Beauty of the Battlefield: Hayashi Fumiko's War Diaries
Paper short abstract:
In my paper, I will present Hayashi Fumiko's (1903-1951) diaries from the offensive on the Chinese city of Hankou in 1938. I will analyze both their form and content, examining their place within Hayashi's body of work, as well as within the state propaganda during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Paper long abstract:
Hayashi Fumiko (1903-1951), one of the most popular writers of her time, seems to be largely forgotten in contemporary discourse on Japanese literature. Having become an overnight sensation with the phenomenal success of her debut novel Hôrôki ("Diary of a Vagabond", 1930), a "poetic diary" chronicling her early years in Tokyo in 1920s, she had built up a persona of an eternal wanderer and a writer coming from the lower strata of Japanese society. Both aspects shaped her reports from the Japanese offensive on the Chinese city of Hankou, published as Sensen ("Battlefront", 1938) and Hokugan butai ("Northern Bank Troops", 1939) - the most prominent records of her activity as a war reporter between 1937 and 1943. In these two publications, Hayashi revisits the form of a "poetic diary" which brought her fame, ensuring the interest of the contemporary readership. In this pair of diaries, almost identical in content and form, Hayashi recounts her experience from the battlefield, which she traversed with the Japanese soldiers. Employing nationalistic rhetoric, Hayashi remarkably omits the reality of the war itself almost completely, instead focusing on the beauty of the landscape and the virtuousness of the soldiers, who in a way become her temporary family. In my paper, I will present Hayashi's war diaries within the context of her oeuvre, as well as the contemporary propaganda and war literature. I also intend to disprove Hayashi's status as an apolitical writer and focus on the politically charged messages present within her war diaries, which as of 2016 have become some of her most readily available works in Japan. They thus become a part of the present discourse on Japan's wartime past, marked by a self-positioning of Japan as a war victim and omission of its aggression against China and its colonies. They also provide insight on the influence of wartime politics even with ostentatiously unpolitical writers such as Hayashi.
Representations of Violence