The paradigmatic case in which an almost permanent impasse exists in coming to terms with a difficult war past and 'normalizing' its international relations is that of Japan. Although successive Japanese governments have apologized over the last few decades, these have been countered by periodic episodes within Japan revolving largely around history textbooks, the remembrance of war dead and the quest by nationalists to restore national pride in the past. Regional relations were especially strained during the premiership of Koizumi Juni'chirô and his immediate successor, Abe Shinzô. They improved under Fukuda Yasuo, a moderate on war memory issues, and remained steady under Asô Tarô. Japan's latest prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, appears determined to address Japan's war past more openly and critically than previous LDP figures, no doubt with an eye to improving Japan's relations with its Asian neighbours. But whatever line he pursues, contestation over war memories will remain an issue. They are driven by deep divisions within Japan at the same time that political leaders seek a more prominent identity for Japan as a 'normal' actor in international affairs. This article analyses key aspects of the politics of Japan's war memories, using insights from collective memory studies and constructivist IR theory. We suggest that the quest for 'normality' has generated a set of tensions and contradictions over the issue of war memories, both domestically and internationally, for which there is no resolution in sight.