Thursday, 1 September 2011

Hanaoka memorial peace museum

Odate is famous for.... kiritampo, a chicken and rice hotpot,  being the home of Hachiko a loyal dog, and less illustriously it is also the site of the Hanaoka copper mine which was a camp for Chinese slave labour during the war.  The Chinese people who were brought there to work were building a canal for the mine.  Looking at the area today there are many empty  shataku (company apartment blocks) built in the 1960s  but it's hard to get a sense of where the mine was or where the labourers lived.

Odate seems to make much greater efforts to acknowledge war time atrocities than most places in Japan. They memorialise the day and fly the Chinese flag.  Every war memorial I have been to in Japan emphasises the suffering, victimhood, or stoic bravery of the Japanese.  Even the impressive and moving war memorial in Hiroshima, which clearly explains Japan's aggression, by its nature emphasises Japanese victim-hood.    In the post war era anti war movements, which were closely tied to opposition to the American alliance, found emphasising Hiroshima and Nagasaki more effective in garnering public sympathy than dwelling on crimes committed by Japanese forces.  It's fair to say Japan has no mainstream narrative - both the narrative of the left and right are well defined, but the centre really lacks.  It's a product of history that future governments are unlikely to resolve.

The Hanaoka Memorial Peace Museum in Odate makes no attempt to contextualise Japanese aggression as being somewhat understandable.  The nationalist Yushukan  museum at Yasukuni shrine begins its section on modern Japanese history with Western Imperialism and the hypocrisy of the west in denying Japan the right to have colonies.  And it's true the west is hypocritical about Japan's imperialism, but it becomes an excuse.  Hanaoka was "this is how it was and it was wrong".  Slave labour camps were all over Japan, but this kind of museum isn't.   The only other I know of that takes the same approach is the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace  in Nishi Waseda, Tokyo.  But AFAIK it's not on the site where atrocities were committed.

I am not sure what makes Odate different.  I asked Hiro's parents why, and I don't think it's something they'd ever given much thought to.  They said there is no  uyoku  - right wing nationalist movement - to speak of  there, and that sometimes there had been communists elected in the past but beyond that I don't have any theories either.

I couldn't read a fair bit of what was there, and going back with Hiro some day (or studying kanji harder than I have been) I will learn more.


Contrary to what is often said, much Japan does have a sense of its war past as an aggressor, though the younger generations are more nationalistic and less reflective, not reflective might be more accurate.  One of the main problems in my opinion is that history is still taught as facts to be memorised rather than perspectives to be analysed.  While that is the style of teaching, it's impossible to develop empathy and gain complexity of understanding/
The canal built and repaired by Chinese slave labour.

A graph of the fatality rate grouped by age. The younger you were
the more likely you were to survive.  I was surprised that there were
labourers who were over sixty.  Almost all of them died.

A memorial in Hanaoka cemetery to the Chinese who died.
The remains have apparently been repatriated. 
The Hanaoka cemetery

Slave labour sites in WWII in Japan.
There were some western POWs but most
were Chinese and Korean.

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