Japan Lan - the Second World War for Manipur
- Part 2 -

James Khangenbam *

 Imphal bombed on May 10, 1942 :  RKCS Art Gallery
Imphal bombed on May 10, 1942 : RKCS Art Gallery
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

4. Himeyuri Peace Museum, Okinawa

At the museum, one of my companions was in tears listening to the stories of the Himeyuri students' corps - a group of 222 students and 18 teachers of the Okinawa Daiichi Women's High School and Okinawa Shihan Women's School. They were recruited by the Imperial Japanese Army as nurses during the Second World War and forced to serve in army hospitals constructed within tunnels which also functioned as bomb shelters.

Many of them were killed, while some of those committed suicide fearing systematic rape by American soldiers. Altogether 123 students and 18 teachers lost their lives while serving the ailing soldiers at Himeyuri cave. A diorama cave, where Himeyuri students were working and eventually sacrificed their lives are located at the entrance of the museum. It triggers the sorrowful calling of those souls who passed away and makes one realize that the tragedy is still alive and those girl students are waiting to tell their unfinished stories of hope and expectation.

Moreover, hundreds of testimonies of the survivors kept in a dark room make us feel the howling days in the cave. The surviving friends lived to tell stories of their testimonies. With their smiling photos, those episodes help us to feel what kind of person 'she' was so vividly.

A prayer site within the museum complex, where people can offer flowers and candles to the departed souls, gives a touch of solidarity. Some survivor students, currently in their 80s and 90s, have also contributed in assisting visitors at the museum by telling their stories. Group photos of the students and school buildings in display gave us a feeling of fun school days for the girls. According to the stories, many of them carried books in the caves as they were falsely promised that the assignment was for a matter of few days and the Japanese were winning the war very soon.

5. Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, Okinawa

Established by the Okinawa Prefectural Government in 1975, it is a huge museum located by the sea side where the final battle of Okinawa took place. The museum tour ends with a calm blue sea view where one can reconcile oneself after going through the human tragedy in display. The museum offers not only audio visual testimonies of war survivors and documentaries on the battle of Okinawa, but also pictorial representations of postwar socio-economic struggles faced by Okinawa people, which I think is a major asset of the museum.

During our visit, the curator shared an interesting story on its opening day. The museum was forced to shut down following a massive protest from the local people who disagreed with the contents of the museum, displaying only war-related relics, such as arms and uniform. The people claimed it looked as if the museum was promoting war, overlooking Okinawan people's history. Until it reopened, the team thoroughly reshaped the whole concept of the museum by setting up a committee, incorporating various opinions of local experts, such as academics, local leaders, war veterans and artists, etc.

At the entrance of the building, there is a huge library with full of books and a science centre for children. Beyond the museum building, a large green park with typically ten feet high trees are catching visitors' eyes. This space is called the Cornerstone of Peace, a monument to remember and honor the more than 240,000 people who lost their lives during the Battle of Okinawa.

Underneath these trees, hundreds of stones bearing the names of the war victims---military and civilian alike regardless of nationality (including the US) ---are placed where people can offer prayers to their families and friends. At the edge of the park, we could observe the cliff above the seashore where many people are considered to have jumped to commit suicide during the Second World War.

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 imaginable happened during the Battle of Okinawa, the 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. 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.

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, such as 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 can a State like Manipur recover from the impact of the Second World War remain untold to and unheard by the present generation? We have been listening only to personal stories of our grandparents.

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.

(Concluded) ...

* James Khangenbam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at jameslaphoi(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on December 22, 2018.

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