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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
Sonja Hülsebus

Sonja Hülsebus

Sonja Hülsebus
Japanese Studies, Japanese postwar discourse, Heritage Studies
(PhD Students, April 1, 2018 - September 30, 2018)

Nagasaki: A Dark Heritage Site Between Remembrance and Oblivion

This dissertation project seeks to reveal structures of power, which have an influence on the construction of collective memory relating to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. On the one hand, I will examine the Japanese postwar discourse concerning Nagasaki. On the other hand, this project strives to also reveal network-like dispositive structures of various institutions. International organizations such as the UNESCO as well as local institutions such as public museums or cultural associations have an impact on the construction of collective memory and collective identity, respectively, which is why they will play a central role in this project.

Hiroshima, as the first city struck by an atomic bomb, has been part of the collective memory long before the Hiroshima Peace Memorial was declared UNESCO world heritage site. Nonetheless, this designation led to an “image makeover” of Hiroshima city: from the “atomic bomb city” to the “city of peace”. The local representation of historic correlations, especially the depiction of Japan as a war victim, has a great influence on the perception of Japan in the context of World War II.

Many Japanese visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial at least once in their lifetime, and after the Peace Memorial was listed as a world heritage site, the number of visitors increased. This raises the question, whether information on the bomb droppings and World War II increased simultaneously. Moreover, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) recommends a school excursion to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. But since it is only a recommendation, many schools decide on alternative destinations. After all, a trip to Hiroshima causes rather high travel expenses, which is one obstacle for many who are interested in a visit, whether as part of a school activity or as an independent travel. However, for meaningful results it is necessary to analyze and collect more data on this topic.

Due to its status as the first city struck by an atomic bomb, Hiroshima has become the center of research concerning the Japanese postwar discourse and the nuclear bombings. Scientific research on Nagasaki, as the second city having experienced this catastrophe on the other hand, is much less numerous. So far, academics focus on politic-historical and ethical research on the atomic bomb droppings, research on artistic forms of processing the traumatic experiences, and, for a few years, the connection between Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima as the three nuclear catastrophes of Japan. Research on the influence of cultural institutions on the representation of historic events and on the shaping of collective memory or collective identity, respectively, is rather scarce.

This PhD project aims at closing this gap, by concentrating on Nagasaki on the one hand, and on the other hand, by using the dispositive analysis for examining the meaning of public institutions for the representation of Japanese collective identity in relation to the postwar discourse. Further questions, as how the exhibition concept of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum developed, or what kinds of places of remembrance were created, will also be scrutinized. For instance, in Nagasaki, there does not seem to be a similar place of remembrance like the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Questions as whether there is such a place in Nagasaki after all, or whether Nagasaki actually fulfills the criteria of a Dark Heritage Site have also still to be clarified.