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Breaking New Ground in World War II Historical Records

Assistant Professor of Japanese Noriko Sugimori [Janay Johnson / The Index].

Assistant Professor of Japanese Noriko Sugimori received a three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Sugimori will use the grant to aid her research in producing the world’s first bilingual (Japanese and English) synchronizations of interviews Sugimori conducted that focus on the World War II memories of various Japanese individuals.

“My interview project stemmed from my sociolinguistic Ph.D. dissertation that I completed at Boston University.  I was fascinated by people’s untold stories during the war,” said Sugimori.

In addition to the research she conducted in graduate school, Sugimori used her personal experience as a driving force.

“My Japanese father was drafted twice during the Fifteen Year War (1931-1945) in Japan. When World War II was over, he worked as an interpreter for MacArthur’s GHQ. As an interpreter working with Americans in the aftermath of World War II, he might have had extraordinary experiences. But I did not have a chance to record his memories before he passed away, and I deeply regretted that,” said Sugimori.

For the interviews, Sugimori spoke with Japanese civilians who were born before 1932.

“Those who remember World War II are diminishing, and I began to videotape our interviews in 2011. I was often surprised to hear people’s accounts of war memories because they were very different from what I had learned in history textbooks. I have been videotaping people’s accounts because I did not want to feel the same regrets again,” said Sugimori.

While many of the participants have passed away since Sugimori interviewed them, she is able to see how eager they were to tell their stories and help others learn from their experiences on a day-to-day basis during this time period.

“What has always been amazing to me was that many of them remember most vividly from the war is ordinary people’s extraordinary kindness they encountered. For example, media and the state may depict that Korea and Japan were in an antagonistic relationship. But there was a Korean schoolmaster who took the risk of helping a Japanese man return to Japan in the aftermath of the war. My interviewee was still grateful for him, even more than sixty years later,” said Sugimori.

Sugimori has students from K on her grant who have gained first hand experience with the project.

“My students in advanced Japanese classes play an important role in all the phases of this project. My students and I visited people to interview them in Japan and the US. We transcribe the interviews in Japanese, and translate them into English. We have studied new technologies together to digitize our interviews from iMovie, Final Cut Pro X, to a newly released bilingual version of Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), which was just released a few months ago. It is great to report that this is the world’s first bilingual interview synchronization in the world. My advanced Japanese students and TAs have been learning what it is like to be pioneers in using a new technology, ” said Sugimori.

Sugimori hopes her grant will give students the chance to explore their interests, learn from history and find a passion for history.

“I believe that students are not only history recorders but also history makers. I would like to record their accounts as well as the interviewees’ children’s accounts. I also would like to plan a collaborative event with a Modern Japanese History class at another college,” said Sugimori.

As far as next steps with her project, Sugimori asks for your help to fix a technological problem the team has found.

“We have just found out that sometimes the new OHMS bilingual version shows a distorted display, and we need to fix this issue with compatibility. So far, Japanese 101 student Amy Zhu ‘15 experienced the problem when she used her MacBook with Safari. Please help us by looking at our project online. Go to OHLA.INFO and scroll down to “War Memories. . . ” under Oral History Projects using your computer.  Please email me at sugimori@kzoo.edu if you encounter a distorted display with the information of your computer and browser.  Your help in this matter is greatly appreciated,” said Sugimori.

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Breaking New Ground in World War II Historical Records