Education About Asia: Online Archives

Leaves from an Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese

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What is war like? How can we view war through the eyes of those experiencing it without knowing its certain outcome? Samuel H. Yamashita brings us major excerpts from eight extraordinary diaries, left by what he calls “ordinary Japanese,” that give us access to the inner lives of individuals in the midst of the great catastrophe of the Asian and Pacific War. All writing during the war in widely dispersed parts of Japan, these people tell us of their concerns and their experiences in deeply personal ways. All is not misery for these people, since their diaries are records of lives in process, not lives viewed in retrospect, except, ultimately by their editor and, perhaps, by us, the readers of this outstanding book. The art of diary writing has long been a skill to which Japanese have applied themselves with dedication and patience in the face of extraordinary difficulties. One needs only to consult Donald Keene’s fine study of famous diaries and diarists to document the value of that form of personal recollection for anyone wishing to grapple with how individuals in Japanese society see their own lives.1 The wartime diary of a renowned literary critic like Kiyosawa Kiyoshi,2 or the daily record of a professional military man, such as the diary of Admiral Ugaki Matome, both made available in English a number of years ago,3 provide invaluable insights into Japan’s experiences during the long years of war.