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Reconstructing the Body in Postwar Japanese Fiction

Atisha Rai

In Japanese tradition the individual body was significant because it was tied to the formation of a national identity. Incorporating the physical body with the national had a long lineage in Japan (Slaymaker 12). Wartime propaganda often set the individual body (nikutai) in opposition to the national body (kokutai). According to Douglas Slaymaker the kokutai, with the emperor at the centre, became like a state religion and during the war years it transformed into “a formidable edifice that brooked no dissent”. Postwar Japanese writing was a protest against this taking-over of individual bodies by the state. Some writers saw the nikutai as a liberation from the country’s militaristic past. A strong able body was conflated with the ideas of a strong and healthy nation. The wartime ideology demanded that people renounce their individual desires and focus their energies on state projects. When the emperor system that supported the structure of kokutai collapsed the individual body was liberated from the constraints of the national polity. The nikutai had been denied meaning and existence during the war and prewar years. Postwar writings reflected the need to reclaim the individual body. The postwar body was, however, gendered, sexualised and depended on the body of a woman. The image of the soldier had represented masculine ideals during the wartime but such ideals of aggression were not encouraged by the occupying forces. In postwar literature the men often assert their masculine identity through their bodies vis-a-vis the body of a woman or the foreign body of the American soldier. This paper will analyse two works - Nosaka Akiyuki's American Hijiki and Sakaguchi Ango's The Idiot - to discuss the representation and construction of the body in postwar Japanese literature.

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