HIEA 114: Postwar Japan (Sp 2022)

Professor Wendy Matsumura: wmatsumura@ucsd.edu

Please email me or send me a slack dm if you would like to schedule office hours.

Fence outside the perimeter of the Kadena Air Force Base


Following the “Triple Disaster” of March of 2011, much of the media commentary on the Tohoku region’s “recovery” efforts focused on the way that local communities came together in support of each other at a time when the governmental and corporate leadership was lacking. This course begins from that scene (and from our own present here in the United States), and pivots to the period following the Japanese government’s surrender in 1945 to the Allied forces. We examine similar acts of mutual aid that communities organized and mobilized in response to devastating, often debilitating conditions. In so doing, this course asks, what lessons might community formation, mutual aid, and social activism that emerged in postwar Japan teach us about similar efforts that are ongoing in the present as local communities (like UCSD, San Diego, or wherever your home is) deal with multiple crises? What contradictions emerge from declarations of communities of care that are often accompanied by explicit and implicit exclusion of certain populations? How can our collective study of “postwar Japan” inform modes of knowledge production, community care, and their intersections that are taking place in response to our presents? Rather than providing students clear answers to these questions, this course aims to be a space to facilitate these discussions.


Because we are still in a pandemic, this course will try to do its part in: a. keeping campus density down; b. providing as much flexibility and accessibility to students as possible. To these ends, all course material will be available asynchronously. Because I know that it is important for many of you to have in-person classes, I will be holding these once a week, on Tuesdays from 3:30–4:50 for as long as it is safe to do so. These Tuesday meetings are optional, and if you do not feel safe attending classes in person, do not worry: these sessions will be available as podcasts via this page. The rest of the course discussion will take place primarily through the course slack page asynchronously. There are many students in this class who have taken my courses before. If you are unsure about what is going on, please feel free to pose a question in your slack channel or in the general channel and I or one of your classmates can provide clarity and reassurance.


All required readings are available in the course googledrive here.

There isn’t a great textbook on postwar Japan, but an excellent collection of essays that you can read for more context is Andrew Gordon’s Postwar Japan as History. If you are interested in economic history, you may find Gavan McCormack’s The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence to be a good read. The readings for this course focus on its theme, “Mutual Aid and Social Movements.”


First and foremost, we are still in a pandemic. During the over 2 years that I have been teaching in this pandemic, I have found that flexibility is key for students to be able to continue learning as they deal with even more unpredictable situations than usual. The mode of assessment that I have found best suited to these times operates on a principle of ungrading, begins from a recognition that each of you are living through different challenges, whether they be personal, financial, or academic. Ungrading invites you to reflect upon your own conditions and upon your own learning as an active participant in the course. Dr. Jesse Stommel, an expert on the topic, outlines the main ideas of ungrading here. A piece, “Grades are Dehumanizing, Ungrading is No Simple Solution” expresses the general pedagogical philosophy that I hope to practice in this course. The most important thing that I hope that we can all practice here is trust and kindness — these terms may seem out of place in a classroom setting for some of you, but I have found that students have gotten the most out of my classes when I operate from these principles, with the understanding that everyone learns at their own pace, often at one that does not conform to the academic cycle.

The primary mode of assessment for this course is therefore self-reflection (of how you think you have done on the assignments listed below). Your final grade will be determined by 2 self-reflections (one midterm and one final), in consultation with your course TA, who will be reading your posts and discussions. I cannot submit a grade for you without your 2 self-reflections, so please make sure that you turn these in.


  1. In addition to the 2 self-reflections, you are expected to keep up with your weekly slack group discussions. The slack group is a virtual space for you to discuss your ideas with each other. If you are unable to contribute a particular week or if you are getting behind, please communicate with your group members. If you notice that one (or more) of your group members has not contributed recently, please reach out to make sure they are ok.
  2. You will be responsible for 2 Medium posts (#1 due May 12 and #2 due June 2). The prompts for these will be linked to the course schedule below.


I am committed to accessibility. While I of course, accept formal accommodations, please contact me any time via email if you have any (additional) accessibility concerns that you would like me to address. The lectures will be provided via class podcasting, and lecture transcripts are available upon request.




Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast.

Read: Rebecca Solnit, “Beloved Community,” Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.

Also read: Jennifer Cooke, “Letter on a Plague Year,” commune (March 19, 2020)

Sign up for Medium (all you’ll need is a free account), create a profile, making sure to upload a picture (of you or something that represents you), and write an initial post where you briefly introduce yourself AND respond to the following question: What resonates with you about how Solnit and/or Cooke have written about disaster, and the kind of communities that form in response?

Also sign up for the course slack channel using an ucsd email address. Join one of the 7 discussion groups channels set up for this course (there should be 10 people per group). Please share a link to your Medium post (above) to your slack group channel.


Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast (powerpoint only here)

Read: John Dower, “Kyodatsu: Exhaustion and Despair,” Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II.

Also read: Joe Moore, “Production Control: Workers’ Control in Early Postwar Japan,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 17, no. 4 (1985): 2–26.

Explore: Trinity College’s course blog, Disaster Archipelago: Japan and watch the videos. Start here, but feel free to look at the other posts and links to familiarize yourself with forms of mutual aid that transpired after the Triple Disasters of 2011: https://commons.trincoll.edu/disasterarchipelago/?page_id=755

Discuss in your slack channel: How did labor unions of the early postwar period address the needs of communities that were impacted by the collapse of the Japanese empire? Think about whose concerns were prioritized and whose may have been left out.


Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast (powerpoint only here)

Read: Christopher Nelson, “fujiki hayato, the storyteller,” Dancing with the Dead: Memory, Performance, and Everyday Life in Postwar Okinawa

Read or listen: To the following story about “pigs from the sea” at https://www.hawaiipublicradio.org/post/remembering-pigs-sea#stream/0

Discuss in your slack channel: What do you think accounts for the power of storytelling that Nelson writes about during a time of massive dislocation? Why do you think that these stories are sometimes silenced? Can you think of times that storytelling was an important part of community building in times of difficulty in your own life (or other contexts you’ve studied)? Can you think of silences that remain that you have wondered about?


Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast (powerpoint only here)

Read: Mark Caprio, “The Forging of Alien Status of Koreans in American Occupied Japan,” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Vol. 6, no. 1 (January 2008)

Watch: Jiseul (2012) This is an award-winning film on the 1948 Jeju Uprising. The anti-communist suppression on Jeju was one of the reasons why many Koreans who returned to their hometowns after Japanese surrender in 1945 had to flee back to Japan.

Discuss in your slack channel: What does Caprio’s description of Zainichi Korean “black market” activity illuminate about the forms of mutual aid that were taking place within those communities? What is needed for a true end to colonial rule, or to war, from the perspective of ordinary people? Think here in relation to Jiseul.


Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast (powerpoint only here)

Read: Kang Sangjun, “Memories of a Zainichi Korean Childhood,” Japanese Studies, Vol. 26, no. 4 (2017): 546–568

Also read: Deokhyo Choi, “Fighting the Cold War in Pacifist Japan: Korean and Japanese Leftist Solidarity and American Cold War Containment,” Critical Asian Studies, Vol. 49, no. 4 (2017): 546–568.

Watch: “Korean A-Bomb Survivors Speak Out” (NHK World)

Discuss in your slack channel: Are there any connections between the forms of mutual aid that we see in Kang’s memoir and the formation of a solidarity movement between Japanese and Korean leftists that Choi writes about?

Self-reflection #1 is due by end of day on Tuesday, 5/3. Click here for the googleform.


Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast (powerpoint only here)

Read: Teresia Teaiwa, “Bikinis and Other S/pacific N/oceans,” Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific

Watch: Godzilla (1954) (streaming is available through course reserves)

**MEDIUM POST #1 (Due 5/12): Write and publish a post reflecting on the forms of mutual aid that you have read about thus far in this course and discuss how one of these examples might be adopted to alleviate the forms of precarity that some communities are living through today (this can be campus or non-campus based). Make sure to post a link to this post in your slack discussion channel. In addition to writing your own post, please make sure to comment on at least 2 of your group-mates’ posts. This post is due on Thursday, May 12th by end of day. Please do not exceed 750 words and make sure you attribute relevant sources (readings, lectures) within your post.


Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast (powerpoint only here)

Listen: To this song by Nishida Sachiko, “When the Acacia Rains Stop,” an anthem mourning the death of Kanba Michiko during the ANPO struggles of June 1960.

Read: Chelsea Szendi Schieder, “Barricades as Rupture and Continuity: The Gendered Labor of the Campus-Based Student Movement,” Coed Revolution: The Female Student in the Japanese New Left, 1957–1972, PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 2014.

Discuss in your slack channel: Why do you think it was possible for university student activists to be so connected to labor unionists during the late 1950s-early 1960s? Do you think this was a natural link or one that required active cultivation? How do you think university struggles and anti-base struggles of the late 1960s transformed notions of political community? What two or three issues do you think would inspire similar kinds of widespread mobilization of students across the United States today?

Please post MEDIUM POST #1 to your slack discussion channel by 5/12


Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast (powerpoint only here)

Read: Simeon Man, “A World Becoming: The GI Movement and the Decolonizing Pacific,” Soldiering Through Empire: Race and the Making of the Decolonizing Pacific.

Watch: The Targeted Village, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB7N_YlfaOA&t=1086s

Discuss in your slack channel: How does the reading and the film for this week deepen your understanding of the interconnectedness of militarism as well as struggles against it?


Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast (powerpoint only here)

Read: Simon Avenell, “From Fearsome Pollution to Fukushima: Environmental Activism and the Nuclear Blind Spot in Contemporary Japan,” Environmental History, Vol. 17 (April 2012): 244–276.

Also read: Ishimure Michiko, “Pure Land Poisoned Sea,” trans. James Kirkup and Michio Nakano, Japan Quarterly, Vol. 8, no. 3 (July 1971): 299–306.

Watch: Rokkasho Rhapsody (streaming is available through course reserves)

**MEDIUM POST #2 (Due 6/2): Reread Cooke’s “Letter on a Plague Year” with one of the Japan-related readings assigned in this course (of your choice). Has your reading of Cooke’s piece changed now that you are re-reading it in week 10? How has thinking with your classmates about mutual aid and solidarity in Japan, in the middle of a pandemic, been like? What additional conversations would have been helpful in this moment?


Come to Tuesday’s class or listen to the podcast

Read: Aya Kimura, “Citizen Science in Post-Fukushima Japan: The Gendered Scientization of Radiation Measurement,” Science as Culture. 2019.

Read: “Dean Spade on How Mutual Aid Will Help Us Survive Disaster”

Reread: Jennifer Cooke, “Letter on a Plague Year”

Please post MEDIUM POST #2 to your slack discussion channel by 6/2

Final self-reflection is due by end of day on Monday, 6/6. Click here for the googleform.




Wendy Matsumura is associate professor of Japanese history at UC San Diego.

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Wendy Matsumura

Wendy Matsumura

Wendy Matsumura is associate professor of Japanese history at UC San Diego.

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