A Theory of Local Memories

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In addition to national identity and national memories of war, local identities and local memories are extremely important, too. I wrote about these issues at length in Local History and War Memories in Hokkaido. The basic premise is as follows:

All people have varying levels of spacially-framed identity ranging from family, to community, to municipality, to region, to nation and beyond. In a nation where national level war discourses regarding the Asia-Pacific War are so dominated by judgements of national war responsibility, it is often easier to remember the war within a sub-national framework. Often this effectively equates to a framework of local victimhood. Memories of local tragedies (air raids, wartime hardships etc.) are shared by many living in relatively close proximity. Casualty figures and suffering at the local level are knowable and quantifiable. The number of war dead in Hokkaido, for example, can be placed quite accurately at around 109,500 people, and we have much information about their fates. However, the numbers of people killed by those from Hokkaido is unknowable. Furthermore, Hokkaido was not an active agent in the war. “Hokkaido” did not declare war on anyone. Japan did. The result is that while national responsibility weighs heavily on Japan as a whole (3.1 million Japanese killed vs 20+ million killed by Japanese across Asia and the Pacific), the local war responsibility of Hokkaido is largely lost at the local level.

There are occasions, however, in which a local perspective can turn attention towards war responsibility. This is particularly when there are local narratives of forced labour (see Local Sites of Memory), prison camps, military research facilities, or other such sites that raise local responsibility issues.

Overall, however, having understanding of both national and local issues of war, memories, and tourism is very important in Japan. This section of the website explores such issues in more detail.

See Philip Seaton, Local History and War Memories in Hokkaido, Routledge 2016.

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