Overcoming Japan’s Imperial Legacies: A Review Essay

Sherzod Muminov, University of East Anglia

Yukiko Koga. Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 328 pp. $85 (cloth); $27.50 (paper/e-book).

Hiro Saito. The History Problem: The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2016. 264 pp. $62 (cloth).

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Japan’s war for empire ended in September 1945, as World War II drew to a close. Pinpointing its outbreak, however, is less straightforward: did it start with the July 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident, with the September 1931 Manchurian Incident, or, earlier yet, with the 1910 annexation of Korea? The lack of a single accepted narrative is symptomatic of broader divisions over history between Japan and its neighbors, primarily China and South Korea. As a result, the path toward reconciliation has proven tortuous, beset on all sides by persistent disagreements about past events. Two new books approach these disputes from the perspectives of anthropology (Yukiko Koga’s Inheritance of Loss) and sociology (Hiro Saito’s The History Problem), highlighting the complexity of imperial vestiges inherited by the current generations in East Asia. From their distinct yet complementary vantage points, both books enrich the debate on the outcomes of the Second World War in East Asia. Their findings illuminate the obstacles on the way to reconciliation, but also highlight the potential for compromise...