Members of the ERC Project “Dissolution of Japan’s Empire,” led by Principal Investigator Dr Barak Kushner, Reader in Japanese History, presented a panel at the Annual conference of the Association for Asian Studies on 16th March, 2017. The conference, held this year at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto, Canada, is the largest gathering of scholars of Asia from all over the world, with over 3,000 participants attending talks and discussions over three days.
The Project panel, titled “Phantoms of Japan’s Empire: Rethinking Transitions from World War to Cold War, 1945-1950,” aimed to reconsider Japan’s transitions from war to postwar, empire to Cold War. Based on a wide range of archival materials in Japanese, Chinese, Russian and English, which the project team have been consulting in their investigations, the panel papers scrutinised the complicated processes of dismantling Japan’s empire after defeat in World War II. They traced empire’s seeming disappearance, arguing that the transition from imperial era to the post-empire was a lot messier than acknowledged by the existing scholarship in the English language, that the crumbling of the imperial order did not happen overnight, that its many legacies continue to haunt the East Asian region to this day. Professor Toyomi Asano of Waseda University expertly chaired the panel, emphasising in his remarks the importance of the panel topic to the broader scholarship.
Barak Kushner introduced the panel by providing an overview of the Project activities and highlighting the complexities surrounding the topic of Japanese Empire in scholarship. He questioned some of the seemingly obvious concepts we use to describe the empire and its aftermath, asking “What did the empire stand for in the eyes of its subjects?” “What exactly was the responsibility of the Japanese leadership – for losing the war or for leading the empire to ruin?” Through Soviet and Japanese sources, Sherzod Muminov then analysed the deceptive disappearance of the empire by looking at the post-repatriation lives of the Japanese captives in the Soviet camps – the so-called “Siberian internees.” He argued that the Japanese Empire returned home from Siberia when these former soldiers reached Japanese shores in the late 1940s. In his talk, Andrew Levidis explored the impact that the disarmament had on the Imperial Japanese Army by analysing the complex logistical challenge of demobilising the Japanese military at war’s end. His exploration was based on a wide and deep reading of archival materials, including the memoirs and diaries of Japanese military leadership. Aiko Otsuka presented a paper on the hitherto understudied histories and memories of atrocities presented through the regimental records of the Imperial Japanese Army. She analysed how the war criminals recounted the atrocities they themselves committed, concluding that “the defeated also write their own versions of history.”
Although scheduled for a less-than-convenient timeslot on the opening evening of the conference late on Thursday, the panel was very well-attended and received positive responses from the audience. The discussion that followed featured stimulating questions to all panel members from both the chair and the audience, and the exchange of opinions continued well beyond the time allocated for the panel.