The Vagabond on Front Lines

Hayashi Fumiko's Wartime Writing

Introduction to Topic

In this dissertation project, I examine the writings of popular writer Hayashi Fumiko (1903-1951) written during the wartime years of 1937-1945. At first glance, Hayashi's involvement with the state propaganda appears paradoxical, as she earned literary fame embodying the liberal spirit of the 1920s before the breakout of the war. Nevertheless, Hayashi Fumiko was extraordinarily prolific and celebrated for her activity as an "embedded writer" (jūgun sakka); these writers, similarly to embedded journalists in contemporary wars, accompanied the military officials while visiting warzones or Japanese colonies. Over the course of the war, Hayashi published over sixty essays, travelogues and other nonfictional writing in various magazines and newspapers, and had published over thirty fictional texts related to either her travels, or her war at large. However, unlike many other writers, Hayashi has not suffered any professional or personal repercussions for this collaboration, which is often overlooked in academic assessments of her work.

Hayashi Fumiko's wartime writings can be divided into five distinct phases, corresponding to the place they were written from: the trip to Shanghai and Nanjing at the end of 1937 and into early 1938; assignment as an embedded journalist with the military on the Wuhan offensive in late 1938; trip to Manchukuo in early 1940; subsequent stay in Japan; trip to Southeast Asia between 1942 and 1943; and finally Hayashi's evacuation (sokai) in Nagano until end of the war.


  • Essays and travelogues in the wartime years (1937-1945)
    • Shanghai and Nanjing (early 1938)
    • Wuhan/Hankou (late 1938/1939)
    • Manchukuo (1940)
    • Japan (1941-1942)
    • Indonesia (1943)
    • Newspaper articles and coverage (1937-1945)
  • Fiction in the wartime years
    • 26 short stories
    • Poems
    • Novels: Hikari no tsuku ie (1939), Hatō (1939), Jūnenkan (1940), Kawauta (1940), Keikichi no gakkō (1941)
  • Prewar travelogues and essays offering relevant comparison (China, Manchukuo)
  • Postwar fiction and essays relating to war (particularly short stories written during the war and published after)

Research Question

How does Hayashi Fumiko present the reality of war and colonialism, and how does it correspond to verifiable facts? What representation of war does Hayashi construct within her texts? How can her writing be situated within wartime state propaganda and literature, and how are state politics and ideology reflected? What were the boundaries of expression and censorship during wartime in Japan and how does it contribute to our understanding of war?


Wide reading based on a literary corpus of Hayashi Fumiko's works (most of her published writing during wartime, both fictional and nonfictional), situated within the publishing and censorship institutions, as well as prominent works of wartime literature in Japan. By providing this context, it should also become clearer how Hayashi utilizes popular tropes of wartime literature, to which extent they are ideological and how this can be discerned, but also whether she is able to subvert these norms.

Of central importance is the understanding of propaganda as an ethically neutral, consistent enterprise and a continuous effort to shape or manufacture public opinion as conducted through mass media. Important concepts in this respect are those of collective memory and politics, as well as Foucault's concepts of power and discourse. By doing so, propaganda and literature produced as propaganda can be approached as tools of enabling and normalizing discourse, providing a valuable resource for understanding how radical, militaristic politics can be normalized.

Preliminary Results

Each phase of Hayashi Fumiko's wartime writing presents a distinct "face" of the war, or rather the Japanese imperialism. In general, Hayashi's nonfictional texts are in line with the state narrative, presenting the cause of war as just, the Japanese empire as the benevolent leader of Asia, and evading aspects of Japanese aggression. The early travelogues from Nanjing show the destruction around the city following its fall and subsequent massacre, the discussion of which is wholly absent. Interestingly, Hayashi writes about the abandoned houses and ponders the fate of the citizens, and leaves just enough space between the lines to let the informed reader fill in the gaps - but on the surface, Chinese are not portrayed as victims of aggression, but as insurgent rebels. In her writings from the offensive on Wuhan and the city of Hankou, where she accompanied the military in late 1938, Hayashi describes her march with the soldiers, and in so doing provides the reader a perspective from an immediate vicinity of the battle. As the war intensified during this time, so did Hayashi's voice in writing about her experiences. The Chinese, particularly soldiers, become increasingly dehumanized, Japan and its soldiers glorified as saviors, and the urgency in winning the war is more pronounced than before. The commercial success of Hayashi's book Sensen [Front, 1938] and the publicity she earned as the first of all embedded writers to reach Hankou and witness its fall hint at the resonance Hayashi's war-affirming, at times even jingoistic, rhetoric found at home.

The theme of physical and mental hardship, prominent in Hayashi's writing from the front, is taken up in her travelogues from Manchukuo, most importantly Kōreru daichi [Frozen Earth, 1940]. During her travels, Hayashi encounters a wide array of migrants from Japan, some struggling, some living in luxurious mansions; but Hayashi also pays attention to the inequality between the Japanese and Manchurian population, as well as the Manchurians' poverty. Ultimately, Hayashi presents a picture of hope and progress; the harsh living conditions of Manchuria are possible to overcome. During her time in Japan between 1940 and 1943, Hayashi published a number of essays related to war (such as a report from her visit to a military school) and focused heavily on writing novels and short stories, many of which were based on her war experience. Finally, Hayashi spent ten months traveling around Southeast Asia between 1942 and 1943; however, only a small amount of texts from her travels in Indonesia were published in 1943. In these travelogues, Hayashi depicts Indonesia as a positive example of colonialism, with Japan benefitting from Indonesia's oil resources and Indonesia benefitting from the abundant opportunities for economic, cultural and educational exchange. In Hayashi's texts, the Indonesian people have readily accepted their place in the so-called Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (Daitōa kyōeiken) and are already enjoying the benefits, in stark contrast with the Chinese population in the earlier texts.

The features that define each phase largely correspond to the way the respective territories, peoples and geopolitical narratives were depicted in contemporary media, in alignment with state politics: the obfuscation of aggression and genocide in China, the heroism of Japanese soldiers, Manchukuo as a "utopia under construction", and the patronizing, exoticizng depiction of the "Indonesian paradise" are all different ways of showcasing Japan as the savior and "natural leader" of Asia. Hayashi Fumiko's wartime essays and travelogues therefore don't present any radically new revelations about war narratives in Japan, but their value lies in the sheer quantity and variety of this material. Hayashi's texts have been published in a broad spectrum of magazines, and were therefore addressed to a broad spectrum of audiences as well. Hayashi had frequently published in women's magazines (Fujin Kōron, Shinjoen etc.) and general interest magazines (Chūō Kōron, Kaizō), but also in magazines aimed at children (Shōjo no Tomo), her message and rhetoric remaining consistent despite possible changes in writing style. Examining this corpus can therefore reveal how established narratives of war and colonialism were presented to different audiences, and opens up the possibility to explore them with more nuance.