Yestersay, J, H, and I went to Yushukan, a museum dedicated to the lives lost in the Asia-Pacific War (it’s also known as World War 2, if one is coming from a more Western perspective), which is located in Yasukuni Shrine. As someone who came from a country that was colonized by Japan during this period, I was prepared to be uncomfortable with what I thought would be an experience that glorified and justified the war; instead, I found Yushukan truly did what it claimed it wanted to do: honor those who have passed. This isn’t without its tensions, of course, because one has to ask, “Who are we particularly featuring? Who aren’t featured?” But some understanding must be given, considering the space, i.e., it’s in a shrine. (I also couldn’t bring myself to take pictures. It just didn’t sit well with me. Please take into account that I’m a person who may or may not take things a little too seriously.)
What I found most moving were the aspects that depicted civilian life, particularly the poetry, the letters, and the diary entries. There was a letter of a father to his infant daughter; he told her that he took her doll with him so that they’ll always be together. There was a diary entry written by a mother about her final dinner with her son, who she didn’t know was a kamikaze pilot. There was one letter of a son to his parents that tickled me because of its tone. His letter went sort of like this, “When I left home, Mother told me to avoid alcohol and women. To be honest, I have had a bit of alcohol, but I have not been with any woman. I have no regrets.” There was also a section called “Miraculous Coconut,” about a soldier, who later on lost his life in battle, but before that wrote on a coconut while stationed in the Philippines and tossed it in Manila Bay. Years later, it reached Japanese shores and his wife found it. (And because I can’t separate my personal life from my professional life, at a certain point, verbatim theatre came to mind.)
I wasn’t without conflicted feelings. The Japanese Occupation in the Philippines was a dark time and, until now, certain things haven’t been resolved, i.e., comfort women. Was it okay for me to empathize with the very people who invaded us? I’d like to think so. (Hopefully, my great-grandfather and grandfather, who were involved in the war to some capacity, weren’t rolling in their graves.)
War makes monsters of all men; the Asia-Pacific War was a horrible period for all humanity. I think people are capable of being compassionate and holding things accountable at the same time; they don’t have to be mutually exclusive from one another.
Anyway, today is another day. I’m off to visit Sengawa Theatre in Chofu City to learn more about their activities.