In 1940s Japan, the mantra was “Zeitaku wa teki da!” (Luxury is the enemy!) In the United States around the same time, there were posters thumbtacked around the country with the phrase, “Do with less--so they’ll have enough.” In this case, “they” referred to American troops at war.

In Japan, people’s experiences during the war varied greatly depending on geography and gender. Those in big cities with military factories or harbors felt immediate danger, as opposed to folks leading quiet lives in the sparsely populated countryside. With millions of men off to war, women found themselves donning more than just their "kappogi" aprons.

A few steps outside Tokyo's Kudanshita subway station is the National Showa Memorial Museum, or Showakan, which opened in 1999. Managed by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and built after much lobbying from the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association, the museum houses a collection of about 43,500 historical objects, including documents, clothes, maps, letters and everyday utensils.

In the seven-story building, two floors are home to the museum’s permanent exhibition, where about 600 items are on display, the focus being on the daily lives and struggles of ordinary citizens during and immediately after World War II.

One level is devoted to life during the war. Visitors can enter a life-size air raid shelter and imagine how it might have felt to be huddled together hearing exploding bombs outside.

There are hands-on sections where you can, for example, pound "genmai" (brown rice) to remove as much bran as possible as people did back then, when white rice was prohibited. War memorabilia--such as "akagami" (draft cards) and tiger-motif thousand-stitch belts called "senninbari"--are displayed, too.

The other level exhibits life in the early years after the war. Textbooks with “undesirable” content blacked out by GHQ, DDT canisters and a junior high school textbook titled “Atarashii Kenpo--Akarui Seikatsu” (New Constitution--bright life) were just a few items among many that caught my fancy.

Fast-forward a bit and there are early TVs and radios, electric rice cookers and refrigerators. Seeing how Japanese diligently rebuilt their lives from the rubble through perseverance, industriousness and creativity, with a bit of good fortune tossed in, I was reminded that whatever may come, with hope, a peaceful and bright tomorrow is possible.

The Showa Era (1926-1989) was marked first by war, second the frenzied devotion to work and third the bubble. This museum showcases the first 20 years. I wonder where the other two are.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Oct. 6 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.