Reiterated Commemoration: Hiroshima as National Trauma*


  • *

    I thank Julia Adams, Alexandra Garber, Laura Halperin, Michael Hathaway, Howard Kimeldorf, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. I also thank Hiroshima City, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, and the Japan Council against A- and H-Bombs for providing me with archival materials. The research was partially supported by grants from the Center for Japanese Studies, Global Ethnic Literature Seminar, and the International Institute at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Address correspondence to Hiro Saito, Department of Sociology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 500 South State, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1382. E-mail:


This article examines historical transformations of Japanese collective memory of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by utilizing a theoretical framework that combines a model of reiterated problem solving and a theory of cultural trauma. I illustrate how the event of the nuclear fallout in March 1954 allowed actors to consolidate previously fragmented commemorative practices into a master frame to define the postwar Japanese identity in terms of transnational commemoration of “Hiroshima.” I also show that nationalization of trauma of “Hiroshima” involved a shift from pity to sympathy in structures of feeling about the event. This historical study suggests that a reiterated problem-solving approach can be efficacious in analyzing how construction of national memory of a traumatic event connects with the recurrent reworking of national identity, on the one hand, and how a theory of cultural trauma can be helpful in exploring a synthesis of psychological and sociological approaches to commemoration of a traumatic event, on the other.