The “Thrill Hunter” and the Killing Contest: Rethinking the Cultural History of Wartime Japan

4:00–5:30 pm
Thursday, November 3, 2016
Room 217A, Hall of Graduate Studies, 320 York Street

Benjamin Uchiyama
Assistant Professor of Modern Japanese History
University of Kansas

Of all the war atrocities committed by the Japanese military in China, perhaps the most notorious and curious case was that of the Hundred Man Killing Contest. As Japanese military units raced to capture the Chinese capital of Nanjing in late 1937, Tokyo Nichinichi shinbun reporters breathlessly covered the story of two officers competing to be the first to kill one hundred Chinese soldiers. Although the event is remembered today as an example of the cruelties of Japanese militarism, thinking about the Killing Contest as media spectacle can provide new insights on how total war transforms cultural practices in mass society and how mass society, in turn, can redirect the waging of total war. When Japan invaded China in the summer of 1937, Japanese intellectuals and reporters became enraptured by the American idea of “thrills” (suriru) interweaving cinematic sensationalism with heavily censored war coverage. At the same time, new advances in media technology brought about a national obsession with “speed” (supiido) and the social acceleration of daily life. Together the lure and pressures of “thrills” and “speed” drove reporters to reconfigure the war into a grotesque event for the masses, which escalated into kill-count stories. Military censors scrambled to assert control over war correspondents only to be stymied by inadequate resources and derision from both reporters and commanders as “effeminate bookworms.” The Killing Contest can thus be a window into the relationship between war atrocities and cultural practices on the home front.