Episode 12: Japanese Literature in WWII

“Flag Merchant” by Sanzo Wada, 1940 (via Ukiyo-e.org)

Check out Episode 12 of the Read Literature podcast.

Today we’re talking about the 1930s and 40s in Japan—fascism, World War Two, and the American Occupation.

In particular, how did 20 years of censorship shape Japanese literature?

We’re also taking a look at the life and work of Akiyuki Nosaka, whose novella, “Grave of the Fireflies” inspired the classic anime film. We’ll discuss his short story, “The Cake Tree in the Ruins”.

Support this podcast by buying from Bookshop.org.

The Whale That Fell in Love with the Submarine by Akiyuki Nosaka. Illustrated.

The Cake Tree in the Ruins by Akiyuki Nosaka. Includes five stories not included in The Whale That Fell in Love with the Submarine.

These two books are both translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori and both include “The Cake Tree in the Ruins”.

Other Books Mentioned in This Episode:

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

The Pornagraphers by Akiyuki Nosaka

Soldiers Alive by Tatsuzo Ishikawa (also included in The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature)

More to Read:

Showa: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki. A multivolume, semi-autobiographical manga overview of Showa Japan.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguo. The fictional account of a Japanese artist who comes to grips with his complicity with the military regime.

Find Out More

All the Anime’s obituary for Akiyuki Nosaka

The LARB tribute to Akiyuki Nosaka.

Akiyuki Nosaka’s award-winning song, Omocha no Cha Cha Cha on YouTube

Akiyuki Nosaka advertises Suntory Gold Whiskey on YouTube

The Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index

The History of Japan Podcast, hosted by Isaac Meyer

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History by Professor Mark J. Ravina. Produced by The Great Courses, 2015.

  • 18: Three Visions of Prewar Japan
  • 19: War without a Master Plan: Japan, 1931-1945

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook


Dower, John. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. Norton, 2000.

Fedman, David. “The Scorched-Earth Generation” at lareviewofbooks.org, 2016.

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, 4th ed. OUP, 2019.

Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era—Fiction, 4th ed., 1999.

–. “Japanese Literature and Politics in the 1930s” in The Journal of Japanese Studies, 1976.

Mitchell, Richard H. “Japan’s Peace Preservation Law of 1925: Its Origins and Significance” in Monumenta Nipponica, 1973.

Muraoka Eri. Anne’s Cradle: The Life & Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables, trans. Cathy Hirano. Nimbus, 2021.

Rubin, Jay. “From Wholesomeness to Decadence: The Censorship of Literature under the Allied Occupation” in The Journal of Japanese Studies, 1985.

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