From Japan, a museum of peace built on memories of WWII

Updated - June 23, 2019 01:01 am IST

Published - June 22, 2019 09:52 pm IST - Imphal

 Hitoshi Tsuchiya with his son Jumpei at the section of the museum displaying his father's memorabilia

Hitoshi Tsuchiya with his son Jumpei at the section of the museum displaying his father's memorabilia

Japan on Saturday gifted Manipur a museum of peace built on the memories of one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War.

The inauguration of the Imphal Peace Museum at Red Hill, about 20 km southwest of Manipur’s capital Imphal, marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal.

Some 70,000 Japanese soldiers, alongside those of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, died in battles with the British-led Allied forces in areas around Imphal and Kohima from March to June 1944. The last of these battles was fought at Red Hill, where the Japanese War Memorial was built in 1944 to mark the 50th anniversary of the battle.

“While Imphal Peace Museum is a living memory of the tragic war, I sincerely hope that it will be a bridge to connect the past and the future for a lasting peaceful world for all times to come,” said Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation that funded the museum. The 80-year-old Mr. Sasakawa recalled the suffering of war when he survived the Tokyo air raid in March 1945. He said that worst sufferers of in the Battle of Imphal were the local people who had little or nothing to do with the war.

Diaries donated

Hitoshi Tsuchiya, 64, was lucky to see his father Denkichi Tsuchiya who returned to Japan after the war.

Mr. Hitoshi paid his first visit to Manipur with his son Jumpei to donate the diaries and other memorabilia of his father to the Imphal Peace Museum.

Dominic Asquith, British High Commissioner to India, said, “This museum symbolises the reconciliation between Japan and Britain and Japan and India. It is to reinforce the message that history changes and makes us learn from the past.”

His Japanese counterpart Kenji Hiramatsu agreed. “The Japanese know of the tragic past of the people of Manipur. But we have come to a point when we need to look at the future,” he said.

Few would know this better than Nobuo Abe, a 77-year-old farmer turned collector of bones of fallen Japanese soldiers from across the world. His father, Soichi Abe, died at Red Hill on April 16, 1944, at the age of 30.

Collecting bones

“I was two-and-a-half years old when he died, and I do not remember his face as he left us for the war when I was a year old. Manipur will always be special to me because this is where my father died,” he said.

A member of the Japan Bereaved Association, Mr. Abe could not find any of his father’s bones. “But I feel connected to him because I collect the bones of the fathers of my countrymen and women,” he said.

According to Nippon Foundation’s Yosuke Ishikawa, a person’s bones are highly valued in Japanese culture.

Among the highlights of the museum is a framed calligraphy by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It reads ‘heiwa’ — meaning peace — in Japanese.

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