Inthe Shadow of the WarJapaneseLiterature After 1945 Final PaperJinBin (97171085-3)2018/01/30 AbstractWorldWar Two turned many places into battle fields and many ordinary people had toexperience the brutal war. As the great representatives of Japanese postwarliterature writers, Dazai Osamu and Medoruma Shun put their attention on thetrauma of the war rather than the war itself through their works A Sound of Hammering and Droplets. This essay discusses how thewar made indelible marks in people’s memory after 1945, expressing how survivalsoldiers live their lives under the influence of the war and pursue salvationfor themselves.
Keywords: trauma,war, personality, salvation, healing DuringWorld War Two, countless people were forced to witness the worst atrocitieshuman being could ever do and many of them became the perpetrators of such immoralacts. In Japanese postwar literature, many authors describe the war experiencesof the characters and discuss how the characters endured the indelible traumabrought by the war throughout their postwar lives, looking for the salvation. InDazai Osamu’s A Sound of Hammering,the soldier writes in a letter which describes his suffering from a sound ofhammering that happens every time when he wants to change his life since 1945. Inanother work named Droplets writtenby Medoruma Shun, the Battle of Okinawa is reconstructed from the war memory ofa survived soldier, reflecting the mental consequences of the cruel war and theprocess of searching for the self-salvation during his postwar life. Therefore,both works express the trauma of the war, revealing the characters’ instinctivestruggle for surviving or living, and further leading them on the way ofsalvation.
WorldWar Two contained various kinds of wars and one of the vital turning points wasthe Battle of Okinawa in 1945, which caused deaths of thousands of Japanesesoldiers. At that time, Okinawa was a battle considered to gain time for thedefense in mainland Japan. Many ordinary people were dragged into the battleand even high school boys and girls were separately conducted to join twomobilizations called the Blood and Iron Imperial Service Corps and StudentNurse Corps. As the battle between the United States and Japan near the end ofWorld War Two, the intense fighting lasted for three months and ended with thedestroy of the Japanese troops and the control of Okinawa under the UnitedStates. In face of the fear of being captured by the Americans, mass suicidetook place among the people in the island. Afew weeks after the Battle of Okinawa, the atomic bombs were dropped on August6th and August 9th, and Japan finally accepted thePotsdam Declaration on August 15th. The emperor announced thisdecision through radio broadcast in which he claimed the country would pursethe termination of the war rather than admit the loss of the war, and thus manypeople for the first time heard the voice of him, whom they considered to bedivine for a long time. After understanding the loss of Japan through the broadcastwhich was full of difficult Japanese language, many soldiers committed suicideas they followed the traditional logic of honorable death instead of beingprisoned.
Although the war for the people in mainland Japan ended in 1945 andthe occupation of Japan was later over in 1952, the war did not end for thepeople in Okinawa. The surrender in August soon allowed America to leavenumerous military forces in Okinawa, turning it into an important military basein 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 EmbracingDefeat that “a state of psychic collapse so deep and widespread that itsoon became popularly associated withkyodatsu, a previous technical term” (Dower 89). The term kyodatsu generally refers to thedesperate condition of people during the first few years of defeat. Undersuch historical background, many literary works emerged, including A Sound of Hammering and Droplets. The protagonist in A Sound of Hammering is one of thesoldiers who actually thought about suicide when he heard the broadcast beforegoing back home after the unconditional surrender. At first, he just felt emptyabout the sound of hammering he heard while later realized that he started to beafflicted with the sound all the time.
Dazai’s life gives him the inspirationof this story more or less since he experienced several desperations in Japanincluding the Taisho Democracy in 1925, the Fascism in 1930s, the war, and theoccupation afterwards. Compared to the experiences of Dazai, Medoruma Shun, theauthor of Droplets, was born inOkinawa in 1960. Even though he did not experience the war himself, he wrotemany works related to the Battle of Okinawa including The Crying Wind and In theWoods of Memory. As a writer lived during the occupation time, in the work Droplets, Medoruma focuses more on theprivate war memory through trauma by going back and forth with the time order, breakingthe normal way of describing the war in which the war experience occupies themain story. In A Sound of Hammering and Droplets, both the main characters areendowed with a kind of medium, which reminds them of the war, separating theirpersonalities and leading them to the desperate attitude towards life. Theprotagonist of A Sound of Hammering narrativesin a letter to a write about his six main experiences of hearing the sound ofhammering, which he regards as suffering from something like an epileptic. Thefirst time happened when he wanted to die for the militarism after hearing theradio 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 hisarmy life, the bang bang of hammering suddenly made him feel bored about Pushkinand Gogol. Then he started to regard his script as meaningless. The soundappeared again after he tiredly worked for many days due to the issue ofreinflation of yen, making everything seem ridiculous to him.
He lost all thesatisfaction and desire for work. The moment that he wanted kiss the woman hefell in love with was interrupted by the sound. While he felt euphoric aboutthe workers’ parade, all the feeling soon disappeared with the sound ofhammering. In other words, his personality is divided into two, the enthusiasticone and the desperate one. Every time when the protagonist thinks he findssomething that can attract him and he wants to pursue it, the sound brings himback to the endless despair, thus he has never fit into the prewar society. Itis like a ring that makes him aware of the meaninglessness of life, telling himthat he cannot do anything about his current situation no matter how hard hetries. Theexperience of the protagonist mirrors that although many people fought to deathduring 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 Iever joined any kind of movement at all, was another victim of the irreversiblegreed for fame or power of the leaders” (Dazai 199). Those social and politicalproblems cannot help him relieve from his daily life because people never knowswhat will happen to them the next second. Looking at how others felt satisfiedabout their peaceful life, or living with full enthusiasm gives the protagonistthe feeling of empty, since he thinks that the end of everything will be thesame, which is decadence and death.
This kind of war trauma reflects thesimilar situations of many Japanese soldiers who were trying to forget the warbut at the same time they had to confront with the new life in which theycannot find a purpose to live for. Insearching for the answer for the question of what people live for, theprotagonist projects his thoughts and feeling into the letter. The letter ishis spiritual sustenance and the way of salvation. The answer of his questionseems to be first revealed in the conversation with his uncle, who said “it’ssex and greed that make the world go ’round'” (Dazai 201). The instinct way isthe only need for people to live.
In the replying letter, Dazai also gives asimilar answer from another person’s perspective in a more philosophical way. Theperson who received the protagonist’s letter points out that the salvation willbe achieved when he can adjust himself in the society and stop escaping fromthe “conduct which men would unanimously call shameful and which is obviouslyso to everyone” (Dazai 202). Since the person himself has experienced socialand political changes several times, he is saying that every concern about lifeis meaningless and there is no need to think, just live as it is.Incontrast to A Sound of Hammering, theprotagonist in Droplets has beenobsessed by the war memory in his postwar life. The trauma of the protagonist,Tokusho, originates from his dishonorable past during the Battle of Okinawa. Inaddition, the hidden and misleading truth he told students in his speeches is apotential expression of his guilty and confession. The cumulative mental stressresults in his melon-like swollen leg before the fiftieth anniversary of thewar and he began to see dead soldiers with tattered uniforms and serious injuriesto suck the droplets from his leg. The war truth hidden within his deep memorywas brought back to him when he saw the friend in the Blood and Iron Imperial ServiceCorps he abandoned during the war.
The instinct way of surviving for anordinary person caused his selfishness to take all the food and leave hiswounded friend behind. This guilty cannot be terminated for fifty years, also separatingTokusho’s personality into the dominant mendacious one and the recessiveselfish one. The dominant one makes him speak what people want to hear aboutthe war to hide the truth and satisfy his own vanity to get applause and admirefrom the audience listened to his speeches, while the recessive one reminds himof the shameful past and tries to trap him in the war memory. Thesalvation of Tokusho is achieved by confession and memorial when he started toconfront with the past by accepting the judge of his soul.
In the cave hepromised he would bring water to the soldiers who could not move, but thepromise turned out to be a lie. He drank all the water and the water now gatheredto become the swelling in his leg. The author uses “water” as a symbolism toconnect Tokusho’s mental trauma and the physical disease. As the origin forlife during the war, the water became the origin for trauma, dripping likepoison from Tokusho’s leg, and attracting the ghosts of dead soldiers to suckthe water longingly. When Tokusho realizes that relieving the soldiers’ thirstfrom his leg is a way of confession, he started to confront the innermostsecret he had repressed for a long time. As he thought, “perhaps now I havefulfilled my promise” (Medoruma 273). He hopes that the water he drew duringthe war could be given back to the soldiers left behind through this surrealisticway. During the process of atone, Tokusho feels the itch and pain, but this isinevitable and necessary part of healing.
In the end, Tokoshu confesses to hisfriend, Ishimine’s ghost, accepting the trauma as his comeuppance and relievingthe truth he had repressed for fifty years. Although the wounds and deathscaused by the war cannot be redeemed, Tokusho gets his own salvation bycompleting his mission of confession. In conclusion, the two works reflect howthe war changes people’s life, giving them the unbearable trauma. However,there can be hope if one just confronts with everything without hiding orescaping. Facing up to oneself is the first step to face up to the society, orthe trauma will only get worse just like the sound and swelling. The salvationcan also be considered as the people’s instinct way for living. In order tolive a normal life, the soldiers try to get rid of the influence of trauma andlook for relief. The shadow of the war cannot be changed, but the light canrise from people’s new life.
No matter what happens in the past, it is a partof one’s life and trying to forget the past is just a more implicit way ofhiding. If one wants to hide it, it must be covered with shadow. But if onejust accepts it, it can integrate with the light of new life away from theconcern that the shadow will come back. WorkCitedDazai, 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.
Nortonand Company, 2000.Medoruma, Shun. “Droplets.
” Southern Exposure: ModernJapanese Literature from Okinawa. University of Hawaii Press, 2000.