Photo/IllutrationStudents of the Female Division of the Okinawa Normal School and Okinawa First Girl's High School look up to the sky at their domitory in Okinawa in around 1941. They were mobilized to provide nursing care to Imperial Japanese Army soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. (Provided by the Himeyuri Peace Museum)

On this day 74 years ago, World War II ended with Japan’s surrender.

No matter how much time has passed since those wartime years in the Showa Era (1926-1989), it remains as important as ever to keep our memories of the ravages and horrors of the war alive and hand down our renunciation of war and pledge to maintain peace to future generations.

More than 3 million Japanese died in the Asia-Pacific War, which expanded widely from the Manchurian Incident in 1931. This is the day to mourn for the people who died during the reckless war.

It should not also be forgotten that Japan inflicted serious damage on other countries through its invasion and colonial rule.

Japan occupied many key countries and areas in the Asia-Pacific region for its imperial ambitions, expressed as its Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere vision. Japan’s imperial expansion embroiled countless local people, forcing them to endure painful and horrible experiences.

There are people living in islands and mountains far from Japan who have various memories of the war and various postwar experiences. Paying attention to their wounds is vital for learning lessons from history.

Some people are involved in efforts to gather testimonies and materials concerning fierce battles during the war for future generations.

In a thick tropical jungle some 50 kilometers east of Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, Japanese and Australian forces fought a series of fierce battles in 1942, known as the Kokoda Track campaign.

The battlefield, the Kokoda Track, is now a mountain trail running course popular among tourists.

An uncle of Billy Ivai, a 50-year-old resident of the nearby Sogeri village, was mobilized to carry dead bodies, injured soldiers and ammunition for the Australian forces.

The generations with firsthand experiences of the war are dying off, says Ivai.

Even if it is impossible for younger generations to share their experiences, they can at least sympathize with their feelings, he believes.


During an attack on Rabaul on the island of New Britain, which was then a mandated territory of Australia, an Imperial Japanese Army unit marched through the Kokoda Track, a trail running through a chain of mountains over 2,000 meters tall, and clashed with Australian forces.

The campaign caused more than 600 Australian deaths and several thousands of Japanese casualties. But not much has been told about the horrors and suffering experienced by local people as their communities suddenly became fields of ferocious fighting.

Two years ago, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the deadly campaign, a group of more than 70 local people led by Ivai worked together to compile a collection of local residents’ testimonies about their experiences of the battle.

At the end of last year, a corner was established in a national museum in Port Moresby for viewing videos of people talking about their firsthand experiences of the campaign.

The project was led by Gregory Bablis, 32, the principal curator for modern history at PNG National Museum & Art Gallery. People in New Guinea have long been described only as part of the background for the battle, Bablis says.

In Australian history books, he points out, local people appear only as nameless “boy cooks” and “laundry women.” Bablis says he wants to give voice to their experiences, which have seldom, if ever, been told.

A similar movement is under way in Imphal in northeast India, another World War II battleground.

In an Imphal suburb, there is a hill known as “Red Hill” among local residents. The nickname derives from the massive bloodshed among Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Imphal between the Imperial Japanese Army and Allied forces in 1944. In June, a peace museum was opened by a local tourist organization with the support of the Nippon Foundation.

More than 30,000 Japanese soldiers died as they were ordered to stage reckless charges in the battle. Many of the deaths also resulted from starvation, disease and exhaustion caused by grossly insufficient supplies.

But not many Japanese know about the huge sacrifices local people were forced to make.

The museum features not only various items that belonged to Japanese and British soldiers killed in the battle, such as steel helmets and canteens, but also a list of the names of 237 local residents who became civilian casualties.


Chandra Sakhi, an 85-year-old resident of Imphal, has vivid memories of the battle.

On one morning, some 10 Japanese military aircraft staged an air raid, creating deafening explosive sounds.

Sakhi and her father threw themselves on the ground and then fled to another village without carrying anything. One and a half year later, they returned to their home to find that it was gone and the place had become a British campsite. Starving, they moved from village to village.

War deprives people of their homes and lives, Sakhi says, adding she hopes the museum will help their experiences be handed down to the next generation.

Before the opening of the museum, members of the local committee for building the facility visited Japan and went to inspect the museums including Haebaru Town Museum and Himeyuri Peace Museum in Okinawa Prefecture, which show various materials related to the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

In Okinawa, rural towns and villages turned into fields of bloody fighting, which destroyed local people’s homes and communities. The visitors from Imphal felt there were many similarities between what occurred in Imphal and Okinawa.

The Himeyuri Peace Museum, which marks its 30th anniversary this year, is facing a new challenge. One recent visitor left a comment saying the exhibits at the museum did not tug at his heartstrings.

Choukei Futenma, 59, director of the museum, says such comments indicate that many Japanese now feel the war is something that happened in the distant past.

The number of visitors to the museum declined to some 530,000 in fiscal 2018, down sharply from more than 1 million in fiscal 1999. The number of students visiting the museum on school excursions is also on the wane.

In an attempt to reverse the trend, the museum will renovate its exhibits next summer to target them more toward younger generations who feel little connection with the history of the war.

The Himeyuri student nurse corps was a group of 222 local female students mobilized to provide nursing care at a hospital for the Imperial Japanese Army during the Battle of Okinawa. Of the 222, 123 students were killed.

The defining theme of the renovation project is “empathy.” The new exhibits will feature many photos of students smiling or showing happy expressions during their prewar school lives so that young visitors can emphasize with them.

They will be designed to help today’s junior and senior high school students know that these students were of the same generation and were enjoying their school lives before they were mobilized to the war.


What is vital is to understand the pain of people in weak positions who were victimized by the war.

It is not comfortable for young people to learn about dark chapters of their country’s history and try to feel the suffering of other people.

But people living today need to bear the onus of understanding the feelings of their predecessors who experienced the war, handing down its folly to future generations and opening up a new future.

Looking back on the past to learn lessons from history is not a backward-looking act. It is the act of fulfilling our responsibility for the future.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 15