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Showa 1944-1953: A History of Japan (Showa: A History of Japan) Paperback – November 11, 2014
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“Utterly compelling . . . [Showa] shows once again why Mizuki is one of the best creators in all of Japan. Highly recommended.” ―Manga Bookshelf
About the Author
Born March 8, 1922 in Sakaiminato, Tottori, Japan, Shigeru Mizuki is a specialist in stories of yokai and is considered a master of the genre. He is a member of the Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology, and has traveled to more than sixty countries around the world to engage in fieldwork on the yokai and spirits of different cultures. He has been published in Japan, South Korea, France, Spain, Taiwan, and Italy. His award-winning works include Kitaro,Nonnonba, and Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. Mizuki's four-part autobiography and historical portrait Showa: A History of Japan won an Eisner Award in 2015.
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Volume three of "Showâ" covers the years from 1944 to 1953. These years span the end of the Second World War and the ensuing American Occupation of Japan under Douglas MacArthur. These represent probably the most turbulent and disturbing times for modern Japan. An empire fell and its people suffered horribly under its oppressive laws and ethos. Thankfully things started to take a turn for the better as the 1950s dawned. From this incomprehensible chaos the modern state of Japan emerged. The book opens with "The Tragedy of Imphal." Many consider the decisive Battle of Midway as the war's most pivotal turning point. "Showâ" argues that the failures at Imphal, a city in Burma, proved even more decisive and irreversible. Midway left the Japanese Empire badly maimed, but Imphal apparently stuck a near final blow. After Imphal, things became shockingly desperate. Nezumi Otoko even says "In pursuit of personal honor, Japan's commanders neglect supply lines and wantonly waste soldiers' and civilians' lives." Things will only get worse.
Meanwhile, Mizuki finds himself literally hanging from a cliff to escape detection. Then he has to outmaneuver natives and escape into the jungle to avoid capture. He claims that a yokai kept him from falling over a cliff. Eventually he runs right into the navy and face angry questions about why he survived Baien. According to his "superiors," he should have faced a "noble death" and died fighting, no matter how hopelessly. This theme returns more ominously as Japan's costly war losses mount in the Pacific. The beatings, so frequent in Volume Two, continue unabated. Then malaria strikes, but the Japanese Army does not consider this an excuse for loafing. Rabaul, Truk Island, New Britain, the Marshall Islands, Palau, all witness humiliating defeats for Japan. Things just get worse for the soldiers, but Mizuki gets a surprise and much welcome service award for drawing his commander Hanafuda cards. War also continued with China, called the second Sino-Japanese war. Japan also starts losing to the Chinese Communist Army. The American B-29 then flies into service. General Tôjô initiates a policy of no retreat, no surrender. A-go and Saipan continue the losing streak. A bewildering and deeply disturbing massacre through mass suicide occurs in Saipan. America soon gains superiority in nearly every battle technology. Talk of "noble deaths" for soldiers escalates. Tôjô fumes "I'd rather see the death of the entire country than admit the smallest defeat." Things look pretty hopeless.
The bombings begin and never let up. Okinawa, Taiwan and Yawate receive showers of bombs, some with napalm. MacArthur returns to Leyte as promised. Under increasing pressure, the infamous Kamikaze missions begin. Excessive rationing grips Japan and some people face starvation. Japan makes more missteps in Leyte Gulf. Allies appear everywhere. Mizuki narrowly escapes death as his squad takes massive fire while he fetches water, only to escape it again thanks to a commander who doesn't believe in dying a "noble death." The war in Europe closes as the Nazis fall and the Allied leaders meet in Yalta and plan to end the war in the Pacific. Iwo Jima sees fierce combat and Japan launches balloon bombs on California. Six people die. Back in the Pacific, a pathetically desperate plan to ram the battleship Yamato into the US fleet fails before it starts. The bombings continue over Japan. To prevent fires, houses, including Mizuki's parents' house, are leveled. At Marunga, Mizuki again succumbs to malaria. He loses his arm during an attack by Australian forces. It forms a gruesome infection, maggots and all. Commanders who allow their soldiers to live receive orders to commit suicide. Many continue to march out to "noble deaths." Nonetheless, Tôjô will not admit defeat to the Emperor, who makes another rare appearance.
Mizuki, drained from malaria and infection, comes across the Tolai people. They take him in as one of their own, call him "Paul," and feed and nurse him. The allies, after meeting at Potsdam, begin a full-scale invasion of Japan, beginning at Kyûshu. Then the atomic bombs drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Russia invades Japan from the north. Japanese leaders argue over what to do, but few want to surrender until the Emperor intervenes and calls for an end to the war and to "bear the unbearable." A phonograph recording of his formal classical Japanese speech pervades the airwaves, but apparently few can really understand it, though they comprehend the basic message. On the battleship Missouri, Japan finally surrenders on November 2, 1945. The American occupation begins under MacArthur and GHQ. A simple photo of him next to the Emperor, stripped of his divinity, lets everyone know where things now stand.
Mizuki almost stays with "The People of the Forest," but after a wait he does return home to post-war Japan. The Emperor tours Japan to great adulation while the Class-A war criminals go on trial. Many hang, including Tôjô. Nezumi Otoko reflects that "the winning country gets to detemine what is and isn't a war crime." A new Constitution gets drafted. The Zaibatsu are dissolved. Ideas of democracy spread even though school books contain numerous redactions. Mizuki tries to make various livings through various means, but prices skyrocket. Two of Nezumi Ototko's friends, Baba and Jiji, help delineate the situation. A long sad string of US soldiers raping Japanese women begins. Prostitution, private not public, remains legal. Mizuki needs surgery on the remains of his lost arm. He finds himself with a ragtag group occupying abandoned buildings and guarding baskets. The world reforms following World War II. A cold war breaks out between the US and USSR. Korea breaks in two and the Korean War begins in 1950. Mizuki goes back to school after surprisingly cashing in on one of his business ventures. He ends up drawing Kamishibai, a precursor to manga. GHQ breaks unions and stops worker strikes. A number of suspicious incidents occur.
On a constant quest to raise money, Mizuki follows a business partner with the goal of harvesting bird poop from Bourbon island. Mizuki earns the title "lice boy" along the way. Instead, he buys an inn and puts up Kamishibai artists. One proudly proclaims "took my first crap in ten days!" and then sets Mizuki up to see Katsumaru Suzuki, a Kamishibai master. He gives Mizuki the name the world now knows him by, Mizuki. He also asks Mizuki to put up Koji Kata the greatest Kamishibai artist in Japan. Nezumi Otoko muses "Shigeru Mizuki has a strange sense that his life has changed forever." Japan's global pride slowly revives thanks to Olympic swimmer Hironoshin Furuhashi and Nobel Laureate Hideki Yukawa. But storm clouds loom when loan shark Akitsugu Yamazaki commits suicide. Again, Nezumi Otoko: "Capitalism can be heartless and severe - a lesson Japan learns well." Following a shooting, Mizuki learns that he lived next to a gang. He moves to Nishinomiya as the heyday of Kamishibai fades. GHQ begins rooting out communists as the Korean war rages. US uses Japan as a base for military operations which causes an economic boom throughout Japan. MacArthur loses his command when his forces fail to take Seoul. Japan begins to modernize and Kamishibai's audiences have dwindled, but at the end of Volume three Mizuki's famous Kitaro and Sanpei the Kappa characters begin to make an impact. Kata tells Mizuki about the new comic book craze in Tokyo. So, still meandering, he boards a train for Tokyo.
Volume Three reaches a climax with the end of World War II and the grim violence relaxes somewhat despite the turmoil of the occupation. The story turns more to Mizuki's aimless life and eventual destiny as one of Japan's most renowned manga artists. So far circumstance and luck have provided guidance. But his fortunes seem to improve along with his country's. As economic growth intensifies, Mizuki will find himself at the apex of the burgeoning comic book scene. Luck, along with some yokai, helped him survive the catastrophe of World War II. Luck, along with talent and wads of perseverance, will now likely provide him with more opportunities. The final volume covers the end of the Showâ era from 1953 up to the death of Hirohito. Those were also very interesting years for Japan.
Early in the book, Mizuki, the soldier makes friends with some local some tribal people. He does so mostly against the rules of the Army and much to his benefit. This would have been a good time to ask why Natives and Japanese troops had not formed many personal relationships. Mizuki may not have known, or he may not have wanted to speak to some of the worst aspects of local life under the Japanese’s Army. Certainly there were excess by some units in the allied army, but his book is only about Japanese’s history.
Once repatriated to Japan, his presentation remains matter of fact. His brother guilt as a war criminal seems to be unfair, 70 plus years later, but Mizuki does not dwell upon it. We gt a taste of how the post war years were a trial and a scramble on everyone, but most he reports and makes little in the way of editorial.
There is a steady repetition of major events by day and year; but very little in the way of context or analysis for anyone, especially a non-Japanese reader to understand why this or that event worthy. Part of this is because his intended reader was a Japanese person who may not have lived through this period by might know them from School. His goal was to make his own statement to his younger generation, about the history of 20th Century Japan not as told in the classroom.
Having gotten used to Mizuki’s combination of hyper realism, involving a photograph to comic format he pioneered; interleaved with more traditional Manga cartoon style, I find this approach more reasonable and easy to follow.
I will be reading Book four and with more anticipation than I felt at the end of either books 1 or 2.