Memory/Narrative: 1

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This essay is an English translation of “「記憶/物語」を読んで”.

Event, History, Memory and Narrative

When I was a junior high school student, there was a assembly in the school gym on the hottest day of summer, the holiday was close to came. The assembly was a talk about “The Pacific War”, spoken by a former school girl, the survivor of the Battle of Okinawa, June, 1945.  I personally thought that it was an invaluable talk. I was hugely expecting to listen to her talk, because she had survived the war, also vaguely I was curious about World Modern history. I believe that there must be few students who willingly listened to the talk like me. The reason is that it would be impossible for youngsters to put up with the tales of the old stranger in the sultry school gym. I knew that there were people asleep. But I am not apt to blame on them at all. I was one of the guy who simply listened to the talk for just satisfying own curiosity of the war, although I sympathised the cruelty of the war on the ground. So, I admit that I was a student who was not appropriate for the talk that ought to be, that I have no right to denounce other students who were asleep. It would rather be a majority if I were indifferent with the testimony of the war as a student of junior high school living in the remote city from Okinawa. I wonder that the estrangement from the situation must be extraordinary that present day students wishing to enjoy summer vacation and the former boys and girls seventy-five years ago resign themselves to fate who were given hand grenades which suggest them to suicide against their will in the trench, in the same summer.

I strongly believe that everyone should remember these tragedies had happened in the past, and the opportunities to know the facts must be given through the public place. But, it may be a difficult matter to discuss when to have opportunity, I personally guess that it would be better to let them know in the term of compulsory education. The time flies, the survivors of the war live out their natural life span, so that it would be getting difficult to ask for a testify the memory of tragedy even if we obtained their consent. It has been 75 years since the war was over.

Why the war happened ? I think people who can answer this question are very few. Why the war must not be occurred forever? This question also can be answered by very few number of people, I guess. In our country, the lesson that the war must not be repeated is broadcasted in June, and August. Memorial service for the war is held every year, mourning ceremony is reported in the TV.  The mourning is the work of reminiscence of dead. The process of universal healing for those who involved and died in the war(it is different nuance with ‘worshipping the souls of the war dead’). It is good thing for mass-media to broadcast these events. But what should they report the most is that to listening to the whispers of ‘narratives’ suggested by the behaviour of people praying in June 23rd, August 6th, 9th and 15th, I believe. Why happened the general mobilisation that enforce people to service an absurd event?  I have been questioning myself about this since I was a child. I knew tentatively the logics and a complete history of Japan but I could not learn any more while I was taking the class of social study. I did not expected at any rate, but evening TV news never taught me the answer. The news always dispassionately tells us only truth likely facts. 

“Do not repeat the war, never to happen the tragedy.” 

Okay, okay, I understood. but tell me why you say so.

“Because It is tragic.” I knew it! That is not what I want to know. When I was a kid, I thought like that. Is that a common knowledge for adults? That’s why they won’t tell me.

But later on, I could feel the reason to deny the war by watching overflowing insanity of war, suggested from documentary film, such as “NHK special” at 9 o’clock, and “The 20th century on film(Eizo no Seiki)”, which was collaborated with ABC Television.  Moreover, I found that this “Event” is in truly complicated situation. I also found the difficulty to speak of the reason why we Japanese had began the Pacific War. Then I thought that the sequence of “Memories” would gradually fade out, and the handing down of narratives might not succeed.

The time goes by, I grew up a bit, I had a chance to visit the United Kingdom. The news program on TV that I watched in hotel on September 2nd was the broadcast of “Victory over Japan day”, as the stance of a victorious nation. I rapidly felt uneasiness like a cold breeze in the UK, reminded me of the feeling that I was in the country which used to fight against our country, even now they celebrated the victory over us. Probably It may be the first time for me to touch the shadow of the war. What I knew were fragments memory that my grand-grandfather served in the battlefield of Manchuria, and my grandfather was nearly expelled from school due to lese majesty. Another grandfather wished to enrol as navy officer but he failed in examination for admission. The more change of generation takes place, the less reliability of spoken tales, and they get short, sometimes surprising punch line appears, otherwise the narrative turns into the record which only tells that one went there and there, Even the memories of my true family fades away.

I have began to answer and find the question by reading books of Modern history of Japan written by specialities like Ms. Kato Yoko and so-on.  It is true that some writing of her has the same questioning as me. She tries to make a discussion with high school students on the case as if we were the statesmen of Japan at the era of Pacific war, standing on an equal footing. Of course I have read the book, but it has been a quite long time since I finished it, so that I cannot tell you right now in detail. However, I am sure that the writing was worth reading in that she considers how the Japanese executives made decision in the critical moment of history, and she tries to describe how they felt at that moments as much as possible. 

During my reading, I found that some beings insisting sharp remarks and (it may be all very reasonable for them to)confront the books which were written by highly specialised authors, based on thousands of references and former controversial studies. They speak aloud and we cannot ignore them.  By all means we should listen to what they are saying. Their voices echo regarding negative “events” such as the Nanjing massacre, comfort women, saying “There were no such things.” History revisionism, desertification of memories, letting past be bygones. Various words are rushing through my mind. Although we are sure to have walked one straight line of “History”,   there seems to be tracks of two, three or more lines when we look back. Which line did we walk through? Suddenly I am likely to be suspicious of the “narrative”  that I have believed a little while ago. The voices inflame our self-esteem, attempting to conserve the dignity of one’s country from the past to the present. The voices echo with loudly speaking of authenticity of following timeline of our history. Sometimes they are comfortable to our ears, and attracting. I wonder  I am a traveler walking among the woods seduced by a whisper of pixie, or a sailor who voyage around the sea yield to the temptation of a sing of Siren.

All of a sudden, everything turned to chaos that I felt like that I cannot understand whole things mentioned above. How should I understand history, narrative and folklore? Survivors who lived “Events” are ageing gradually and passing away, memories are fading as time goes by, they are spreading into branches, and turned into narratives. In order to appreciate why would “Event” has happened, we must think of the royal way of handing down narratives. If the way exists.

Recently, I have read a book(which belongs to my wife), written by Oka Mari, titled as “Memory/Narrative”, published by Iwanami Shoten. This discussion was written in 2000, what I own is noted that it is printed in 2014, as 14th edition. I think it suggests that this book are widely read. It has about 110 pages, I found it is a good amount for me to read carefully. Her insight starts from the “Event” that massacre of Palestines took place in August 12th, 1976, where the place named “thymes thriving hill”, “Tel al-Zaatar, تل الزعتر”. She mentions the questions occurred by reading the work of Liana Badr, who is a Palestine writer, “The Eye of the Mirror”, written about the massacre. Then she proceeds her questions as follows.

 How could we share the memory of “Event’? In order to possess Memory of “Event”, the “Event” should firstly be told, should be handed down. What is the mean of telling  memory of “Event” as it is shared genuinely with others? Is it possible to exist such narrative? Will it be consisted as we expected? If it exists, is that a matter of precision of realism? Numerous questions occurs.

There must be a critical meaning for thinking about the possibility of sharing memory of “Event”, when we are involved with the struggle of memory regarding various ”Events”, in the present. I would like to think of these questions by starting following discussion.

The verb “share” means “have a portion of (something) with another or others”. Her questions like these are quite stimulating for me, I am not sure that I can solve them anyway, I found that this could be the utmost opportunity to reflect on these matters of mine.

Thanks for reading so far.



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