- 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
- "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
- 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
- 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 http://www.asahi.com/english/feature/K2002081500254.html