In War Two, countless people were forced to

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In
the Shadow of the War

Japanese
Literature After 1945 Final Paper

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Abstract

World
War Two turned many places into battle fields and many ordinary people had to
experience the brutal war. As the great representatives of Japanese postwar
literature writers, Dazai Osamu and Medoruma Shun put their attention on the
trauma of the war rather than the war itself through their works A Sound of Hammering and Droplets. This essay discusses how the
war made indelible marks in people’s memory after 1945, expressing how survival
soldiers live their lives under the influence of the war and pursue salvation
for themselves.

 

Keywords: trauma,
war, personality, salvation, healing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During
World War Two, countless people were forced to witness the worst atrocities
human being could ever do and many of them became the perpetrators of such immoral
acts. In Japanese postwar literature, many authors describe the war experiences
of the characters and discuss how the characters endured the indelible trauma
brought by the war throughout their postwar lives, looking for the salvation. In
Dazai Osamu’s A Sound of Hammering,
the soldier writes in a letter which describes his suffering from a sound of
hammering that happens every time when he wants to change his life since 1945. In
another work named Droplets written
by Medoruma Shun, the Battle of Okinawa is reconstructed from the war memory of
a survived soldier, reflecting the mental consequences of the cruel war and the
process of searching for the self-salvation during his postwar life. Therefore,
both works express the trauma of the war, revealing the characters’ instinctive
struggle for surviving or living, and further leading them on the way of
salvation.

World
War Two contained various kinds of wars and one of the vital turning points was
the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, which caused deaths of thousands of Japanese
soldiers. At that time, Okinawa was a battle considered to gain time for the
defense in mainland Japan. Many ordinary people were dragged into the battle
and even high school boys and girls were separately conducted to join two
mobilizations called the Blood and Iron Imperial Service Corps and Student
Nurse Corps. As the battle between the United States and Japan near the end of
World War Two, the intense fighting lasted for three months and ended with the
destroy of the Japanese troops and the control of Okinawa under the United
States. In face of the fear of being captured by the Americans, mass suicide
took place among the people in the island.

A
few weeks after the Battle of Okinawa, the atomic bombs were dropped on August
6th and August 9th, and Japan finally accepted the
Potsdam Declaration on August 15th. The emperor announced this
decision through radio broadcast in which he claimed the country would purse
the termination of the war rather than admit the loss of the war, and thus many
people for the first time heard the voice of him, whom they considered to be
divine for a long time. After understanding the loss of Japan through the broadcast
which was full of difficult Japanese language, many soldiers committed suicide
as they followed the traditional logic of honorable death instead of being
prisoned. Although the war for the people in mainland Japan ended in 1945 and
the occupation of Japan was later over in 1952, the war did not end for the
people in Okinawa. The surrender in August soon allowed America to leave
numerous military forces in Okinawa, turning it into an important military base
in the Pacific region, and the occupation of Okinawa lasted till 1972. However,
no matter where the soldiers came from, the war memory are difficult to forget,
and the uncertain life for the future undoubtedly exacerbate their distress.
John Dower states in his book Embracing
Defeat that “a state of psychic collapse so deep and widespread that it
soon became popularly associated with
kyodatsu, a previous technical term” (Dower 89). The term kyodatsu generally refers to the
desperate condition of people during the first few years of defeat.

Under
such historical background, many literary works emerged, including A Sound of Hammering and Droplets. The protagonist in A Sound of Hammering is one of the
soldiers who actually thought about suicide when he heard the broadcast before
going back home after the unconditional surrender. At first, he just felt empty
about the sound of hammering he heard while later realized that he started to be
afflicted with the sound all the time. Dazai’s life gives him the inspiration
of this story more or less since he experienced several desperations in Japan
including the Taisho Democracy in 1925, the Fascism in 1930s, the war, and the
occupation afterwards. Compared to the experiences of Dazai, Medoruma Shun, the
author of Droplets, was born in
Okinawa in 1960. Even though he did not experience the war himself, he wrote
many works related to the Battle of Okinawa including The Crying Wind and In the
Woods of Memory. As a writer lived during the occupation time, in the work Droplets, Medoruma focuses more on the
private war memory through trauma by going back and forth with the time order, breaking
the normal way of describing the war in which the war experience occupies the
main story.

     In A Sound of Hammering and Droplets, both the main characters are
endowed with a kind of medium, which reminds them of the war, separating their
personalities and leading them to the desperate attitude towards life. The
protagonist of A Sound of Hammering narratives
in a letter to a write about his six main experiences of hearing the sound of
hammering, which he regards as suffering from something like an epileptic. The
first time happened when he wanted to die for the militarism after hearing the
radio broadcast and the sound took away all the “desperate resolve and sublime exaltation”
(Dazai 195). Later when he put his attention on writing a collection about his
army life, the bang bang of hammering suddenly made him feel bored about Pushkin
and Gogol. Then he started to regard his script as meaningless. The sound
appeared again after he tiredly worked for many days due to the issue of
reinflation of yen, making everything seem ridiculous to him. He lost all the
satisfaction and desire for work. The moment that he wanted kiss the woman he
fell in love with was interrupted by the sound. While he felt euphoric about
the workers’ parade, all the feeling soon disappeared with the sound of
hammering. In other words, his personality is divided into two, the enthusiastic
one and the desperate one. Every time when the protagonist thinks he finds
something that can attract him and he wants to pursue it, the sound brings him
back to the endless despair, thus he has never fit into the prewar society. It
is like a ring that makes him aware of the meaninglessness of life, telling him
that he cannot do anything about his current situation no matter how hard he
tries.

The
experience of the protagonist mirrors that although many people fought to death
during the war, the war ended with complete loss and cannot be changed.
Therefore, he feels desperate when he saw a workers’ demonstration. He states,
“They were the same no matter organized them. All I would end up being, if I
ever joined any kind of movement at all, was another victim of the irreversible
greed for fame or power of the leaders” (Dazai 199). Those social and political
problems cannot help him relieve from his daily life because people never knows
what will happen to them the next second. Looking at how others felt satisfied
about their peaceful life, or living with full enthusiasm gives the protagonist
the feeling of empty, since he thinks that the end of everything will be the
same, which is decadence and death. This kind of war trauma reflects the
similar situations of many Japanese soldiers who were trying to forget the war
but at the same time they had to confront with the new life in which they
cannot find a purpose to live for.

In
searching for the answer for the question of what people live for, the
protagonist projects his thoughts and feeling into the letter. The letter is
his spiritual sustenance and the way of salvation. The answer of his question
seems to be first revealed in the conversation with his uncle, who said “it’s
sex and greed that make the world go ’round'” (Dazai 201). The instinct way is
the only need for people to live. In the replying letter, Dazai also gives a
similar answer from another person’s perspective in a more philosophical way. The
person who received the protagonist’s letter points out that the salvation will
be achieved when he can adjust himself in the society and stop escaping from
the “conduct which men would unanimously call shameful and which is obviously
so to everyone” (Dazai 202). Since the person himself has experienced social
and political changes several times, he is saying that every concern about life
is meaningless and there is no need to think, just live as it is.

In
contrast to A Sound of Hammering, the
protagonist in Droplets has been
obsessed by the war memory in his postwar life. The trauma of the protagonist,
Tokusho, originates from his dishonorable past during the Battle of Okinawa. In
addition, the hidden and misleading truth he told students in his speeches is a
potential expression of his guilty and confession. The cumulative mental stress
results in his melon-like swollen leg before the fiftieth anniversary of the
war and he began to see dead soldiers with tattered uniforms and serious injuries
to suck the droplets from his leg. The war truth hidden within his deep memory
was brought back to him when he saw the friend in the Blood and Iron Imperial Service
Corps he abandoned during the war. The instinct way of surviving for an
ordinary person caused his selfishness to take all the food and leave his
wounded friend behind. This guilty cannot be terminated for fifty years, also separating
Tokusho’s personality into the dominant mendacious one and the recessive
selfish one. The dominant one makes him speak what people want to hear about
the war to hide the truth and satisfy his own vanity to get applause and admire
from the audience listened to his speeches, while the recessive one reminds him
of the shameful past and tries to trap him in the war memory.

The
salvation of Tokusho is achieved by confession and memorial when he started to
confront with the past by accepting the judge of his soul. In the cave he
promised he would bring water to the soldiers who could not move, but the
promise turned out to be a lie. He drank all the water and the water now gathered
to become the swelling in his leg. The author uses “water” as a symbolism to
connect Tokusho’s mental trauma and the physical disease. As the origin for
life during the war, the water became the origin for trauma, dripping like
poison from Tokusho’s leg, and attracting the ghosts of dead soldiers to suck
the water longingly. When Tokusho realizes that relieving the soldiers’ thirst
from his leg is a way of confession, he started to confront the innermost
secret he had repressed for a long time. As he thought, “perhaps now I have
fulfilled my promise” (Medoruma 273). He hopes that the water he drew during
the war could be given back to the soldiers left behind through this surrealistic
way. During the process of atone, Tokusho feels the itch and pain, but this is
inevitable and necessary part of healing. In the end, Tokoshu confesses to his
friend, Ishimine’s ghost, accepting the trauma as his comeuppance and relieving
the truth he had repressed for fifty years. Although the wounds and deaths
caused by the war cannot be redeemed, Tokusho gets his own salvation by
completing his mission of confession.

       In conclusion, the two works reflect how
the war changes people’s life, giving them the unbearable trauma. However,
there can be hope if one just confronts with everything without hiding or
escaping. Facing up to oneself is the first step to face up to the society, or
the trauma will only get worse just like the sound and swelling. The salvation
can also be considered as the people’s instinct way for living. In order to
live a normal life, the soldiers try to get rid of the influence of trauma and
look for relief. The shadow of the war cannot be changed, but the light can
rise from people’s new life. No matter what happens in the past, it is a part
of one’s life and trying to forget the past is just a more implicit way of
hiding. If one wants to hide it, it must be covered with shadow. But if one
just accepts it, it can integrate with the light of new life away from the
concern that the shadow will come back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work
Cited

Dazai, Osamu. “A Sound of Hammering.” Japan Quarterly, v. 16,
n. 2, 1969, pp. 194–202.

Dower, John. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. W.W. Norton
and Company, 2000.

Medoruma, Shun. “Droplets.” Southern Exposure: Modern
Japanese Literature from Okinawa. University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

 

 

 

 

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