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Mark E. Lincicome on Conversations with Nakano Akira

Conversations with Nakano Akira

My personal relationship with Nakano Akira, who is the subject of my essay, “In the Shadow of the Asia-Pacific War,” dates back some two decades. I first contacted him in the early 1990s seeking his advice and assistance as an expert on the so-called “Taisho liberal education” movement, which coincided with other “progressive” social and political movements in Japan between the two world wars. We soon became friends: my family and I hosted Professor Nakano and his wife at our house in Massachusetts for a week back in 1996, while I have visited their comfortable home in suburban Tokyo at least a half-dozen times since then, where I am always treated to a sumptuous sushi lunch after first sipping tea and talking with Professor Nakano about our respective research projects in their sitting room.

It is in the sitting room, on the top shelf of a bookcase in the corner (see photo #1, taken in October 2013), where Nakano displays a small, white plaster relief of famed Swiss educator Johann Pestalozzi (see photo #2). As I explain in my essay, this piece, which Nakano’s father cast during the early years of the Taisho liberal education movement, is steeped in symbolism. For Nakano it serves, among other things, as a poignant reminder of a life-changing conversation he had with his father during his youth, as he despaired over the meaning of Japan’s recent defeat in the Asia-Pacific War.

From my vantage point, this plaster relief also symbolizes the subjectivity that casts its own indelible mark on the work of every historian, whether he or she acknowledges it—as Nakano does—or not. Nakano’s candid expressions of admiration for the progressive ideals espoused by Taisho-era educational reformers like his father, on one hand, and his frustration over their inconsistent defense of those ideals in the face of political and bureaucratic opposition, on the other, stem from the doubts and despair he experienced as a patriotic “military youth” who proudly entered the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy (see photo #3) in the spring of 1945, only to witness his country’s long “holy war” and its promise of “certain victory” conclude with “unconditional surrender” and foreign occupation six months later.

For reasons that I explain in the introduction, Part Two of my article features my translation of an essay that Nakano wrote and published in Japanese in 2000. I wish to thank James Marten and the editorial board of the Journal of History of Childhood and Youth for allowing me to include it. I hope that their decision will encourage other journals in related fields to follow suit.

Note: Images in the original post of this guest commentary are no longer available.

About the Author

Mark E. Lincicome is an Associate Professor of history at College of the Holy Cross. He specializes in early modern and modern Japanese history and culture, Japanese intellectual history, educational reform movements and the politics of education in modern Japan, and globalization in Asia

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