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In Session: Literary and Cinematic Afterlives of Empire in Japan and Korea
1: Remembering Korean Liberation: Japanese Repatriates and Postcolonial Imaginations in Early Postwar Japan
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
Where did the “empire” go in the history of postwar Japan? The aftermath of Japan’s defeat in World War II is primarily a story about the U.S. occupation of Japan and U.S.-Japan(ese) relations. The Japanese empire lost its colonies instantly as a result of defeat in World War II. Thus, scholars have argued that unlike France, which eventually had to relinquish French Algeria after a drawn-out and bloody colonial war, decolonization had no significant impact on Japan and the imperial past fell into immediate oblivion. This paper challenges this dominant view characterized by historian Sebastian Conrad as “narratives of instant decolonization.” By examining human border-crossings and transnational social interactions between Korea and Japan in the process of decolonization, the paper illuminates critical aftereffects of imperial demise in Japanese society. I will focus particularly on the return of over 700,000 Japanese colonial settlers from Korea. Japanese settlers carried back to Japan their firsthand experience of their doomed fate in the inverted colonial world, and their return brought the “frontier” of colonial liberation into the social imagination of early postwar Japan. By analyzing previously unexplored writings of ordinary Japanese repatriates (hikiagesha) from Korea, this paper discusses how the imperial demise was imagined in their writings and how the memory of empire was sanitized and subsumed under the victim consciousness of early postwar Japan.