War and Japan: The Non-Fiction Manga of Mizuki Shigeru

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Many Japanese neonationalists contend that it is “masochistic” to look critically at the nation’s wars of the 1930s and 1940s. They assume that criticism of Japanese militarism and love of the country and its traditions are somehow mutually exclusive. In place of an honest look at past crimes, revisionists present Japan as a victim, originally of Western imperialism, and now of a conspiracy of defamation by its neighbors.

Manga artist Mizuki Shigeru (b. 1922), creator of the famous supernatural series GeGeGe no Kitarō, is one individual who could not be blamed for feeling like a victim. A veteran of the fighting in the South Pacific, Mizuki was felled by malaria and lost his left arm in an American air raid. He suffered life-long health effects from the abuse he endured as a new recruit. Mizuki, however, has not slipped into a comfortable “victim’s view” of the war. Through non-fiction manga, Mizuki has explored the full range of Japanese war experience, seeking to reconcile images of Japanese as victims of their own elites and victimizers of others.

Mizuki is also one of postwar Japan’s most prolific and influential interpreters of traditional ghost stories and folklore. He wrote that he wanted Japanese ghosts, previously thought of as grotesque or the products of an undignified plebian tradition, “… to be loved like fairies.” [1] His work has contributed to an enduring boom in interest in Japanese folktales. Mizuki, who unlike most prominent revisionists actually experienced the horrors of war firsthand, sees no contradiction between a love for Japan and its traditions, and a willingness to look honestly at the nation’s war history. His war stories contain many shocking images, but he still reflects, “… on the way back to Japan from Rabaul, the moment that I saw Mount Fuji from the sea, I thought, ‘I’m back’, and I felt, ‘I’m Japanese’.” [2]

Mizuki is also one of Japan’s most honored manga artists. His home town, Sakaiminato in Tottori prefecture, is home to the Mizuki Shigeru Museum. In addition to the Mizuki Shigeru Road in Sakaiminato – a major tourist spot lined with bronze sculptures of his most famous characters – a Mizuki Shigeru Road was named in Rabaul in 2003....

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