Time to Remember, Time to Forget: The Battle of Tsushima in Japanese Collective Memory since 1905

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The Battle of Tsushima was fought between Japan and Russia in 1905. It was the most notable naval battle during the century before the First World War and one of the most decisive naval clashes ever. Although it has left a deep and indelible mark on both belligerents, it was only natural that the battle would remain a center point in the collective memory of the country that won it. Indeed, throughout the years before Japan’s surrender in 1945, and to a lesser extent even after, the battle continued to be the focus of commemoration and pride, possibly more than any other single battle the country had ever won or lost. Nonetheless, with the passing of time and changing circumstances, attitudes toward the battle witnessed their ups and downs much like the attitudes toward the entire war against Russia, empire, and militarism. Accordingly, the history of the battle’s collective memory can be divided into four distinct phases: the immediate response; the subsequent forty years of imperialistic expansion; the era of Allied occupation; and the years since a democratic Japan regained its sovereignty. This article aims to examine the winding road of this memory, its sources and repercussions. The Battle of Tsushima was fought between Japan and Russia in 1905 and has left an indelible mark on both. It was the world’s most notable naval battle during the century before the First World War and one of the most decisive naval clashes ever. From a broader historical perspective, however, it could also be seen as a flashpoint in prolonged frictions between two expanding powers. Both belligerents were rising empires that were seeking additional territories, mastery of the seas in their vicinity, and national greatness. Of the two, Russia had greater experience in foreign expansion. The fear of Russia is not a new phenomenon; it had been encroaching eastward into Asia for centuries, whereas the Japanese empire had been striving to expand in the opposite direction for only a few decades. In the early twentieth century too this country acted as an aggressor, whereas Japan, for a while, seemed to be fighting for its life and its budding empire. These differences notwithstanding, the clash between the two in 1904–5 was fierce and vital, to the extent that it would serve as the opening shot of an armed struggle that would last for another forty years.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5716
JournalAsia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus
Volume20
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Japan Focus. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • battleship Mikasa
  • Japanese militarism
  • the Battle of Tsushima
  • The Russo-Japanese War
  • Tōgō Heihachirō
  • Tōgō jinja
  • war memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • History
  • Cultural Studies

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Time to Remember, Time to Forget: The Battle of Tsushima in Japanese Collective Memory since 1905'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this