Synopses & Reviews
Japan's involvement in World War II and the Greater East Asia War provoked a range of reactions from its citizens. Pride, rage, sympathy, revenge& mdash;a single year of triumph and three of catastrophic loss forced the Japanese to question their country's presumption and its ability to shape history and the world. Falling to the will of the Allied powers further complicated Japan's postwar recovery, imprinting feelings of shame, resentment, doubt, and self-recrimination onto the national psyche.
No writers better captured these fluctuations than a group of well known authors who risked recording their thoughts amid the bombings and fear of invasion. Nagai Kafu, Takami Jun, Ito Sei, Hirabayashi Taiko, Yamada Futaro, and the scholar Watanabe Kazuo wrote absorbing narratives, passionate polemics, and crystalline poems. Donald Keene, a leading Japanese scholar, samples from their texts, some of which were written by individuals he knew well. His own relationship with this material adds a compelling layer to his work. The diary of Ito Sei, for example, with its fervent patriotism and racial claims, forms a stark contrast with the soft-spoken, kindly man Keene knew. Weaving archival materials together with personal reflections and the intimate accounts themselves, Keene produces an entirely original portrait of wartime attitudes and foreign domination in Japan. Whether detailed or fragmentary, these diary entries were written for future generations, making clear the danger of false victory and true defeat.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, which precipitated the Greater East Asia War and its initial triumphs, aroused pride and a host of other emotions among the Japanese people. Yet the single year in which Japanese forces occupied territory from Alaska to Indonesia was followed by three years of terrible defeat. Nevertheless, until the shattering end of the war, many Japanese continued to believe in the invincibility of their country. But in the diaries of well-known writers--including Nagai Kafu, Takami Jun, Yamada Futaru, and Hirabayashi Taiko--and the scholar Watanabe Kazuo, varying doubts were vividly, though privately, expressed.
Donald Keene, renowned scholar of Japan, selects from these diaries, some written by authors he knew well. Their revelations were sometimes poignant, sometimes shocking to Keene. Ito Sei's fervent patriotism and even claims of racial superiority stand in stark contrast to the soft-spoken, kindly man Keene knew. Weaving archival materials with personal recollections and the intimate accounts themselves, Keene reproduces the passions aroused during the war and the sharply contrasting reactions in the year following Japan's surrender. Whether detailed or fragmentary, these entries communicate the reality of false victory and all-too-real defeat.