2016: Japan, Pearl Harbor, and the Poetry

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Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus, Volume 14, Issue 24, Number 5, December 2016
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus

Japan, Pearl Harbor, and the Poetry of December 8th

Jeremy Yellen, Andrew Campana

"Article Summary:
This article explores tanka poetry published shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack as a window into the initial public reaction in Japan to the outbreak of the Pacific War. We show that whereas tanka became a powerful tool of propaganda in the hands of professional poets, it also allowed amateur poets and political figures to express their private, diary-bound dissent.

On December 8, 1941—seventy-five years ago—people across Japan woke to the most surprising news. At 7 a.m., the press released the following bulletin from Imperial Headquarters: “Today, on December 8, before dawn, the Imperial Army and Navy entered into a state of war with U.S. and British forces in the western Pacific.”1 A few hours later, at 11 a.m., the Cabinet released the imperial rescript declaring war on the United States and Great Britain. People glued to their radios would soon learn that Japan had launched a daring and successful surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and had begun operations against British and American territories throughout Southeast Asia. This news electrified the populace, generating a widespread euphoria and jingoism that perhaps exceeded any other event in Japan’s modern history.2 From schoolchildren to professors, writers to critics, military men to civilians, people across Japan reacted with jubilation.

The war served as a call to arms for poets as well. In a manifesto published in March 1942, writer and poet Nishio Yō spoke to the unique role poets and patriotic verse (aikokushi) could play in Japan’s war. “Poets fight by taking up the pen,” he argued. Nishio recognized that patriotic verse had a twofold significance: to mobilize Japanese toward “victory in war,” and to seize a “victory in culture” that, presumably, would establish Japan as the leading power in the region. “Poetry,” Nishio concluded, “has never had as important a function as today.”3  ...  "

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