Oleg Benesch and Ran Zwigenberg discuss their recent monograph on history of Japan’s castles from the late nineteenth century to the present. Castles are some of Japan’s most iconic structures, and have become prominent symbols of local, regional, and national identity. Contemporary celebration of castles obscures their troubled modern history, however, when the vast majority of these structures were abandoned, dismantled, or destroyed before being reinvented as physical links to an idealized martial past. From the turn of the twentieth century to the present, castles contributed both symbolically and physically to the militarization of Japanese society. After 1945, castles were at the center of the postwar transition. Shorn of their overt militarism, castles became symbols of local and regional identity, linking these to their “safe” premodern pasts by skipping over problematic aspects of imperial modernity. Japan’s Castles’ provide a new approach to narratives of continuity and change in modern Japan, examining the changing role of castles in Japan’s troubled politics of history.
Oleg Benesch is Senior Lecturer in East Asian History at the University of York, specializing in the transnational history of early modern and modern Japan and China in global perspective. His recent publications include the book Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan (Oxford, 2014). For more information on Oleg and his research, please go to his website.
Ran Zwigenberg is Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on modern Japanese and European history, with a specialization in memory and intellectual history. He has published on issues of war memory, atomic energy, psychiatry, and survivor politics. Zwigenberg’s monographs include Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture (Cambridge, 2014), winner of the 2016 Association for Asian Studies’ John W. Hall book award.