War and its horrifying tragedy have taught mankind enormous lessons. However, are we learning it the right way, is the learning a continuous process, perhaps a museum remains as a mirror reflecting the flaw mankind has committed in its past actions? Museum curators, contributors and researchers associated with museums have kept polishing their insightful updates like a living entity. It is the effort of these dedicated people that we are able to see our past more clearly to reflect on our present.
After sharing some of the information and personal view about five museums in Tokyo and Okinawa, Japan, I would like to continue with another three museums, I visited in July 2018.
6. Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum, Okinawa
The museum derives its name from the cargo ship Tsushima Maru where more than 800 students from eight different high schools were traveling towards the safer Kyushu Island in an emergency evacuation move and only 59 of them survived. It was hit by a missile from an American submarine.
The curator of the museum informed us that the Imperial Japanese Army wanted to reduce the number of students and elders who could not participate in the war and they were boarded onto a ship to be taken away.
The structure of the museum building represents the Tsushima Maru ship. A figure of a school boy depicting how he tried to save himself using a piece of floating wood in the vast ocean, hung from the ceiling of the museum which takes us into the trouble water of those time.
The museum curator was also explaining that many of the survivors suffered from a deep trauma and it took them many years to recover. Some of them even felt guilty of being alive when all their friends died.
Underwater search equipment is also in display at the museum, depicting the aftermath of the ship wreck. The museum is very thematic and chooses to be unique by telling only the stories of the school children.
7. Sakima Art Museum, Okinawa
This museum narrates the story through paintings. Paintings of different walks of life exposed to the war. A famous pair of painter, Iri and Toshi Maruki who are husband and wife originally from Hiroshima travelled across Okinawa researching the Battle of Okinawa. They came up with a collection which includes a huge painting that covers the walls of one room of the grand museum. The painting depicts the suffering throughout Okinawa. A mother trying to silence her baby to avoid the enemy from hearing the crying, a man trying to save a woman from killing herself and so on. Besides other instances from the war stories, the painting tries to capture horrific moments in a large canvas telling multiple stories at a time. The curator of the museum who is also the owner of the gallery, Mr. Sakima, was so kind to spend time explaining the painting in detail.
Another painting, a cave where many took shelter and survived, narrates a different story. We were also told that there was another cave nearby where many lost their lives. It is also saddening to learn that the Japanese soldiers ordered parents to kill their infants to prevent the enemy from them to the cave hideouts while they were crying. One could imagine the tragic experiences of life and death.
It is even haunting to even kill oneself inside the cave with limited weapons and chemical poisons. Everything unimaginable happened during the Battle of Okinawa, Second World War.
8. Haebaru Town Museum, Okinawa
A very significant part of this museum run by the town council is that it blends with the war stories and the socio-cultural outlook of people living in Haebaru town. The museum also offers a variety of programs and events for their residents. When we visited, programs for children were taking place outside of the museum. The museum is quite educational as the traditional lifestyle of the community, housing and cultural practices are well depicted besides the war time stories. In a corner not only literature on the soldier’s stories but also even cooking utensils, drink bottles and cans are on display, including cigarettes in vogue at that time. The display of daily life requirement for a soldier gives a human. Personally the mission for peace appears half way in this corner for it is the mankind who can altogether drop weapons for peace.
In response to our query, the curator explained that the display in the museum has never been changed since its inception. Most interestingly, it has restored a cave for visitors to give a sense of how those caves looked like and were relevant during the time of war as a hideout or a place where wounded soldiers were treated.
A very captivating section of the museum is the representation of tunnel hospital displaying life-size figures of wounded soldiers being treated on hospital beds within. The museum has a whole lot of researched information on display.
It is also saddening to learn that Haebaru town had also suffered post-war casualties following unexploded ordinance. The danger still lurks in the towns according to the curator of the museum.
Shared history: Okinawa and Manipur
One third of the peace museums in the world is said to be located in Japan. We have caught only a glimpse of it since our visit was just for seven days, but nine museums in Tokyo and Okinawa, eight of which were actually Second World War related taught us tremendous lessons.
Talking about Okinawa, I found it shares some similarities with Manipur. Okinawa is comprised of a group of islands located in the Southern tip of Japan bordering Taiwan. Okinawa was once an independent kingdom called Ryuku playing a significant role in maritime trade with China and South East Asian Countries during the 15th to 19th Centuries. However, followed by the subordination by feudal lords of ‘mainland’ Japan, in 1879, the Kingdom was abandoned by the Japanese government to become Okinawa Prefecture, which drastically changed their fate. After the Second World War defeat, Japan went on to sign an agreement with the US allowing the US military to rule Okinawa until 1972. At present the island is still heavily militarized by the US Military who believe in serving their country by being stationed there.
Protests by civilians to remove the US bases has been going on for many decades, which is considered one of the longest peace protests in the world. On the other hand, it is recently reported that the people of Okinawa are sharply divided over the US base issue as it has become extremely politicized in the country.
When it comes to the struggle of the Okinawan people after the battle of Okinawa (WW 2), they had to start their lives from scratch. The remains of military uniforms and empty bottles were not even spared by the people as they cut the bottles to make flower vases and re stitched the military jackets and trousers to make school uniforms and sell them on the streets. Many of them were compelled to work in the US military camp to earn their livelihood until they managed to support themselves. Individual and industrial ventures started to exist in abundance over a period of time. On top of that, the island has also become a favorite destination for holidaying where many people from other parts of Japan and neighboring countries started visiting the islands for its charm. We also found the people extremely warm hearted, wearing broad smiles every time. In addition, there are rich traditions and cultural practices are evident from folk songs they sing and play with their musical instruments.
Bringing a unique peace museum to Imphal
Coming back to the purpose of our visit, during the peace museum study tour in Japan, some of the museum curators expressed their willingness to come down to Imphal to support the upcoming museum project on the Second World War at Maibam Lotpa Ching, Red Hills. The Sasakawa Peace Foundation, who took the initiative to take us to Japan, and the Nippon Foundation, the main sponsor of the museum project, have also shown a strong interest in supporting a knowledge sharing initiative by bringing those peace museum curators from Japan to Imphal.
War has brought tragedies and the process of reconciliation is adorned with the realization of the past mistakes. The journey to peace building is worth every step. How a State like Manipur recovers from the impact of the Second World War remains untold to and unheard by the present generation? We have been listening only to personal stories of our grand parents’. The philanthropic foundations in Japan wish that the stories from the natives of the State should come out. They wish to tell the next generation through the peace museum initiative of the mistake of war – to learn from it and not to repeat it.