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The Re-Making of History…

I want to explain this precis a little bit before you read it.  I have struggled with this one.  The article is the story of an archaeological site that became a museum.  It is only one of a multitude of post-WWII stories.

At Toro, it wasn’t actually history that was reworked, it was pre-history.  What was done was to rediscover a people that had been there 2,000 years before and to give the people of post-WWII something to work towards and to live for.

There was a conscious decision made, to either rewrite or abandon certain aspects of history and prehistory and to take only the positive and politically correct bits of Toro’s prehistory and fold them into a past that could bring Japan together as a community. The true story of the Yayoi people of Toro is not in this article nor is it likely to be found in the museum at Toro. The true story of Toro may not ever be found as the site was completely excavated and used to help bring together the broken pieces of a post-WWII society. It was one of many ways chosen to reestablish a place in the world for Japan and the Japanese after World War II.

I have tried very hard not to put my thoughts into the writing of this summary.  Thoughts formed from this story belong in the discussion.  Whether you agree or disagree with my thoughts, my writing, or the writing of Walter Edwards, I welcome your comments…

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Article:  Buried Discourse: The Toro Archaeological Site and Japanese National Identity in the Early Postwar Period.

Author:  Walter Edwards

Source:  Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol 17, No. 1 (Winter, 1991), pages 1-23.

My copy was downloaded on March 27, 2014.

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My Precis

The reworking of history is not a new idea, it is an idea that works. Using only the most acceptable and positive aspects of tradition and culture, the history found at the archaeological site of Toro was reworked to give a sense of hope and belonging to the devastated people of postwar Japan.

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My Precis Expanded:

In July of 1947 archaeologists and supporters gathered for the ground-breaking ceremony at the Toro archaeological site. The end of WWII had taken a toll on the people of Japan. Her Emperor had lost the status of an immortal God and the country had been devastated. The excavation at Toro was seen as a way of bringing the people together as a community with a new found sense of history, belonging and community.

During WWII, the Toro site was a paddy field designated to be the site of a proposed propeller factory.  An excavation of fill to raise and level the building site uncovered pottery, wooden stakes and utensils. These were taken to a nearby school where the educational value was recognized and work began to turn the site away from industrial use. In August of 1943, an emergency excavation uncovered a Yayoi agricultural settlement complete with buildings and an irrigation system. Then, in June of 1945, the unfinished propeller factory and the surrounding area were razed by an incendiary bombing strike. Most of the excavated finds were lost in the fires.

After the war, the archaeologists were ready to go back and salvage what was left.  In the fall of 1946, a committee of scholars, professionals, and specialists, for the investigation of the Toro site was formed, a plan was put together, permissions were granted and work began in July of 1947. With shortages of everything, including food and money, volunteer students uncovered eight thatched roof dwellings. Wood, especially cedar, was found to be the most common material used for everyday items. Plates, bowls, spoons, fire starting kits, chairs, and sandals were found. Agricultural tools such as hoes and rakes were made of hard woods. Iron, for blades for carving knives and other implements, appeared to have been plentiful but the acidic, wet soil conditions left no traces of metal.

With the finds at Toro in hand, the head archaeologist painted a picture of a peaceful and prosperous village site. Newspaper articles kept the people of Japan appraised of the progress and letters from well-wishers were an inspiration to the volunteers. At the end of the first summer, the government pledged its support for the following years and an exhibition was opened at the Tokyo National Museum. Four years of excavation and 4.5 million yen saw the entire site excavated, preserved, and sections rebuilt and formed into a park.

Literature, folk tales and sociology had been starting to combine in pre-war Japan and the foundation of change had begun. The committee that was in charge of the excavation of Toro was also in charge of a site of unification of Japanese historic culture. Toro and the professional development of its history were providing material proof of an unknown cultural history.

Japan of the Yayoi was characterized as being similar to modern Japan. The rice paddies were neat, the dykes carefully built, the tools similar to those in common use just a few decades ago. This agricultural ethic fundamentally supported the emperor system while the Emperor was busy turning public eyes away from government and towards the remaking of history. In a nation caught up in all-encompassing western reform, the idea of a history of uniqueness was something to hold onto while everything changed. The idea was simply to take only the positive history that could help bring the people of Japan together and give it to them to use.

These were times of crisis and this was medicine that had worked before, in other times, for other cultures. Post-war Japan was glossing over its militaristic history and equipping the new “culture” with hoes, spades, and a peaceful and prosperous past. The logic used to turn Japan from a warring nation to a peaceful one was the logic of “community.”

The swing from a defeated nation to strong economic success and national identity was not accomplished by any one person, group or project alone. It was the effort of an entire community with strong leadership from the government to the educators. Even though history was reworked using only images that were of an acceptable form, the Japanese have never truly abandoned the rest of their heritage and have held onto their sense of national identity. What happened at Toro was that a nation came together as a community to remake their history and to press “an aspect” of tradition into service. This service would change the direction of the cultural identity of Japan.

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I found the original article through a journal search using JSTOR. You can find the full article here in a “read online” format:

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/132905?uid=3739448&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3737720&uid=4&sid=21104281844051

If you have any trouble locating the article please contact me or, call your local college or university library for assistance.