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From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Comics and Animation as Subversive Agents of Memory in Japan


Looking at the treatment of the memory of the nuclear holocaust in Japanese comics and animation as a case study, this article presents a theoretical discussion on the ways that popular culture in the postmodern era serves as a new agent of memory that undermines official national memory. This case study raises the questions of why did the Japanese people choose to portray the atrocities of the nuclear holocaust in this medium? How did it facilitate the presentation of a new historiography and the processing and formulation of a new memory? What is the subversive role of graphic novels and animation in Japan in relation to official channels that deal with the representation of the nuclear holocaust?

While attempting to answer these questions, the article addresses the new connection between history and memory in an age of poststructuralist theories, alongside the notion that with the rise in eminence of popular culture in the postmodern era, its products have become a means that allows a renewed processing of traumatic memory.


  • Japan
  • Comics
  • Animation
  • Post-structuralism
  • Holocaust

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  1. 1.

    Katsushika Hokusai painted 15 comic books entitled Hokusai Manga, which featured ironic paintings of people, landscape, and supernatural elements. They were published in 1814. On the reception of woodprints in medieval Europe, see: McLuhan (2003).

  2. 2.

    In this context it is worth mentioning early works executed in this form like the Scrolls of Frolicking Animals (Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga) in twelfth century Japan, or the Bayeux Tapestry of the eleventh century, commemorating the triumph of William the Conqueror in the Battle of Hastings. It is interesting to note that the tapestry portrays not just the triumph but also the terrors of war and suffering.

  3. 3.

    Comics, which developed as a subversive genre, have been often perceived as a threat to the institutional contents. In the 1950s, the American “comics code” was formed, determining the sanctioned contents in comics, since it was perceived as a format containing violent contents endangering youth’s morals. In Japan, in the 1990s, after the murder of young girls by a comic’s reader, the police raided comics shops, outlawed hundreds of titles, summoned makers for questioning, and started monitoring the contents of comics.

  4. 4.

    The two atomic bombs (one using uranium and the other plutonium) that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nicknamed after their shape. The plutonium bomb had a stubby rounded shape and was thus named Fat Man. The uranium bomb was long and slim in comparison and gained the moniker Little Boy. Giving nicknames to atomic bombs was probably a way to cope with the aggressive bombardment on the side of the aggressors.

  5. 5.

    Murakami Takashi , the most influential contemporary pop-artist, sees himself as an artist, entrepreneur, curator, and art theoretician. He views art as something that encompasses creativity, production, theory, distribution, and marketing. Murakami studied the visual languages of popular culture and consumer culture and used it to create works of art that present consumer culture and its products as a reflection of thought patterns and cultural structures. His works present kawaii culture, the processing of nuclear holocaust memories, and subconscious fantasies that often appear in popular Japanese culture.

  6. 6.

    The series was a cult phenomenon in Japan, comparable to “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” in the West, and its success led to the production of a film entitled Arrivederci Yamato, in which the Yamato crew is facing a new enemy called “Comet Empire.” The film was a hit and led to a second series of the television show. Later two other movies were made: Yamato: The New Voyage and Be Forever Yamato. Following the success of these movies, a third season of the series was produced, in which the Earth is at the center of a battle between Deslar (leader of the Gamilon aliens) and the Bolar Federation. The events of the series were concluded in the film End of Yamato. The original series aired on Israeli Television in the early 1980s with the title Space Pioneers.

  7. 7.

    For more on the term “Cultural Therapy” in the context of Japanese animation film see: Napier, Susan, “World War II Trauma, Memory and Fantasy in Japanese Animation,” in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan focus (online article).

  8. 8.

    The processing of the memory of war in Japan, which was very limited, focused on Japan’s victimhood, while its war crimes in Asia were covered up or described as attempts to free Asia from colonialism, see: Orr (2001). However, we should also mention that there were literary artworks, films, documentaries, and activists (like the China-Japan Friendship Association) that addressed the uneasy subject of Japan’s blame and war crimes during the war.

  9. 9.

    Although these films are in animation format, they constitute living testimonies of survivors, much like testimonies of Holocaust survivors in documentary films.

  10. 10.

    Keiji Nakazawa claims that the commission has done nothing for the survivors except conduct research on behalf of the government, like comparing children who were not impacted by the bomb with children who were impacted by it.

  11. 11.

    In the 2000s more films dealing with the subject were released, like Town of Evening Calm and Country of Cherry Blossoms by Konyo Fumiyo.


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Correspondence to Ory Bartal Ph.D. .

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Bartal, O. (2016). From Hiroshima to Fukushima: Comics and Animation as Subversive Agents of Memory in Japan. In: Ataria, Y., Gurevitz, D., Pedaya, H., Neria, Y. (eds) Interdisciplinary Handbook of Trauma and Culture. Springer, Cham.

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