CfP: Contesting Memorial Spaces in the Asia-Pacific, 6-7 November 2020

On 6-7 November 2020, Kyushu University Border Studies will host an international conference devoted to the operation and conceptualization of contested memorial spaces.

The aims of this event are threefold:

  • To consider how sites of memory operate across political scales, from the intensely local to the national, international, and global;
  • To understand how these spaces provide points of contact; and
  • To reflect on whether such sites can be transformed into spaces able to accommodate political difference.

We invite interested scholars to first submit abstracts (of up to 250 words) to the organizers by August 31, 2020.

For further details, and to submit an abstract, please see the link below:

“Heritage, conflicted sites and bordered memories in Asia” Conference Programme – July 31

July 18 and 31, 2020 – ONLINE (Zoom), through Kyushu University Border Studies

Friday 31 July, 9:30-12:30 (JST)

DAY 2: Contesting and Memorializing Sites of Heritage

Session 3: Edges of the Nation

“Desecration or Veneration: The Legacy of Shinto Shrines at the Borders of Imperial Japan”, Karli Shimizu (Hokkaido University)

By the end of World War II, the Empire of Japan stretched from the snowy plains of Hokkaido in the North to the tropical island of Taiwan in the South. Both of these peripheral territories, however, were only incorporated into the Japanese state in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The construction of Shinto shrines in these new territories was seen essential to their colonisation and modernization by the Imperial government. Shrines, often established in a top-down manner by the national or local government, were given the role of fostering a sense of loyalty and patriotism in the unruly population of indigenous peoples and settlers alike. Despite Shinto shrines having a similar role in both these areas during the prewar period, the perception of these shrines’ relationship with local deities has developed significant differences in these areas in the postwar. On one hand, Shinto shrines have commonly been seen as agents of colonial oppression and have been accused of desecrating indigenous deities. In other cases, Shinto shrines have become symbols of multiculturalism and have on occasion been adopted as a part of local veneration customs. This paper looks how the interaction between Shinto shrines, local deities, and national borders prewar and postwar has affected the complex legacy of overseas Shinto shrines.

“Remembering the Battle of Okinawa in the Yaeyamas”, Edward Boyle (Kyushu University)

This paper will introduce the concept of ‘Borders of Memory’ and apply it to the commemoration of the Pacific War that occurs in the Yaeyamas, the southernmost island group in Okinawa prefecture. The concept of ‘Borders of Memory’ aims to shed light on the links between memory and heritage by examining how heritage sites serve as spaces within which collective memory is able to be both affirmed and contested This allows us to survey the contours of the borders of memory that exist between different memory collectives. It is the competing meanings invested in the site, and the struggle over the narrative within which it is incorporated, that results in such sites coming to be demarcated as borders of memory. Understanding heritage sites as bordered spaces allows us to see them as being not only places in which antagonistic collective memories come into contact, but also spaces through which they connect. The paper will outline how the different scales at which the War in the Yaeyamas is able to be remembered means that its heritage sites remain cut through by borders of memory.

“Museum Education through Reenactment: Considering Historical Sites in Korea and Japan”, Jason Mark Alexander (Kyushu University)

The National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Occupation is a memorialized site of Pusan’s colonial history. Multiple aspects of the museum, like life-size mine tunnels and immersive soundscapes, place the viewer in the shoes of Korean laborers who labored and suffered under Japanese imperial rule. What are the positive and negative aspects of recreating the conditions of tragedy for museum audiences to walk through? There are museums similar in format and theme within Japan, but they are relatively toned-down. Drawing upon studies of communal memory of dark history, along with scholarship surveying the status of Korea-related museums in Japan, I investigate the coverage of colonization and war in museum education. Museums that aim to reenact the past need to cater to both adult and children as audiences to their exhibits. Appeals to emotions may indirectly inflame nationalist sentiments. Overall, experiential learning exhibits seem effective in how they convey emotional truths to the viewers, as they try to teach about trauma in an intimate manner that encourages empathy and peace.

Commentator: Jonathan Bull (Hokkaido University)

Session 4: Narrating Ruptures

“Collective history-making of WWII through dark educational tourism in Japan”, Kaori Yoshida and Huong Bui (Ritsumeikan Asia-Pacific University)

More than seventy years have passed since the end of WWII, and those who experienced the war first-hand have been dramatically disappearing. In the meantime, there is urgent need to seek for a new way to teach historical lessons to younger generations within the context of dramatic technological development and complex politico-social structure in Asia. In this circumstance various tourism operations, such as “dark tourism” (Lennon & Foley 2000), play an extremely important role in articulating collective memories of the war, while the growth of inbound tourists bringing with them different philosophical and political views has posed great challenges for dark tourism in Japan. This paper, viewing war-related museums and their materials as texts that articulate particular narratives, attempts to explicate the mechanism that operates between the texts and visitors. It focuses on two ever-ambivalent dark tourism destinations, Peace Museum in Okinawa and Chiran Peace Museum in Kagoshima, where the “dark” and the “light” paradoxically, yet meticulously interact, and demonstrates how particular memories are shaped as a national or local branding by means of tourism through narrativization. The paper analyzes the brochures of those museums, the museum layouts along with the neighboring areas that would significantly affect the interpretation of the museums as a part of story-teller. Grounded from critical discourse analysis and field observations, authors generalize a comprehensive theoretical model of the interactions between visitors and the dark sites incorporating contrasted aspect of interpretations of controversial and conflicted war-related sites in Japan.    

“The War Memorial of Korea, its Representation of War, and Citizens’ Struggle over Contested Memories on South Korea’s Burdening Past”, Dasom Lee (Independent Scholar)

The War Memorial of Korea was built under the last military regime in South Korea, the Roh Tae-woo administration, and it remains a Cold War zone. The War Memorial particularly has been criticized for not mentioning South Korea’s horrific involvement in the Vietnam War, including civilian massacre and sexual violence against women. Additionally, the Memorial doesn’t talk about another of South Korea’s burdening pasts, that a considerable number of South Korean soldiers who participated in the Vietnam War killed a great many civilians in Gwangju, 1980 as well, when citizens in Gwangju marched together for democracy and to raise their angry voices against Chun Doo-hwan’s military authoritarian regime. And many of the soldiers were traumatized in the aftermath of this.  Standing against such problematic representations at the War Memorial of Korea, an anti-war organization in South Korea called Civilian Military Watch tries to challenge the official narrative of the Memorial. My ethnography traces what the War Memorial of Korea doesn’t say, which memories become a “burdening past” for the South Korean state, and how the Civilian Military Watch plays a role in memory activism while creating domestic and transnational solidarity to produce counter-narratives.

“Framing negative heritage in disaster risk education: school memorials after 3.11”, Julia Gerster and Flavia Fulco (Tohoku University)

The disasters of March 11, 2011, washed away whole villages on the coast of Northeast Japan and destroyed the lives of thousands. Meskell (2012: 558) describes such places as “negative heritage, a conflictual site that becomes the repository of negative memory in the collective imaginary.” As the recovery of the Tohoku region in Northeast Japan continues, debates arose about which ruins should be kept as memorials. Most places chosen to be preserved represent cases of good evacuation practice. However, some survivors fought for keeping also those places where their relatives died, and the evacuation procedures failed to save them. In this paper, we explore the construction of the narratives surrounding two schools preserved as memorials in Miyagi Prefecture. While Arahama Elementary became a safe haven for 320 people, Okawa Elementary became an example of bad evacuation practice that led to the death of 74 children and 10 teachers. Drawing on the analysis of the “exhibitions,” the preservation efforts and first-hand accounts offered at the two sites, we aim to contribute to the understanding of the importance of negative heritage in disaster risk education. The process of framing negative heritage within the collective memory of the different communities is also crucial to understand the effect of the disaster on the local identities.

Commentator: Shu-Mei Huang (National Taiwan University)


“Heritage, conflicted sites and bordered memories in Asia” – Conference Programme (July 18)

July 18 and 31, 2020 – ONLINE (Zoom), through Kyushu University Border Studies

July 18 – 1600-1900 (JST)

DAY 1: Materials and Modes for Narrating the Past

Session 1: Time and the Nation

“The Chineseness of Chinatown in Singapore”, Ying-Kit Chan (Leiden University)

For many young Singaporeans, the word “Chinatown” evokes (only) images of a busy MRT (Singapore’s heavy rail rapid transit system) interchange, an occasionally bustling marketplace selling essential items for the Lunar New Year and other Chinese festivities, and a food haunt for those with a Chinese palate. But for an older generation of Singaporeans, especially the Chinese who had lived in the shophouses and walked the verandahs of Chinatown, it is a site of nostalgia, a (declining) bastion of culture, and, as the earliest (colonially designated) Chinese settlement in Singapore, a source of local Chinese identity. The sense that Chinatown had been an organic ethnic enclave is widely shared among Chinese Singaporeans who are born and raised in the country; it was rendered more acute sometime in the mid-2000s, when a massive influx of immigrants from mainland China complicated the issues of ethnic Chinese identity and belonging in Singapore. Like the other phase of Chinese identity construction in Singapore (in the wake of independence, when all “sub-identities” of citizens who could claim descent from families in China were subsumed under the Chinese race and the Mandarin language), the latest (re-)construction of Chineseness shapes the ideas of authenticity and nativism vis-à-vis nation-building and national integration. This paper suggests ways in which the six cross-generational faces of Chinatown can be examined in light of such developments and heritage tourism, which intensified in the area during the early 2000s.

“The Inheritance of Voice, Intentionality, and Provincial Japan: Storytelling in Tsugaru”, Joshua Lee Solomon (Hirosaki University)

Aomori prefecture, located at the northernmost tip of Honshu, has been constructed in the popular imagination as a reservoir of authentic Japanese tradition and pastness. This discourse of authenticity, generated in large part by the postwar tourism industry, has been famously deconstructed in the scholarship of Marylin Ivy. However, that scholarship, much like the advertising campaign it analyzes, leans heavily on the perspective of Tokyoites/urbanites themselves. By contrast, this paper addresses the construction of heritage in the Tsugaru region of Aomori prefecture by and for the local people. Specifically, it introduces an ethnographic account of a group of contemporary storytellers who train to perform oral folklore using esoteric and increasingly anachronistic vernacular speech forms. These storytellers, a group of hobbyists called “Wa no mukashi-ko,” see themselves as creating meaning for both themselves and their audiences through the inheritance and stewardship of their language and craft. The paper continues to contextualize that storytelling work with the regionalist philosophy of Fukushi Kōjirō from the 1920s and 30s. Fukushi’s writing laid the foundation for a contemporary “dialect poetry movement” and subsequent mobilizations of “Tsugaru dialect” as a mode of cultural production. The paper concludes by arguing that this inheritance and practice of vernacular speech and oral performance attests to the conflicted status of regional Japan vis-à-vis the hegemonic, cosmopolitan culture of the so-called “center.” Through this work, I hope to balance the fascistic potential inherent in place- and tradition-centered movements against the personal value of lived folkways and identities of their participants.

“Politics of Heritage: The Takatori Residence as an Expression of Status for the Meiji Elite”, Arisha Satari (Kyushu University)

Architecture in premodern Japan served as an expression of high social status, cultural prestige, and wealth. In the Meiji period, this method was also employed by emerging professional groups (entrepreneurs, politicians). Members of these groups aspired to represent their new status in the visual and physical terms, which manifested in the residential architecture. My paper focuses on one object example, the Former Takatori Residence in Karatsu. The large residential compound was created and owned by the industrialist Takatori Koreyoshi 高取伊好 (1850–1927) and is characterized by an eclectic mixture of western and traditional Japanese architecture styles.

The building represents hybridity by incorporating previous traditions and then contemporary architectural development into one structure. In my interpretation, this demonstrates how tradition was established in a period of rapid change for the construction of social identities. The newly emerging groups appropriated the formal language of traditional architecture for its close associations with premodern elites and imbued it with positively evaluated undertones of “Japaneseness.” Simultaneously, they adopted signature elements of western architecture with the intention to express “modernity.” In this paper, I will focus my investigation on two rooms that served as semi-public spaces: the Noh Stage and the Western-style parlor. I will analyze the presentation of social identity that manifests in the structural and decorative elements of each room and the larger building complex. I aim to understand the Takatori residence in its present status as an example of national heritage that epitomizes a seminal moment in Japan’s political, social, and architectural history.

Commentator: Steven Ivings (Kyoto University)

Session 2: Repurposing Sites in/as Heritage

“World Heritage and Intimacies: Insights from ‘Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region’”, Raluca Mateoc (University of Geneva)

The inscription of Japan’s cultural property “Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region” in June 2018 on the World Heritage List brings out a scholarly and everyday re-visitation of the “Hidden Christians”, or the descendants of Japan’s evangelized population who chose the concealment of their faith while Christianity was forbidden in the archipelago. The cultural property’s Outstanding Universal Value stands in the religious tradition and lifestyle that the “Hidden Christians” of the Nagasaki region nurtured during the ban. Previous work approached the configurations of the nomination and the transformation of the Kakure Kirishitan (contemporary Hidden Christian) religious tradition into a national heritage, while looking at specific regional groups. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 2017-2018, this paper takes a novel approach by examining the connection between heritage and tourism in the overall cultural property, a “serial” property gathering twelve components spread over Nagasaki and Kumamoto Prefectures. After discussing the institutional tourism engagements and memory spaces, I depict the life of three elements – the church, the tangible aspects of historical Hidden Christians, and the overall coastal / offshore village – in the narratives of local residents and guides and related cultural intimacy forms (Herzfeld, 2005). When doing so, I show that there is no dominant narrative related to the connection between heritage and tourism in the cultural property. The paper will contribute to understanding the role of “World Heritage” in the reconfiguration of intimacies at institutional and everyday level in Japan and beyond.

“Art in former military sites: spectres of geopolitics in South East Asia”, Gabriel Gee (Franklin University, Lugano)

In the late twentieth century, former industrial warehouses have been found throughout the globe to provide ideal spaces for the exhibition of contemporary arts. Following the diversification of practices at the turn of the 1960s, abandoned factories offered ideal opportunities for the development of new artistic forms such as installation and performative works. They also embodied significantly the shift from fordist and modernist societies, to more flexible consumerist models. In parallel, one might notice that former military and surveillance sites have on many occasions encountered a similar fate. In South East Asia, the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Singapore for example is located in the former Gillman Barracks of the British army. In the Kinmen Islands off the Chinese coast and under the control of the Taiwanese government, the floating island project in 2013 revisited bunkers and battery sites through site specific contemporary art interventions. More generally, sites that had been used as barracks or part of surveillance apparatus, have re-emerged as cultural centres, such as the Tai Kwun police station in Hong Kong, or the State Side Town in Naha, where American soldiers and their families used to live. This paper aims to reflect on the repurposed functionalities of such past military sites, and the manner through which military history and heritage in South East Asia survives, visibly and invisibly. Furthermore, the reinvention of such sites does not attest to the disappearance of military infrastructure and pressure, simply relocated to more appropriate facilities. Military and surveillance heritage sites offer an opportunity to consider the changing textures of geopolitics, and the profound reminders caught and voiced in their fabric by the spectres of history.

“Japanese War Sites as Contested Heritage”, Justin Aukema (Kyoto Women’s University)

Since the 1990s in Japan there have been growing calls to preserve war sites (senseki or sensō iseki) such as former military facilities from theAsia-Pacific war. But Japan’s Asia-Pacific war sites have been a contested heritage. Part of this is due to and the difficulty of preserving the “negative heritage (fu no isan)” of war and atrocity. Another reason lies in the history of the sites themselves. As this essay argues, memories of the wartime past have had to compete and vie for attention within sites’ larger “biographies of place.” Often this has resulted in the marginalization of war memories within the space of war sites. To illustrate this, the essay highlights buildings from the former Army 16th Division in Kyoto’s Fushimi Ward. The 16th Division (Dai-jūroku shidan) was involved in painful past events such as the 1937 Nanking Massacre and the 1944 Battle of Leyte. Yet when the former military facilities were repurposed in the postwar, first as a Catholic women’s school and later by war bereaved and former veterans’ groups as a commemorative “site of memory,” difficult events from the 16th Division’s past played little part in their newly acquired identities. Even after being designated Cultural Properties (bunkazai)in 2016, in the absence of any detailed historical explanations at the site, they remain detached from their wartime past. The essay thus raises questions about the ability of Japan’s Asia-Pacific War sites to fully “narrate” the war. And it sheds light on the complex relations between shifting historical memories on the one hand and the heritage of war and atrocity on the other

Commentator: Edward Boyle (Kyushu University)


Our 13th Border Bite is now available

Hot on the heels of last week’s succulent offering, our 13th Border Bite is a substantial morsel from Ed Pulford, JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University, who provides us with a tasty treat in his analysis of the remote Hokkaido town of Nemuro’s position at the centre of Japan’s leading edge, its Northern Territories dispute with Russia. Touching on the malleability of political space, importance of vision and cognition, and paradoxical position of Nemuro within this dispute, where it both decries and depends upon its place at the border, there is plenty for everyone to get their teeth into. We hope you enjoy.

All the Bites are available HERE

11th Border Bite published

Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman’s critical examination of “Mizoram as ‘cultural connector’ in India’s Look East/Act East Policy” analyzes the ruination and latent potential of connectivity in the Northeast Indian state, as seen from the India-Myanmar border crossing of Rih.

This Border Bite is available HERE

With the other ten courses online HERE

Watch out for our next succulent snack by Koji Furukawa, being served shortly!

On China’s Borders

Ed Pulford, JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow at Hokkaido University, interviews authors on their work for the New Books Network, including a recent edited volume by Juan Zhang and Martin Saxer that examines The Art of Neighbouring: Making Relations Across China’s Borders (Amsterdam University Press, 2018).

Listen to Ed’s careful questioning of the editors understandings of China’s borders and borderlands HERE.



New Reports up

A series of reports on events KUBS has been involved in are now up in the Event Reports section, go check them out HERE