Oleg Benesch and Ran Zwigenberg

Oct 31, 2019

Japan's Castles

Citadels of Modernity in War and Peace

Cambridge University Press 2019

purchase at bookshop.org Oleg Benesch and Ran Zwigenberg’s coauthored Japan's Castles: Citadels of Modernity in War and Peace (Cambridge University Press, 2019) uses the fate of castles after the Meiji coup of 1868 as a case study to explore aspects of Japan’s modern history including historical memory, cultural heritage, and state-civil society and national-regional relations. The authors show that although castles entered the modern era as a symbol of the dark “feudal” past Japan hoped to leave behind, they quickly took on a diverse set of functions and meanings. According to Benesch and Zwigenberg, urban castles in particular—such as those in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya—were important to the formation of both national and regional identities, playing key symbolic and practical roles as parks, military garrisons, representations of various collective pasts, etc. Especially as society was militarized in the 1930s, castles came to be celebrated as a unification of modernity and tradition, the imperial and local, military and civilian. Though the political climate and the valences of Japan’s recent and more distant pasts were thrown into upheaval with war and defeat, even after 1945 castles retained a literally and figuratively large footprint in Japan. The authors explore the divergent histories of castles including Hiroshima, Kanazawa, and Kokura and the “castle boom” of the early postwar decades to illustrate ongoing tensions between visions for individual regions and Japan itself in the period of national rebuilding that followed World War II, and conclude with reflections on the significance of the current wave of castle reconstructions with “authentic” materials and techniques in the context of growing global interest in cultural heritage as a kind of intellectual property that conveys both soft power and hard currency. Whether dismantled or garrisoned or transformed into munitions factories or parks, and whether original, bombed, rebuilt, or conjured up as roadside attractions, Benesch and Zwigenberg show that the shifting circumstances and meanings of castles can teach us much about Japan’s modern history.

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Nathan Hopson

Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese and East Asian history in the Graduate School of Humanities, Nagoya University.

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