The best books on Japanese postwar creative arts in their wider context

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a researcher, lecturer, theatre-maker, and writer based in Australia. I have lived in Japan for periods of time since my childhood and worked with a Japanese theatre company,  touring internationally. This experience provided the basis for my PhD research in modern  Japanese history and the performing arts. The following books were influential in the formation of my book, Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan. Under each entry, I also include other relevant scholars and would encourage readers to follow them up as well.


I wrote...

Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan

By Adam Broinowski,

Book cover of Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan

What is my book about?

Most people don't think of Japan as an occupied country. The sole period of occupation by a foreign power in its history is the seven years of US military occupation after 1945. Yet, under the San Francisco Treaty, Japan has continued to host US military bases, weapons, and up to 50,000 US troops. To understand the effects of military, cultural and political occupation on Japanese national identity and orientation, I explore the remarkable body of work generated by postwar Japan’s vanguard artists.

Based in a transnational genealogy of avant-garde ideas and methods, I focus on Butoh, an original and influential Japanese dance form which emerged in the 1950s and its reinterpretation in the seminal work of contemporary dance theatre company Gekidan Kaitaisha (Theatre of Deconstruction).
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

Adam Broinowski Why did I love this book?

War Without Mercy is a seminal work in the cultural and military history of the Pacific War. In his aim to understand the formation of public consciousness in the United States and Japan during World War II, which is a consistent theme throughout his many works, Dower uses cultural and empirical sources to provide nuance and greater depth in the historiography on the Japanese modern era.

By John W. Dower,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked War Without Mercy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD • AN AMERICAN BOOK AWARD FINALIST • A monumental history that has been hailed by The New York Times as “one of the most original and important books to be written about the war between Japan and the United States.”

In this monumental history, Professor John Dower reveals a hidden, explosive dimension of the Pacific War—race—while writing what John Toland has called “a landmark book ... a powerful, moving, and evenhanded history that is sorely needed in both America and Japan.”
 
Drawing on American and Japanese songs, slogans, cartoons, propaganda films, secret…


Book cover of Kazuo Ohno's World: From Without & Within

Adam Broinowski Why did I love this book?

This book provides an accessible introduction to butoh. Centered on the perspectives of its co-founder Kazuo Ohno and his son Yoshito Ohno, the first half of the book by Yoshito offers a useful outline of Kazuo’s life in dance. The second half provides insightful personal reflections, evocative photographs, detailed processes, and some of the relationships deriving from Kazuo’s workshops in his studio in Yokohama. The book reflects on Ohno’s distinctly ‘modern’ sensibility and worldview, as compared with the experimental-traditional fusion of butoh’s co-founder, Hijikata Tatsumi. Their mutual interest in the non-human and non-living generated a unique dance form that continues in the present.

By Kazuo Ohno, Yoshito Ohno, John Barrett

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kazuo Ohno's World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kazuo Ohno is one of the founders of the Japanese modern dance form, Butoh, which had a large influence on contemporary American modern and postmodern dance. Now for the first time, Ohno's words and insights are available in English. This book brings together two distinct but related works: the first, Food for the Soul, is an interview with Yoshito Ohno about his father and his father's dances. With the help of some 100 photographs, he reveals a compelling and complex figure. The second, Workshop Words, is a collection of talks given by Kazuo Ohno to his students during workshops, complemented…


Book cover of Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan

Adam Broinowski Why did I love this book?

In Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes: The Underside of Modern Japan, the social historian Mikiso Hane offers neglected insights on Japanese society from the margins. Hane’s people's history of modern Japan uses diaries, memoirs, fiction, trial testimony, personal recollections, and eyewitness accounts of peasants, factory and industrial workers, and outsiders to detail lived experiences of ordinary people. The perspective from the underclasses resonates with Hijikata’s butoh and his life experiences.

By Mikiso Hane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This compelling social history uses diaries, memoirs, fiction, trial testimony, personal recollections, and eyewitness accounts to weave a fascinating tale of what ordinary Japanese endured throughout their country's era of economic growth. Through vivid, often wrenching accounts of peasants, miners, textile workers, rebels, and prostitutes, Mikiso Hane forces us to see Japan's "modern century" (from the beginnings of contact with the West to World War II) through fresh eyes. In doing so, he mounts a formidable challenge to the success story of Japan's "economic miracle."

Starting with the Meiji restoration of 1868, Hane vividly illustrates how modernization actually widened the…


Book cover of Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Interwar Japan

Adam Broinowski Why did I love this book?

Readers interested in intellectual history in modern Japan could begin with Harry Harootunian’s Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Interwar Japan. Harootunian’s examination of a generation of Japanese intellectuals in the period between the two world wars explores how they sought to ‘overcome’ materialism and consumerism associated with the West. As Japanese industrial and urban development gave rise to mass culture, Harootunian shows how traditional values and mores were uprooted and replaced with those which embraced desire, fantasy, and spectacle in parallel with a wider process marked by both modernism and fascism.

By Harry D. Harootunian,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Overcome by Modernity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the decades between the two World Wars, Japan made a dramatic entry into the modern age, expanding its capital industries and urbanizing so quickly as to rival many long-standing Western industrial societies. How the Japanese made sense of the sudden transformation and the subsequent rise of mass culture is the focus of Harry Harootunian's fascinating inquiry into the problems of modernity. Here he examines the work of a generation of Japanese intellectuals who, like their European counterparts, saw modernity as a spectacle of ceaseless change that uprooted the dominant historical culture from its fixed values and substituted a culture…


Book cover of A History of Japanese Theatre

Adam Broinowski Why did I love this book?

For a general overview of Japanese theatre, and more broadly Japanese culture, readers are encouraged to have a look through A History of Japanese Theatre edited by Jonah Salz. This encyclopaedic collection of essays by scholars on Japanese theatre history offers a rich and thorough survey of Japanese theatre for a wide readership. From ancient Noh theatre to Kabuki and Bunraku to modern literary theatre to critical theatre and performance, readers can glean how the performing arts have developed throughout Japanese history. As the book weaves together some of the intellectual concerns and artistic reflections of prominent artists in their forms, we can grasp interwoven historical patterns which continue from antiquity to the present.

By Jonah Salz (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of Japanese Theatre as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Japan boasts one of the world's oldest, most vibrant and most influential performance traditions. This accessible and complete history provides a comprehensive overview of Japanese theatre and its continuing global influence. Written by eminent international scholars, it spans the full range of dance-theatre genres over the past fifteen hundred years, including noh theatre, bunraku puppet theatre, kabuki theatre, shingeki modern theatre, rakugo storytelling, vanguard butoh dance and media experimentation. The first part addresses traditional genres, their historical trajectories and performance conventions. Part II covers the spectrum of new genres since Meiji (1868-), and Parts III to VI provide discussions of…


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Book cover of Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of What Leora Never Knew: A Granddaughter's Quest for Answers

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Why am I passionate about this?

I'm the oldest granddaughter of Leora, who lost three sons during WWII. To learn what happened to them, I studied casualty and missing aircraft reports, missions reports, and read unit histories. I’ve corresponded with veterans who knew one of the brothers, who witnessed the bomber hit the water off New Guinea, and who accompanied one brother’s body home. I’m still in contact with the family members of two crew members on the bomber. The companion book, Leora’s Letters, is the family story of the five Wilson brothers who served, but only two came home.

Joy's book list on research of World War II casualties

What is my book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one; all five sons were serving their country in the military–two in the Navy and three as Army Air Force pilots.

Only two sons came home.

Leora’s Letters is the compelling true account of a woman whose most tender hopes were disrupted by great losses. Yet she lived out four…

By Joy Neal Kidney, Robin Grunder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leora's Letters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one, all five sons were serving their country in the military. The oldest son re-enlisted in the Navy. The younger three became U.S. Army Air Force pilots. As the family optimist, Leora wrote hundreds of letters, among all her regular chores, dispensing news and keeping up the morale of the…


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