Yasukuni Museum Tugs At
To Keep Military
Memories Alive
By Paul Murphy
Asahi Shimbun News Service

A room inside the newly reopened Yushukan museum at Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine might more appropriately be called the crying room. Here, people come to read messages to loved ones from fallen soldiers.
Some are hastily written notes sent by kamikaze suicide pilots before their final mission and others are longer, more thoughtful, letters to family. All are heavily soaked with sentiment and sacrifice.
Reading one display, which tells the story of Saitama mother Fukuko Fujii, a middle-aged woman dabs her tears with a handkerchief. In 1943, Fujii threw herself and her two children into the Arakawa river, to free her husband of the worry of caring for his family and enable him to fulfill his dream of becoming a kamikaze pilot.
The woman, and what presumably was her youngest baby, a ball of cuteness, are pictured in a display photograph. "She was so brave,'' said the sobbing woman's husband. "The story fills my heart and fills my eyes.''
In normal times, Fujii would be considered a double child murderer, but in the context of wartime Japan her's was an inspiring tale of sacrificial gallantry.
Teaching context is what the Yushukan museum is all about. "Young people learn that we fought against the Americans, but they learn only one side: that Japan was bad,'' said Yasuhira Noda, the head of the museum and Shinto priest at Yasukuni Shrine. Reopened in July after a 4 billion yen makeover, the museum now has twice as much space to explain the nationalist side of the war story. Gone are the dull displays of the old museum. Kept are artillery, the bric-a-brac of war and Emperor Showa's military uniform. Introduced are a reconstructed Mitsubishi Zero 52 fighter plane and video footage of World War II combat. Visiting war veterans sometimes gather and sing along with the war songs in the footage.
Extensive English-language explanations accompany the exhibits.
"We want more foreigners to visit so we can teach them about Japan's history and why Japan fought,'' Noda said.
What those people learn by visiting will contrast sharply with their history books at home.
Japan of the 1930s and 1940s is portrayed as an Asian liberator, provoked into war by European and U.S. colonizers who connived to choke the rising but resource-poor industrial power by cutting off raw material supplies. ``Chinese terrorism'' is blamed for arousing Japan from its contented perch in Manchuria and forcing it south in 1937.
Japan's march into the southern city of Nanking in December 1937, which most war historians agree resulted in a huge massacre of civilians, is described as follows: Gen. Iwane Matsui ``warned Chinese troops to surrender, but Commander-in-Chief Tang Shengzhi ignored the warning. Instead he ordered his men to fight to the death and then abandoned them. The Chinese were soundly defeated, suffering heavy casualties. Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace.''
The Bataan death march and Unit 731 are not mentioned.
But then they are not the point of the museum. ``Supposing there was a Nanking or a Unit 731, that would be a crime in time of war. Here we are not exhibiting the history of crime, but how war is fought between countries as a matter of justice,'' Noda said, adding that on the same logic the museum makes little mention of the dropping of the atom bomb in 1945.
Still, salaryman Hidenori Shinoda, 30, complained about the "superficiality and lack of objectivity'' in the museum's version of events. ``The description of the invasion of China reflects the thinking of Izokukai (War Bereaved Families Association),'' he said. The conservative Nihon Izokukai provided the bulk of funds for the renovation.
But a California kindergarten teacher, who declined to give his name, said he appreciated the balance. ``As an American we tend to get it from the American standpoint. It is good to see it from the viewpoint of the Japanese. Every nation has war criminals who kill others. That is what war is all about.''
For Japanese men in their 60s and 70s, who make up the largest social segment of the approximately 1,000 daily visitors, the museum offers a comforting version of history.
"Westerners looked down on us as 'yellow monkeys.' Europe and America wanted to enslave Asia and that is why Japan fought. This tells the real story,'' said Keiichiro Kitajima a 63-year-old salaried worker.
Back at the room featuring the emotional messages from soldiers to families, the eyes of Miho Tanaka, a 47-year-old homemaker, well up with tears. She looks around at the walls mounted with about 3,000 pictures of gunshin (military personnel who attain divinity through dying for Japan).
The faces include the strikingly pretty Kiyoko Yamano, who died in the Philippines just five weeks before the end of the war, the scholarly Sotoji Kura, who died in the Pacific in July 1944, and the avuncular Kenzo Uraguchi, who died in Sumatra in December 1945.
"I was taught that Japan was bad, but the soldiers fought for Japan and protected Japan,'' said Tanaka, adding, "Japan was defeated in war but we flourished thanks to all of these soldiers.''
Above all others, the operators of the Yushukan museum aim to propagate that sentiment: that Japan fought nobly in a war from which today's Japanese have benefited. Outside the main exhibition hall, a couple of dozen people, young and old, sit around watching a video that drives home the same message. Interspersing World War II ``banzai'' battle charges and grisly images of soldiers' corpses washed up on beaches along with scenes from modern Japan the voiceover asks and answers, "What was it for? It was for Japan ... it was for our families.''
IHT/Asahi: August 15, 2002


This Site Served by TheHostPros