared, he has met his end in battle, cooperating with the military.’ Subsequently learning that he had been murdered, although distraught, she quelled her anguish out of consideration for the kindness of those around her. ‘If I despaired, the people around me would be even more burdened, so I tried as much as possible not to think about that hateful war. And so I would recall with fondness peaceful and pleasant childhood events.’ But it is not something that can be forgotten through effort. Rather than oblivion, the term silence is apt.

The Teruya who engaged in lifestyle reform does not appear in the daily life with her father that she recounts. She is silent about the trauma of her father’s death. Instead, scenes of ‘peaceful and pleasant childhood’ are picked out, as photos in an album. One could dismiss this as nostalgia, but there is also a silence here that declines to engage in too simplistic a ‘spirit raising’. And Teruya Mariko, who had become silent in the face of trauma, discovered a beautiful everyday life in the past, which looks also like a future to look forward to.

In the everyday life that she evokes, there is a description of when her father played a record for her on the gramophone, just before the start of the battle of Okinawa. ‘Listening, my father said to me, “Music today is almost all military anthems, but this music is really wonderful, Mariko. Let’s listen to it”. He lowered the volume, mindful of outward appearances, and we listened’. That gramophone never played music again.

If we accept the continuity of everyday life posited by Tsurumi, it would surely first be discovered in the task of constituting memories of the past, confirming them one by one. That would also constitute the discovery of everyday life as the scene of ideological struggle, and pose the problem of solidarity, of calling back the presence of the Others discarded in the process of becoming ‘a Japanese’. But, to discover this continuity, perhaps we need dreams of the future that look back to a beautiful past.

This article, published in Yoseba, volume 6, March 1993, was adapted and expanded in Senjo no kioku (Memories of the battlefield), Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Hyoronsha, 1995. It was posted at Japan Focus on October 26, 2005.

A leading cultural critic, Tomiyama Ichiro teaches courses on theoretical issues relating to culture and history at Osaka University, and publishes widely on postcolonialism. Tomiyama Ichiro’s books in Japanese include: Modern Japanese Society and the ‘Okinawan People’ (1990); Memories of the Battlefield (1995) (available in Korean); Presentiments of violence (2002) (Korean translation in preparation).

His essays translated into English include: ‘The “Japanese” of Micronesia: Okinawans in the Nan’yo Islands’, in Ronald Y. Nakasone (ed.) Okinawan diaspora (University of Hawaii Press, 2002);‘Japan’s militarization and Okinawa’s bases: making peace’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, 2000; ‘ “Spy”: mobilization and identity in wartime Okinawa’, Senri Ethnological Studies, vol. 51, 2000; ‘The Critical Limits of the National Community:The Ryukyuan Subject’, Social Science Japan Journal, vol. 1, no. 2, October 1998; ‘Colonialism and the Sciences of the Tropical Zone: The Academic Analysis of Difference in “the Island Peoples” ’, Positions, vol. 2, no. 3, 1995. Reissued in Tani Barlow (ed.), Formations of Colonial Modernity in Asia (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997).

Noah McCormack teaches sociology at Ritsumeikan University’s Inter-faculty Institute for International Studies.

[1] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London and New York: Verso, 1983).
[2] Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
[3] Kang Sangjung, ‘Showa no shuen to gendai Nihon no “shinsho shinri” ’, Shiso, vol. 876, 1989, and Kang Sangjung, ‘ “Nihonteki Orientarizumu” no genzai’, Sekai, February 1987.
[4] Murai Osamu, Nanto ideorogi no hassei (Tokyo: Fukutake Shoten, 1992).
[5] Murai, Nanto, p. 14.
[6] See Ukai Satoshi’s essay on Ernest Renan: ‘Furansu to sono boreisha tachi’, Jokyo, 2 January 1992, p. 72.
[7] Étienne Balibar, ‘Migrants and racism’, New Left Review, no. 186, 1991, p. 15.
[8] Kim Jonmi, ‘Dochaku no bunka ha kaiho no buki tariuruka’, Zenkoku Kaiho Kyoiku Kenkyukai (ed.), Ningen (1975), pp. 116-117.
[9] Obviously, Benjamin’s theses relating to past memories come into the discussion here. See Walter Benjamin, ‘Experience and poverty’; and ‘The storyteller’, in Hannah Arendt (ed.), Illuminations, translated by Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), pp. 83-109.
[10] Tsurumi Shunsuke and Ikeda Hiroshi, ‘Taberu ba kara no senso to hansen’, Inpakushon, vol. 72, 1991, pp. 13-14.
[11] Kang, ‘Showa’, p. 54.
[12] Yoon Keuncha, ‘Shokuminchi Nihonjin no seishin kozo’, Shiso, vol. 778, 1989.
[13] Matsuda Motoji, ‘Minzoku saiko’, Inpakushon, vol. 75, 1992.
[14] Kaiho Yoko, Kindai Hopposhi (Tokyo: Sanichi Shobo, 1992), pp. 128-130.
[15] Tomiyama Ichiro, Kindai Nihon shakai to ‘Okinawajin’ (Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Hyo¯ronsha, 1990); Baba Kiyoko, Inaguyananabachi (Kyoto: Domesu Shuppan, 1992).
[16] Kim Jonmi, ‘Chosen dokuritsu / hansabetsu / hantennosei’, Shiso, vol. 786, 1989, p. 115.
[17] Concerning lifestyle reform, see the writings of Tomiyama and Kaiho cited above.
[18] Anbo Norio, Minato Kobe korera / pesuto / suramu (Kyoto: Gakugei Shuppan, 1989).
[19] Yoon Keun Cha, Ishitsu to no kyozon (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1987). While this essay does not refer to it, see Nunokawa Hiroshi, ‘Toshi “kaso shakai” no keisei to nashonarizumu, Nihonshi Kenkyu, vol. 355, 1992) in relation to the so-called ‘problem of racial intermingling’.
[20] Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), p. 207.
[21] Etienne Balibar, ‘Racism and nationalism’, in Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, nation, class (London and New York: Verso, 1991), p. 49.
[22] Kan Takayuki, ‘Sengo shiso no genzai wo megutte’, in Tsurumi Shunsuke (ed.), Sengo to ha nanika (Tokyo: Seikyusha, 1985), p. 128.
[23] Okochi Kazuo, who was involved in war-time labour policies with the Industrial Patriotic Movement, for example, argued that the significance of ‘life renewal’ lay in fostering ‘human resources’ in the shape of ‘a strong “labour force” ’, ‘able to be armed’, for the purpose of ‘engaging effectively in modern battle’. On that basis, he claimed that, ‘ “human resources” are not only objective entities in economic terms. They are also the human and individual operators of that resource, and to that extent, they also know best their own resourceful existences, and can subjectively utilise their own potential. Through recognizing that “human resources” are also “resourceful persons”, I’d like to stress that they will best become able to harness their abilities as “human resources”.’ To Okochi, fascinated by ‘resourceful persons’, must arise the question of ideological conversion. Okochi Kazuo, ‘Senji shakai seisaku ron’, 1940, in Okochi Kazuo chosakushu, vol. 4 (Tokyo: Seirin Shoin Shinsha, 1969), pp. 247-248.
[24] Teruya’s life-history here is reconstituted from accounts contained within the memorial volume that is Teruya Chuei Itoku Kenshohi Kiseikai (ed.), Chukonpu, 1978.
[25] Tomiyama, Kindai Nihon, pp. 220-222.
[26] For example, the Administrative Continuance Documents of the Special Superior Section, Okinawa Prefectural Police, contained in the Governor’s Administrative Continuance Documents problematizes the abrupt end to migrant remittances related to the outbreak of war that result in the termination of children’s education. Okinawa Shiryo Henshujo (ed.), Okinawa Ken Shiryo, Kindai 1, 1987, p. 611.
[27] Chukonpu, pp. 83-84.
[28] Chukonpu, p. 139.
[29] Chukonpu, p. 80.
[30] Chukonpu, p. 156.
[31] Chukonpu, p. 171.
[32] Chukonpu, pp. 100-101.
[33] Naha Shi, Naha Shi shi, Shiryo hen 2, Chu 3, 1970, p. 430.
[34] Tomiyama, Kindai Nihon, pp. 124-125, note 12.
[35] First published as The History of the Oceanic Development of Okinawa (Okinawa kaiyo hattenshi) in 1941, it was later retitled The History of Japan’s Southern Development (Nihon nanpo hattenshi).
[36] While we can see therein how the subjectivity of ‘the Okinawan people’ is linked to ‘the Japanese people’ in the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, at the same time, there is a need to note the possibilities for disruption too. This point is related to the argument for Okinawan independence in the period immediately following defeat in the war. I’d like to treat this question separately on a later occasion.
[37] Tomiyama, Kindai Nihon.
[38] Chukonpu, p. 157.
[39] Tsurumi Shunsuke, ‘Gunjin no tenko’, in Kyodo Kenkyu Tenko gekan (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1962), p. 214. See also Tsurumi Shunsuke, Tenko Kenkyu (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, 1976), p. 367.
[40] Tsurumi, ‘Gunjin’, p. 214.
[41] Ueda Masaaki says that ‘spirit-appeasing thought that breaks with and attempts to quiet vengeful spirits belongs to the ruling classes’, and further, defines ‘spirit-raising’ as ‘spirit-appeasing acts’ that re-ignite the ‘menace of the curses of vengeful spirits’. Ueda Masateru, ‘Tamafuri no sho’, in Seki Hironobu (ed.), Gendai no Okinawa sabetsu (Kaifusha, 1987).
[42] Chukonpu, pp. 214-222.

Share with a colleague:

Volume 3 | Issue 10

Article ID 2160

About the author:

The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus is a peer-reviewed publication, providing critical analysis of the forces shaping the Asia-Pacific and the world.

    About the author:


    Our monthly newsletter provides readers with an in-depth analysis of forces shaping the Asia-Pacific and the world.

      Since 2002

      Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus has produced critical reporting on geopolitics, economics, history, environment, and international relations.