Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 5, May 2001
Waiting Women:
The Return of Stragglers and Japanese Constructions of Womanhood in Collective Memories of World War II,

Beatrice Trefalt

  1. In the last two decades, scholars have shown increasing interest in the way the trauma of the Second World War has been remembered by those who experienced it, as well as in how these memories have been inherited and negotiated by succeeding generations.[1] In the twentieth century, the breadth of collective war memories has changed in concert with the character of war itself. Technological advances have permitted killing on a new and previously unimaginable scale, and the distinction between the battlefield and the home front has become increasingly blurred. Soldiering has evolved from a profession to the shared duty of all citizens. As a result the boundaries of collective war memory have broadened to include the whole nation. This is not to say that collective memories are monolithic and unchallenged. What makes these memories so fascinating is their fragmentation, their fluidity, and the way in which their negotiation does, ultimately, aim at an impossible uniformity.
  2. When it comes to war, collective memories are - perhaps universally - fissured along the line of gender. The actual 'soldiering' has remained an overwhelmingly masculine experience. The contribution of women to the war effort has, until recently, largely been ignored, both because commemoration centred for a long time on the fighting alone (in which women did not usually participate as soldiers), and because the complicity of women in the war effort has, perhaps, remained an experience that has not always sat comfortably with political discourses on gender. In Australia, some attempts to heal the fissure of gender in war commemoration have recently taken place. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra has, for example, included in its museum the depiction of women's experience on the home front. A monument dedicated to Australian nurses in wartime has recently been added to those lining Anzac Parade, a sweeping approach to the Memorial linking visually, if not physically, the Memorial with Parliament House. Similarly, the American Vietnam War nurses' demands to be commemorated in a monument were awarded recognition in 1988.[2]
  3. In Japan, the gender fissure in memories of the war has a particular shape. The Japanese defeat has been the subject of complex negotiations, and resulting discourses of contrition, that have permeated memories of the war since the mid-to late 1950s. As Lisa Yoneyama has shown, these discourses have been strongly influenced by tropes of femininity and motherhood. As she points out, the post-war Occupation reforms' enfranchisement of women has inscribed war memory itself with gendered lines: '"Japanese women", unlike most men, are probably remembered as "victims" who were liberated at the expense of the national defeat'. [3] The pacifist and anti-nuclear discourses that shaped memory in the first fifteen years after the defeat 'feminised memory', and produced 'memories of innocence, victimhood, and perseverance with regard to prewar and wartime women'.[4] The feminine shape of war memory in Japan has also made women's contribution to the war a complex topic of engagement amongst Japanese feminist writers.[5] This article explores the place of women in Japanese war memories, and the place of motherhood and femininity paradigms in their war-related identities.
  4. In the early 1970s, a series of sensational news items forcefully brought the war into the everyday life of the entire Japanese population. They revealed the discovery, in January 1972, March 1974 and December 1974 respectively, of three soldiers who had remained in hiding for some thirty years on the islands of Guam, Lubang (Philippines), and Morotai (Indonesia). The extent of the media coverage of these events, encompassing the discovery, repatriation, and adjustment of these 'stragglers' to life in their homeland, is testimony to the enormous impact these 'living relics' had on a population increasingly distanced from the war. An examination of the discourses on these stragglers, in the public sphere of the press, reveals a great deal about collective memory, and its negotiation in Japan in the seventies.[6] It also helps to position various sections of the Japanese population within the frameworks of memory. As such, reactions to the return of the stragglers help explore the way women, their experiences of the war, and their attitudes to these sensational repatriated soldiers were represented in the mainstream media.[7] As will be argued here, the formulation of women's attitudes to the returned soldiers echo the construction of their identities in the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, women were defined as wives and a mothers, who contributed to the war effort only in comforting and supportive roles. There was little space, in the public forum of the 1970s, for the variety of women's experiences outside of these tropes, such as, for example, workers in munitions factories, fire fighters, nurses behind the frontline, victims of bombings, or willing or unwilling participants on the battlefields of Okinawa, Saipan, Manchuria or Korea. In that sense, there are clearly visible continuities between wartime discourses on womanhood and the place of women in post-war memory, even if these continuities are fundamentally negated by feminised pacifist post-war discourses.
  5. The soldiers whose return prompted such media frenzies in the early seventies were the last of a long line of 'stragglers'. 'Straggler' is a term used to refer to soldiers who hid in the jungles of certain south-west Pacific islands for years after the war had ended, either unaware of the Japanese defeat, or reluctant to believe it. 'Stragglers' were repatriated at regular intervals during the 1950s, and the fact that none had been found in the period between 1960 and 1972 added an extra measure of shock to the return of stragglers in the early 1970s. The three stragglers who were found in the early 1970s each had their own reasons for hiding. Yokoi Sh˘ichi, who was found on Guam in 1972, had survived the suicidal last stand of the Japanese troops in 1944 by escaping into the jungle. He saw himself as a deserter and was convinced that he would be killed if he were discovered. He dug himself a burrow from which he emerged only at night. He was discovered and captured, on 24 January 1972, by local villagers whose day out hunting probably proved to be more memorable than they might have imagined. Onoda Hirô, who was coaxed out of the jungle of Lubang in the Philippines on 11 March 1974, had spent the twenty-nine years since the end of the war securing the island for the eventual return of the Japanese army, terrorising the population of Lubang in the process. After many unsuccessful 'rescue attempts' led by the Japanese government, Onoda showed himself to a young Japanese adventurer, who, by his own admission, had gone to Lubang to find Onoda as he might have gone to Nepal to search for a yeti.[8] The last straggler, Nakamura Teruo, was spotted by a pilot of the Indonesian Air Force in an isolated clearing on Morotai around September 1974, but it took two months for the rumour to reach the Japanese embassy in Jakarta, and for steps to be taken to prise him out of the jungle. Nakamura was coming out of his little hut on the morning of 18 December 1974 when he found himself surrounded by Indonesian soldiers. Nakamura was a Formosan Aborigine who had been drafted into the Japanese Army early in 1944, and he was repatriated directly to Taiwan. Nakamura, who spent more than twenty years in complete isolation, did not know the war was over, and was convinced he would be killed if he was found.
  6. The impact of the discovery of these soldiers in the Japan of the seventies cannot be overestimated. Nearly thirty years had passed since the defeat, and the post-war generation was well into its adulthood. The themes that greeted the return of stragglers reveal an ambivalent attempt to bridge the distance between the war and post-war population. Admiration for the stragglers was uncomfortable: they were, on the one hand, incredibly resilient survivors, but they were also soldiers and 'militarists', and as such, despised. At the same time the stragglers were made 'other' by their portrayal as exotic creatures (with emphasis on a diet of exotic fruits, grubs, mice and snakes). Another central theme centred on post-war Japan's self-confessed failure to explain adequately the reasons for the stragglers' long exile. This in turn emphasised the symbolic and emotional distance from the war, a distance that could be bridged only by portraying the stragglers purely as 'victims' of the war and of the wartime government, making it an experience shared by the rest of the population. These themes also revealed Japan-centric and inward focusing boundaries of remembrance, despite the fact that someone like Onoda had a very real and tragic impact on the island of Lubang.[9]
  7. The reactions to the stragglers were strongly influenced by the awareness of a generational gap in memories of the war. A younger generation that had known only prosperity and peace, was coming of age and had, on the whole, little interest in Japan's wartime experience. Indeed, this younger generation often only thinly veiled its contempt for the 'antics' of those who had lived through the war. Those who had fought for the now defunct Imperial Army had also fought for a nation radically different, in many ways, from the one young Japanese knew. For those who had fought in the war, the return of the stragglers provoked a search for meaning, as well as an opportunity to reveal publicly their feelings of guilt, anger, or pride. They looked upon the young generation with dismay, and accused it of superficiality, of materialism, and of ignorance, while at the same time berating post-war Japan's failure to teach its children about the war and its tragedy. Many of the older generation also felt that Japan had lost, as a nation, the spirit of endurance, loyalty and self-sacrifice that had, in its view, motivated these soldiers to remain behind. The awareness of a generational gap in memories permeated the running commentary on the stragglers' return. But if the generational divide mentioned above was self-consciously explored, the way in which these memories were gendered was not.
  8. The gender fissure in memories of the war can only partly be explored by the differences between mainstream magazines and magazines aimed more specifically at women. Mostly, there was broad agreement in the themes that emerged from the coverage of women's magazines (such as Josei Seben, Shûkan Josei Jishin, or Shûkan Josei) and those that were prevalent in other mass circulation magazines (such as the Shûkan Asahi, Shûkan Yomiuri, Sandee Mainichi, Shûkan Sankei, or the Shûkan Posuto). It is certainly the case that women's magazines did not cover the stragglers at the same length and frequency than other magazines. Some weeklies, aimed at a general readership, such as the Shûkan Sankei or Shûkan Yomiuri, issued special editions devoted entirely to stragglers, complete with the lyrics of old army songs.[10] It might be argued that the difference in quantity of coverage had less to do with a disparate degree of interest in the war than with a tendency for those magazines to be less focussed on current affairs. Certainly, considerations of the stragglers' potential marriage and potential children appeared predominantly (but not exclusively) in magazines directed at women. But to consider purely the difference between women's magazines and more broadly aimed weekly publications might be somewhat limiting, as constructions of gender were found across the range of newspapers and magazines. This slightly differing focus, should however, be kept in mind.
  9. In the reports on the stragglers, the experiences of women were constructed within the tropes of motherhood and femininity by depicting them as soldiers' wives and mothers. In that sense, discourses on women were also connected with ideals of masculinity, gender relations, and the family. The most immediate entry into these considerations, in the plethora of reports on the return of the stragglers, is found in the widespread interest in getting the stragglers married as soon as possible. The stragglers' assimilation, out of the jungle into urban Japan, and out of wartime into the prosperous 1970s, was depicted as a concern shared on a national scale - excepting, perhaps, those young people who, disillusioned with their own environment, considered that the stragglers would be better off staying in the jungle.[11] The weekly women's magazine Josei Seben, for example, reported that one of Onoda's old comrades wished that a wife be found for Onoda. The Josei Seben added that this was a wish shared by the entire population of Japan.[12] When Yokoi married, only a few months after his return in November 1972, the bride and the ceremony were described in detail in all major daily and weekly publications. In that sense, the constructions of womanhood in the reports on the stragglers reflect widespread - indeed national - public discourses on gender.
  10. Both in the case of Yokoi and Onoda, who were single when they left for the front, and in the case of Nakamura, whose 'widow' had remarried ten years after the end of the war, re-integration into the post-war world was deemed possible only with the presence of a supportive wife. In the case of all three stragglers, the possibility of marriage, or of resumption of married life, was an important part of the interest in their return. The search for the 'right wife', both for Yokoi and for Onoda, is particularly enlightening in that it plays on set expectations of gender roles and characteristics, and a portrait emerges of the 'kind of woman' best suited to someone who had not only just come out of a three decade-long period of hiding, but who was still immersed in a wartime mentality.
  11. While Yokoi was still in hospital in Tokyo, for example, several magazines concentrated on the discussions taking place, amongst his relatives in Nagoya, on a potential bride. Although a twenty-year old office worker seemed to be a good choice for some (she was known to be a serious and gentle young woman), for others, the age difference was too great.[13] The many women who wrote to Yokoi and Onoda with proposals of marriage used similar arguments in their favour. They were hardworking, kind, and often widowed with grown up children. Importantly, they also had a relatively high degree of experience with soldiers - something that a twenty-year old could not have. One of the 'applicants' was a forty-two year old widow, who was taken with Yokoi because he reminded her of her husband: he had the same military countenance, and the same strict (kibishii) manner of speaking (even though her husband had been in the Navy, she was sure she would understand Yokoi's 'Army' manners). In short, she implied that she could handle the fact that Yokoi was 'different'. She also stressed the importance of her children, adding that Yokoi would benefit from their presence.[14] Similarly, a fifty-year old widow wrote to say that her experience as part of a wartime entertainment group that toured China and Manchuria had given her a good understanding of the difficulties faced by soldiers, and that she felt a great deal of empathy for Yokoi. She also felt that her children, although almost grown-up, would give childless Yokoi the benefit of a family.[15] According to another report, a group of co-workers, sitting around in a bar the night that the news of Yokoi's discovery hit Japan, agreed that the woman best suited to Yokoi would be a loving, stoic, patient, and strong woman (aijôfukai, gamanzuyoi).[16] Although the letters that reached both Yokoi and Onoda came from women on either side of the age of twenty, the agreement seems to have been that an older woman with children and with some experience of soldiers and of the wartime period might be the best choice of wife for Yokoi. Yokoi eventually married a woman in her forties, and the marriage, by all accounts, was successful. Nevertheless, one of Onoda's old comrades wished that Onoda could have a younger wife who was still of childbearing age. In his view, Onoda's life could not be normal until he had experienced fatherhood.[17]
  12. Central, then, to the position of women in the reports on the stragglers was their marriageability, and their ability to provide the returned stragglers with children. Also central, amongst the reasons given by these women for their attraction to the stragglers (apart from a masculinity and stoicism that they found admirable), was their ability to care for and support these old soldiers. The wartime discourses of womanly roles of support, comfort and childbearing seem to have been paralleled to a great degree. Indeed, other factors that might have come into play in the women's desire to marry these celebrities were not mentioned, although one of the women described above did feel the need to make it clear that money was not part of the equation.[18]
  13. The situation of Nakamura, the last straggler who was found on Morotai and repatriated to Taiwan, was quite different, as had been married when he left for the front. He returned home, nearly thirty-two years after leaving, to find that his wife had remarried some twenty years before. He was so angry with her that he refused to speak to her for some time, and Nakamura's personal drama, as it was unfolding in Taiwan, provided newspapers and magazines in Japan with a number of scoops.[19] The second husband gracefully relinquished his place, as the Shûkan Josei explained, because he realized that what Nakamura would need now more than anything was the warmth of a family.[20]
  14. Nakamura's situation, coming home to find his wife re-married, (though obviously an extreme example as he had been 'dead' for some thirty years), was in essence no different from that of a number of other Japanese soldiers, who returned from the war only to find that their wives, believing them dead, had remarried. In the last two years of the war, it had become increasingly difficult to keep track of who was alive and who had died at the front. The bureaucracies of the Army and Navy had become ineffective due to broken supply lines and the Allied bombing of Japan. Furthermore, no Japanese soldier was supposed to surrender, so that prisoners-of-war were automatically listed as dead. A number of soldiers were, therefore, prematurely declared dead.[21] Most stragglers, Yokoi, Onoda and Nakamura included, returned home to find their graves. Nakamura's experience, then, of coming home to find his wife remarried, was not unfamiliar to those Japanese who had lived through the war. But if Nakamura himself was too angry with his wife to speak with her, the overall attitude of the press in Japan was that Nakamura's wife had waited a good ten years before remarrying, and that therefore, Nakamura's anger with her was unreasonable. In other words, Nakamura's wife had more than fulfilled her duty by remaining a widow for ten years.
  15. The discussion of Nakamura's marital problems also reveals a renewed awareness of the bereavement caused by the war. This was a strong undercurrent in the reactions to the stragglers' return. Women, in the role of wives and mothers, were central to the return to consciousness of the war's legacy of grief. Nakamura's confrontation with his wife was, for many Japanese, a reminder of all the Japanese wives, mothers, and daughters that might still waiting for their husbands, sons or fathers to come home. Indeed, the necessity to tone down Onoda's welcome, for example, out of consideration for all the mothers whose sons were not likely to return, was a leitmotiv of the reports on his return.[22] A number of other interviews revealed the same concerns. One writer shared his anxious realisation that there might be thousands of Japanese women, who, still waiting for their husbands to come home, conscientiously put on their make-up every day, just in case. The daughter of an officer who committed suicide in prison a day after the end of the war expressed her wish that she wasn't reminded of her loss 'every time another straggler appears'.[23]
  16. The exploration of the war's impact on women within a narrow definition of their experience as wives and mothers is also exemplified by discussion of the stragglers' relationships with women. The search for Yokoi's pre-war fiancÚe highlights the tendency to place women's experience of the war as a tragic story of loss. Although Yokoi himself refused to confirm this story, several magazines reported that he had broached the subject of marriage with a young woman from his neighbourhood in his early twenties. His conscription put an end to their plans. She eventually married someone else but had died of illness by the time Yokoi was found.[24] The return of the fallen soldiers also provided a space to explore the loss experienced by the mothers of fallen soldiers. Yokoi's mother, for example, had died only shortly before his return, but she had been firmly convinced, throughout her life, that her son was still alive. Yokoi's tears, upon hearing of his mother's death, provoked much emotional reportage.[25] Then there was Onoda's reunion with his mother, Tamae, who was eighty-four when her son returned. She had also refused to believe that her son was dead. Tamae had been a relatively well-known public figure in early 1959, when she lobbied the government to provide funds to search Lubang Island for her son.[26] In 1959, as in 1974, Tamae exemplified a mother's loss and a mother's undying hope of finding her son alive. The stragglers' return, then, exposes a discursive framework surrounding women in war memories in which they are portrayed predominantly as wives and mothers.
  17. As far as gender constructions are concerned, reactions to the stragglers in the 1970s do not differ markedly from reactions to the frequent return of stragglers between 1950 and 1960. Although the scope of this article does not permit a sustained analysis of that period, it is useful to consider the case of one of the very few known female stragglers, Hika Kazuko, who was stranded on the island of Anatahan, some fifty kilometres north of Saipan in the Northern Marianas, until 1950. In 1944, Hika had moved to Anatahan with her husband, employed in a copra producing company. When the Allies started recovering the region, her husband went to fetch his sister off Saipan, but the progress of the war prevented his return. Shortly after Hika's husband's departure, a Japanese Navy ship, on its way to Truk, sank after an Allied attack close to Anatahan, and thirty survivors managed to reach the island. These stranded sailors, Hika, and her husband's boss, would become the entire population of Anatahan for the next six years. News of the Japanese defeat did not reach the stragglers for some time, and when it did, they dismissed it as lies. Although American detachments from Saipan made sporadic attempts to get them off the island between 1945 and 1951, it was always in vain. Hika took advantage of one of the American rescue missions in 1950, but the rest of the stragglers would not be repatriated until 1951. Eleven of the original group had, by then, died.
  18. Although stragglers were generally exoticised in the 1950s, the Anatahan group was particularly so. The story of Anatahan was too sensational for the Japanese press to ignore. Hika, as the only woman in the group, became the focus of attention. This was, however, only partly due to her description as some kind of female 'Robinson', fashioning dresses out of parachutes found in the wreck of a crashed B-29. Much more important was the fact that she had married five times during the years she spent on Anatahan, and that all of her husbands, bar one, had died in 'mysterious circumstances'. According to Hika, she had always wanted to live by herself, but had been forced into these 'marriages' by the superior officer in the group, who was worried both about her and about discipline amongst his men. Hika maintained that the deaths had been due to illness or accidents, and strongly dismissed the notion that her husbands had been murdered. The newspapers, however, suggested that the island had been a hotbed of passion and murder. The Mainichi Shimbun, for example, used the following headlines to frame an interview with Hika: '"I Had Five Husbands!" The Secrets Of Anathan, As Told By Ms Hika; Six Mysterious Deaths One After The Other; Designated As 'Wife' By Superior's Order'.[27] Although Hika had been a victim of the war and of the indoctrination of Japanese soldiers (which expressly forbade surrender) in the same sense as her male counterparts, she was only assigned the role of 'wife', albeit, as was implied, a dangerous one. Futhermore, Hika did not become famous on her return, which hardly raised any reactions, but on the return, a year later, of what remained of the men in the group. It is clear that the discourses that informed the reactions to the return of stragglers in the 1970s had also informed the reactions to the Anatahan stragglers some twenty years before.
  19. As has been argued here, women were constructed as 'mothers and wives', and their role was to provide support, comfort, and children during the return of the stragglers in the 1970s. Such discourses, however, are not limited to the exploration of women's experience of war or their place in memory. These discourses are, predictably, reflections of gender role constructions that extend on either side of those years. The depiction of the Japanese woman as 'wife and mother' originates from the nineteenth century, as Kathleen Uno has shown.[28] Both Uno and Sandra Buckley suggest that these discourses have permeated the lives of Japanese women throughout the post-war period, and that they continue to have serious and very real implications on women's education, working life, and welfare.[29] Such discourses were certainly also present in Japan's wartime period, and as such they present a continuity between wartime and post-war Japan that puts in perspective the basis of the post-war 'feminisation' of memory, discussed in the introduction of this article, which equates the defeat with the enfranchisement of women.
  20. The role of women as wives and mothers was a discourse strongly intertwined with the 'state as family' nationalism of the 1930s, and it gave state officials misgivings about mobilising women for work in the war effort. As Yoshiko Miyake has shown, although a desperate need for labour in the later stages of the war forced a shift in the definition of womanhood, whereby single childless women could be employed in factories, the rate of female labour mobilisation in Japan never reached that of the United States or Australia, for example, mostly because women were defined primarily as childbearers.[30] Both the 'state as family' and the 'good wife, wise mother' discourses were widely disseminated by the government in the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s through such organizations as the Patriotic Women's Association (Aikoku Fujinkai), or the much larger Greater Japan National Defence Women's Association (Dainihon Kokubô Fujinkai), which was created by the Army in 1932 and had several million members by the early 1940s.[31] The contribution of women to the war effort was defined, as it was at the time of the return of stragglers in the post-war period, by their supporting and comforting roles - sending soldiers off to the front, visiting wounded soldiers in hospital, preparing packets to be sent to the front, or adding one stitch to the senninbari ('thousand-stitch belts') worn by soldiers as lucky charms. This was also the role played by the heroines of Japanese wartime films of the early forties, as William Hauser has shown.[32]
  21. But women's contribution to the war effort expanded beyond the roles initially assigned to them by the state, and beyond the role they assume in memories of the war. Women worked in factories geared to the war effort, and nursed wounded soldiers. Women also took part in what were more traditionally masculine roles, particularly when the war came to Japan in the form of Allied bombers. Women trained, for example, as fire fighters, and, as these photos show, also as defenders of the homeland.

    Figure 1. (Kikuchi Shunkichi) Women training with bamboo spears, 1945.[33]
    Figure 2. (Kageyama Kôyô) Neighbourhood Association women training with rifles, 1943.[34]

  22. Women were also victims of the war in a much broader sense than as bereaved mothers and wives, something which is certainly not apparent in the memories of the war brought back by the return of stragglers. Miyake shows that of the 2,447 workers who died in the Allied bombing of the Toyokawa Naval Arsenal on 7 August 1945, one thousand were women.[35] Thomas Havens also mentions that the Himeyuri Butai (Lily Corps), a student unit completely obliterated on Okinawa, consisted mostly of women.[36] Obviously the bombing of Japan, either with fire or nuclear bombs, impacted on the entire population, but in those areas that were invaded by the Allies before the end of the war, such as Okinawa and Saipan, women became the victims of the battlefield and died next to soldiers. For example, Oba Sakae, who is famous for eluding American mop-up operations on Saipan for over a month after the defeat, tells of the death of a nurse who had accompanied his group. According to Oba's perhaps slightly sentimental recollections, she died in one of the last battles, well-used rifle in hand.[37] The role of women in memories of the war, as represented at the time of the stragglers' return, reflects more the role that was cast for them by the state both before and during the war than their actual experiences.
  23. In conclusion, it is important to note that challenges to stereotypical gender constructions have had only limited impact on the place of women in memories of the war, even if the negotiation of collective memory at a national level continues to occupy a great deal of space in public consciousness. The bereavement caused by the war was, and is still, very real for a number of people: witness the long-standing movements to reinstate the Yasukuni Shrine as a state-funded memorial for fallen soldiers. Needless to mention, the wounds, illness, and trauma caused by the war continue to affect the lives of Japanese men and women.[38]. But while, in the 1990s, the public discussion regarding Korean and Southeast Asian comfort women has broadened the boundaries of war memory, if only partially, these memories do remain fissured along the line of gender. Yoneyama shows that Japanese feminists, particularly in the last twenty years, have attempted to challenge 'the mystifying and pervasive amnesia about prewar Japanese women's nationalized and imperialized subjectivity', and have highlighted continuities between 'wartime maternal ideology with the enthusiastic valorisation of motherhood in the postwar years'. But such challenges have had only limited success.[39]
  24. Indeed, at the time of the return of stragglers in the 1970s, such challenges are not visible, or rather, the challenge of women to dominant memories of the war were often couched in the very tropes of motherhood and femininity that defined their place in these collective memories. If the return of stragglers provided a space in the public forum for women to challenge the state, these challenges centred on the status of missing sons or husbands. Two examples will be provided here. The first one concerns a group of some four hundred women and families, who refused to acknowledge the government's judgment that their husband, brother, son, or father, had died during the war. According to an investigation by the Asahi Shimbun at the time of Yokoi's return, this group was lobbying the government demanding that more funds and personnel be devoted to finding the remains of their dead, and thus proving conclusively that their relative had, indeed, perished during the war. For the intervening years, however, these women and families had made do without the pension that acceptance of the government's judgment on the death of their relatives entailed.[40] This group is strongly reminiscent of those families in Australia described by Margaret Reeson, who have been fighting the government to have the circumstances of the deaths of their fathers clarified, particularly in the case of the sinking of the Montevideo Maru off the Papua New Guinea coast in 1942.[41] The second example is found at the side of one of the early reports on Onoda's return in 1974 in the national daily the Yomiuri Shimbun. In a small article entitled 'This Country Gave Us The Cold Shoulder: The Complex Feelings of Bereaved Families', the reader learns that fifty-seven year old Yoshiike Kiyoko, from Nagano prefecture, was preparing to bring a suit against the Japanese government in order to restore her husband's honour. He had been executed by a military tribunal in Bougainville before the end of the war on the charge of having fled from the enemy.[42] This was two years after the repatriation, with great rejoicing and fanfare, of Yokoi, a soldier who had also fled from the enemy. While women did challenge the state on memory in the early 1970s, they challenged the state on behalf of their sons or their husbands, and did not step outside gender-defined boundaries to do so.
  25. Recent attempts by some Japanese to reframe the war experiences of Japanese women in a less gendered way have raised difficult questions on the complicity of women with the Japanese wartime state's aggressive, ultra-nationalist aims. Nevertheless, as painful as such explorations may be, they ultimately paint a more accurate picture of the variety of women's experiences under a wartime regime. Such reassessments of women's roles during the war give them an agency that has been undermined by their definitions as wives and mothers. Ultimately, if dominant memories that narrowly confine the historical experience of women within the tropes of femininity and motherhood are challenged, the paradigms of women's experiences might be broadened outside of memory as well.


    [1] An exhaustive list of all the works dealing with war and memory cannot be provided here, but see for example, Paula Hamilton, Kate Darian Smith (eds), Memory and History in Twentieth-Century Australia, Melbourne: Oxford University Press; Alistair Thompson, Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994; Ken Inglis, Sacred places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1998; Jay Winter, Emmanuel Sivan (eds), War and Remembrance in the Twentieth-Century, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999; Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995; George Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990; Samuel Hynes, A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture, New York: Atheneum, 1991; John R. Gillis (ed.), Commemorations: the Politics of National Identity, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994; Yoshikuni Igarashi, Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000; Lisa Yoneyama, Hiroshima Narratives: Time, Space and the Dialectics of Memory, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999; P. Lim Pui Huen, Diana Wong (eds), War and Memory in Malaysia and Singapore, Singapore: Institute of South-East Asian Studies, 2000.

    [2] See for example, David Corn and Jefferson Marley, 'The War on the Wall', The Nation 246, 22 (1988):780; Kristin Hass, Carried to the Wall: American Memory and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    [3] Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces, p. 188.

    [4] Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces, p. 193.

    [5] Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces, pp. 208-209.

    [6] This is part of larger piece of research that deals with the delayed repatriations of World War II soldiers from 1950 to 1975. The return of such soldiers to a place increasingly distant from the war allows an analysis of the processes of formation of collective memories, and of the negotiations that they necessitate.

    [7] I have limited myself here to the mainstream media, as my aim is to uncover those discourses that are prevalent in the public discourses of the war.

    [8] Shûkan Sankei, 29 March 1974, p. 11.

    [9] Onoda was responsible for a number of murders, as well as thievery and arson, crimes for which he received President Marcos's pardon shortly after he was found.

    [10] See for example Shûkan Yomiuri, Special Edition, 18 February 1972; Shûkan Sankei, 26 February 1972.

    [11] See for example Asahi Shimbun, 26 January 1972; Yomiuri Shimbun, 11 March 1974.

    [12] Josei Seben, 27 March 1974, p. 30.

    [13] Shûkan Gendai, 17 February 1972, p. 30; Shűkan Josei, 19 February 1972, pp. 29-30.

    [14] Shûkan Gendai, 17 February 1972, p. 30.

    [15] Josei Jishin, 19 February 1972, pp. 36-37.

    [16] Shûkan Gendai, 17 February 1972, p. 30.

    [17] Josei Seben, 27 March 1974, p. 30. (Onoda migrated to Brazil a year after emerging from the jungle, because he couldn't get used to the values that were prevalent in Japan in the seventies. He married a Brazilian of Japanese descent there. Onoda Hir˘, Waga Burajiru no Jinsei [My life in Brazil], Tokyo: Kodansha, 1982.)

    [18] Josei Jishin, 19 February 1972, p. 37.

    [19] See for example: Shûkan Bunshun, 22 January 1975, 29 January 1975; Shûkan Gendai, 23 January 1975; Shûkan Posuto, 31 January 1975; Josei Seben, 29 January 1975.

    [20] Shûkan Josei, 28 January 1975.

    [21] John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, New York: W.W. Norton and Co, 1999, p. 60.

    [22] See for example the round-table discussion amongst literary and public figures reprinted in Asahi Shimbun, Evening Edition, 11 March 1974.

    [23] Asahi Shimbun, 11 March 1974.

    [24] See for example Shûkan Heibon, 10 February 1972, pp. 38-41.

    [25] Josei Jishin, 12 February 1972, p. 30.

    [26] Mainichi Shimbun, 20 February 1959; Asahi Shimbun, 23 February 1959.

    [27] Watashi-wa gonin no otto wo motta; Hika-San ga kataru Anatahan no himitsu; roku-mei ga tsugitsugi nazo no shi; meirei de kimerareta 'tsuma', Mainichi Shimbun, 22 July 1951.

    [28] Kathleen S. Uno, 'The Death of the "Good Wife, Wise Mother"?', in Postwar Japan as History, Berkeley: University of California Press, ed. Andrew Gordon, 1993, pp. 293-322.

    [29] Sandra Buckley, 'Altered States: the Body Politic of "Being Woman", in Postwar Japan as History, ed. Andrew Gordon, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, pp. 347-72; Uno, 'The Death of the "Good Wife, Wise Mother"?', pp. 320-22.

    [30] Yoshiko Miyake, 'Doubling Expectations: Motherhood and Women's Factory Work Under State Management in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s', in Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945, ed. Gail Lee Bernstein, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991, pp. 267-95.

    [31] Richard J. Smethurst, A Social Basis for Prewar Japanese Militarism: The Army and the Rural Community, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974, p. 44.

    [32] William B. Hauser, ' Women and War', in Recreating Japanese Women, ed. Gail Lee Bernstein, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991, pp. 296-313.

    [33] Reprinted from Thomas Havens, Valley of Darkness, p. 189.

    [34] Reprinted from Thomas Havens, Valley of Darkness: The Japanese People and World War Two, New York: W.W. Norton, 1978, p. 160.

    [35] Miyake, 'Doubling Expectations', p. 291.

    [36] Havens, Valley of Darkness, p. 189.

    [37] Don Jones, Oba, The Last Samurai: Saipan 1944-45, Shrewsbury: Airlife, 1986, p. 218.

    [38] Lisa Yoneyama explores the way in which victims of the A-bomb in Hiroshima recollect and share their experiences in Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space and the Dialectics of Memory, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. For a discussion of the post-war treatment of shell-shocked soldiers and their families, see Haruko Yoshinaga, Sasurai no 'Mifukuin', Tokyo: Chikuma Sh˘b˘, 1987 and Mitsuo Shimizu, Saigo no N˘gun Heishi, Tokyo: Gendai Hy˘ronsha, 1985.

    [39] Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces, p. 209.

    [40] Asahi Shimbun, 8 February 1972.

    [41] Margaret Reeson, A Very Long War: The Families who Waited, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2000.

    [42] 'Kuni wa tsumetakatta: fukuzatsu na shinky˘, senbotsu izoku', Yomiuri Shimbun, 11 March 1974. Bottom of page.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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