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Normalising the Japanese child: Imagined childhood in institutional photographs since the Second World War

Yamagata-Montoya, Aurore


Aurore Yamagata-Montoya


This thesis examines the role of photographs of childhood and children in regulating the Japanese postwar ‘imagined community’. Such representations, especially photographs, with the exception of images of young girls within Japanese pop culture, have attracted little scholarly interest. Equally, the link between the pervasive circulation of photographic images of children and formations of Japanese national identity has been neither recognised nor explored. I make an original contribution to knowledge by addressing these absences and by asking: how discourses of childhood are nuanced by the concerns of the Japanese state; in what ways such images are embedded within the formulation of a Japanese ‘imagined community’ as set out by Benedict Anderson (1983); to what degree the dominant photographic images offer and promote normative representations of childhood; and whether a homogeneous representation of childhood throughout the post-Second World War period can be identified.
I demonstrate that a range of dominant discourses about childhood in postwar Japan have disciplined the child in specifically “Japanese” ways and have helped to construct a wider national identity. Thus, state apparatuses use photography to construct a privileged “truth” about childhood and the imagined community through the production of discursive formations. I highlight in the different chapters three such discourses of childhood, each of which articulates some historically specific formations while contributing to an overarching discourse around the nation and the child. The first is that of the healthy child born to a young married couple and raised by a devoted mother, the dominant discourse of state apparatuses concerned with the so-called “fertility crisis” of the 1990s-2000s. The second is the child of the Second World War whose innocence and playfulness were used to define a new postwar Japanese identity of victimhood. The third is the child as model pupil and future ‘little citizen’, socialised into appropriate gender roles and hierarchical relationships through the regulatory experience of schooling. The various discourses explored in the thesis, each dominant in different contexts while also sharing common elements, have provided the state with a pool of available representations which shaped and regulated Japan’s national identity and its sense of belonging throughout the last sixty years.


Yamagata-Montoya, A. Normalising the Japanese child: Imagined childhood in institutional photographs since the Second World War. (Thesis). University of the West of England

Thesis Type Thesis


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