Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ramifications of WWII: Recommended Reading & Resources On U.S.-Japan Relations

To mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII today, we've compiled a shortlist of books, articles, films and historical documents that help contextualize the relationship between the U.S. and Japan before, during and after the war. While by no means exhaustive, this selection illustrates the complexities and ramifications of the war, from the imperialist maneuverings that led to the Pacific War to what is now considered the cornerstone alliance in the region towards stability and prosperity by the U.S. Department of State. Additional topics covered include life in the Japanese internment camps, the American Occupation of Japan, the aftermath of the atomic bombings, and the Japanese Constitution and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. Those marked with an asterisk (*) are recommended by Japan Society's Education Program as resources for educators when teaching war-related topics, U.S.-Japan relations during and after WWII, and the atomic bombings.

6 Must-Reads

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, John Dower
Awarded the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, this seminal history details Japan in the immediate aftermath of WWII and how the American occupation affected Japanese society from politics to the arts and popular culture. Ian Buruma, reviewing the book for the New York Review of Books, called it a "superb history.... Dower brilliantly captures the louche​, squalid, but extraordinary dynamic mood of the postwar years." Dower followed the book up with the equally profound collection of essays Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering: Japan in the Modern World, which served as the basis for Japan Society's Stories from the War programming series this year. In an interview with NPR, Dower said, "as time passes, we do see things differently. We do ask different questions, and they're very important. And I think by not asking those questions, it affects our present-day response to current crises." Read an excerpt here.

Hiroshima*, John Hersey
In 1946, a year after the atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan, The New Yorker dedicated an entire issue to first-hand accounts from six Hiroshima survivors, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Hersey. Considered a landmark in journalistic achievement, it was one of the first in-depth mainstream accounts of the aftermath of the bombing. The article was banned in Japan by occupation authorities until 1949.

Japan and Imperialism, 1853-1945*, James L. Huffman
Published by the Association for Asian Studies in 2010, Huffman's "lively narrative" looks at Japan’s responses to Western imperialism and colonialism, and its efforts towards imperial expansion.

When the Emperor was Divine, Julie Otsuka
This acclaimed novel of historical fiction follows the experience of a Japanese-American family sent to an internment camp during WWII. Widely considered a modern classic, the book is now on required reading lists in schools across the U.S. Read an excerpt of the chapter "Evacuation Order No. 19".

The Constitution of Japan
Promulgated on November 3, 1946, Japan's postwar constitution came into effect on May 3, 1947. Read a fascinating history of the constitution's draft process, and for comparison, read the The Constitution of the Empire of Japan, in place from 1890 to 1947.

The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan
First signed in 1952 and amended on January 1960, this treaty outlines the U.S.-Japan security alliance, which is considered "an anchor of the U.S. security role in Asia". Upon the 50th anniversary, George R. Packard penned "The United States-Japan Security Treaty at 50", examining how to update the treaty to better serve the best interests of both countries in modern times.

Further Books, Movies and Resources

“The Allied Occupation of Japan”*, Peter Frost
Essay that focuses on U.S. policy and shaping of postwar Japan, featured on Japan Society's About Japan teachers' resource website.

American Experience: Victory in the Pacific*, dir. Austin Hoyt, 1995
A PBS documentary examining the end of WWII from the perspectives of both the Japanese and the Americans.

Barefoot Gen, Keiji Nakazawa
This classic ten volume manga series illustrates the author's first-hand experiences during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath. Despite a call for a ban in recent years, the book has been used in classrooms to help teach WWII history.

Black Rain*, Masuji Ibuse
A tale of a young woman caught in the fallout after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. lbuse based his highly acclaimed fictional story on real-life diaries and interviews with victims. According to The Japan Times, "the documentary style allows Ibuse to reveal Japanese customs and culture in an affirmation of normalcy in abnormal situation."

The Bomb, Howard Zinn
Historian Howard Zinn reflects on how a visit to a Hiroshima house of rest for bombing victims changed the way he viewed the end of WWII, having served as a bombardier in the European theater.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Ruth Benedict
Originally an internal working paper distributed amongst the American armed forces, this controversial classic is considered by many required reading to understand how Americans viewed Japanese during WWII. For a deeper understanding of the time period, read C. Douglas Lummis's essay "Ruth Benedict's Obituary for Japanese Culture".

Chronology of U.S.-Japan Relations
A bulleted timeline of U.S.-Japan relations from the American Embassy in Japan.

The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations Throughout History, Walter LaFeber
Winner of the Bankcroft Prize, LaFeber's book purports to tell the "entire story behind the disagreements, tensions, and skirmishes" between the U.S. and Japan since Japan opened to the West.

Come See the Paradise*, dir. Alan Parker, 1990
A drama of life before and during WWII and lives affected by the internment of Japanese-Americans.

Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum*
A search engine for digital resources on WWII.

Farewell to Manzanar*, Jeanne Houston and James D. Houston
The true story of a family's struggles in a Japanese internment camp.

Grave of the Fireflies*, dir. Takahata Isao, 1988
Studio Ghibli's deeply affecting, acclaimed animated film about a young boy and his little sister's struggle to survive in Japan during WWII.

Hibakusha Stories*
This nonprofit organization connects hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombings, with high school, youth groups and the general public around the world. The site contains video testimonies from Setsuko Thurlow, Yasuaki Yamashita and many more.

"Hiroshima: History, City, Event"*, Scott O'Bryan
An extensive essay from the Japan Society Education Program's About Japan teacher's resource website.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum*

Japan at War: An Oral History*, Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore F. Cook
The New York Times Book Review called it a "powerful, hideous and remarkably candid recollections by Japanese veterans [that] confirm the worst allegations of American wartime propaganda.”

“Japan’s Debate on Constitutional Reinterpretation: Paving the Way for Collective Self-Defense”, Hitoshi Tanaka
JCIE paper from February 2014 about developments in Japan’s national security policy, including establishment of a National Security Council based on the U.S. model, the announcement of the first National Security Strategy a month later, and re-interpretation of the constitution.

Japanese Internment Broadside*
Among Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History exhaustive resources for the improvement of history education (over 60,000 unique documents) are many primary sources from WWII including these images from the internment of Japanese. Registration required.

Letters from the End of the World: A Firsthand Account of the Bombing of Hiroshima*, Toyofumi Ogura
One of the first first-hand accounts of the bombing of Hiroshima, this compelling love story unfolds through letters from the author to his wife, after their family's future is altered in an instant.

The Life of Isamu Noguchi: Journey without Borders, Masayo Duus
The first full-length biography of legendary American sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, who struggled with his Japanese-American heritage and famously volunteered himself for the internment camps. Offers great insight into the time period during and after WWII. A new biography Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi, was released this year by Pultizer Prize-nominated author Hayden Herrera to wide acclaim.

“Miscalculations in Deterrent Policy: Japanese-U.S. Relations, 1938-1941”, Chihiro Hosoya
Looks at events leading up to WWII, and examines miscalculations by the American government as to how Japan would react to economic sanctions.

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, Susan Southard
Published this year for the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing, Southard spent more than a decade researching and interviewing survivors to tell the often neglected story of the second nuclear cataclysm of WWII.

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum*

National Archive's Japanese-American Records related to WWII*

New Perspectives on U.S.-Japan Relations, ed. Gerald L. Curtis
Essays by top Japanese and American political scientists that address the major issues of U.S.-Japan relations circa 2000.

No-No Boy, John Okada
A novel about the "no-no boys", Japanese-American youths who refused to swear loyalty to the United States and enlist in its army.

The Only Woman in the Room, Beate Gordon
Beate Sirota Gordon's memoir about the role she played in drafting Japan’s postwar constitution. Gordon, who passed away in 2013, was a former Japan Society program director.

Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations, Michael R. Auslin
Auslin, who wrote Japan Society's centennial book, shares the history of U.S.-Japan relations from initial cultural encounters of the early 1800s to the crucial decades since World War II.

Summer Flowers, Tamiki Hara
Written following atomic bombing of Hiroshima, survivor Tamiki Hara recounts the horrors of what he witnessed during the aftermath. Included in the anthology The Crazy Iris and Other Stories from the Atomic Aftermath, compiled by Kenzaburo Oe.

Tokyo Rose / An American Patriot: A Dual Biography, Frederick P. Close
A story about a Japanese-American woman trapped in Tokyo during World War II and forced to broadcast on Japanese radio. Read a précis of the book.

Wings of Defeat*, dir. Risa Morimoto and Linda Hoagland, 2007
A groundbreaking feature-length documentary about surviving kamikaze pilots. Japan Society presented the New York premiere screening in 2008.

−Japan Society Staff


Dan said...

奇跡はつばさに乗って(きせきはつばさにのって, “A Miracle on Wings”)by Japan Society’s own Minamoto Kazuko, is definitely worth a mention. It’s about the quest of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who was in Horoshima when it was bombed, to ward off the resulting leukemia by folding 1,000 paper cranes. (She died ten years after the bombing, aged 12.) Paper cranes have since become a symbol of peace and hope, and Ms. Minamoto draws parallels between the A-bomb and the 9/11 attacks in New York.

It’s only available in Japanese, but is written in clear language that can be understood by upper-level elementary school students. So it is also great reading practice for students of Japanese at an intermediate-level.

Chris Morton said...

Let me also recommend John Dower's "War Without Mercy". It's a detailed examination of the racial and cultural biases on both sides of the conflict and how they affected the course of the war. In fact, I would recommend reading it before "Embracing Defeat". The conclusion I reached from the book (as well as many others) was that the we thought the Japanese couldn't fight and that they thought we wouldn't. We were both wrong.

Unknown said...

I would add The Japanese Liver by Isabel Allende

Unknown said...

I would add The Japanese Liver by Isabel Allende

Unknown said...

Sorry about typo Lover not Liver

Mark Goldfield said...

Nuclear War: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and
A Workable Moral Strategy for
Achieving and Preserving World Peace by Raymond G. wilson
is also a worthwhile book on this topic.
It may be downloaded from this site:

Unknown said...

is Wind Rises could be included to the list?
maybe it not much about Japan-US relationship, but its about the make of famous (or notorious) Mitsubishi A6M "Zero".

Suzan Baker said...

I have read 2 of the books there. Loved them. Had no idea there are more of the same mark.
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Unknown said...

The resources are great! We hope that the U.S - Japan relations strengthen in the coming years.
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