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Abstract: The recent upsurge of xenophobic nationalism in East Asia continues to draw attention to mutual distrust about knowledge of the past and disagreement about its meaning for the present—the so-called “history problem” with Japanese imperial violence at its core. This paper is a section from my book-in-progress, entitled Post-imperial Reckoning: Law, Redress, Reconciliation, which is based on my over fifteen years of engagement with a series of collective lawsuits filed against the Japanese government and corporations by Chinese victims of Japanese imperial violence––such as the victims of slave labor, the so-called “comfort women” (wartime sexual slavery), and the human bio-chemical experiments––to seek official apology and monetary compensation. These lawsuits, filed since the mid 1990s within courts across Japan, became the catalyst for the victims to break their decades of silence about their ordeals and seek belated justice. Post-imperial Reckoning charts a significant sea change being carried out in the legal sphere over the past two decades by ordinary citizens seeking redress for Japanese imperial violence through unexpected collaborations—among Chinese survivors and bereaved families, Japanese lawyers representing them pro bono as a way to repay moral debt inherited from the war generation, and citizen activists in both countries. My ethnography, which focuses on the slave labor cases, chronicles this transnational legal redress movement inside and outside the courtroom, and explores the newly emerging legal and moral landscapes for imperial reckoning in East Asia. I argue that the redress movement over the past two decades has reshaped and expanded the scope of imperial reckoning, challenging the assumed location of accountability. Through the ethnography of law in the courtroom, this paper elucidates how the new landscapes are exposing and unsettling what I call “law’s imperial amnesia.”
Yukiko Koga specializes in the areas of political economy, legal anthropology, history and memory, post-colonial and post-imperial relations, and transnational East Asia (China and Japan). She is the author of the award winning, Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2016), which explores how the introduction of the market-oriented economy in China created new dynamics concerning the contested yet under-explored past for both Chinese and Japanese. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University, M.A. in Political Science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, and Bachelor of Law from Keio University in Tokyo. Her current project examines the generational transmission of unaccounted-for pasts stemming from Japanese imperialism in East Asia within the transnational legal sphere. At LAPA, she will work on her book-in-progress, entitled Post-imperial Reckoning: Transnational Legal Redress in East Asia, which is an ethnographic, historical, and legal exploration of a series of collective lawsuits filed by Chinese victims of Japanese imperial violence against the Japanese government and corporations.