THE ASAHI SHIMBUN; 01/05/2015
OSAKA--A museum famed for its many exhibits showing Japanese aggression during World War II has removed them, bowing to pressure from conservative politicians.
“We had no choice but to remove the exhibition on the aggression to ensure the survival of the museum,” a source close to the museum explained.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto had threatened to close down the Osaka International Peace Center museum when he was governor of the prefecture.
Hashimoto's successor as Osaka governor and a close ally, Ichiro Matsui, praised the facelift when he toured the museum in the city’s Chuo Ward on April 30, the day the facility reopened after renovations.
“This looks better now,” Matsui told reporters. “I believe exhibits should not represent the view of one side when there are diverse perceptions (on the war).”
The Osaka International Peace Center is operated by an entity funded by the Osaka prefectural government and Osaka municipal government.
Among the dozens of exhibits removed were panels on Japan’s invasion of the continent, the colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, suffering in Southeast Asian countries due to Japanese aggression, text describing the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and abuse of prisoners of war, and photos showing piles of dead bodies and civilians being buried alive.
Instead, the museum now houses an expanded section on U.S. air raids in Osaka Prefecture between December 1944 and August 1945 and shows a 14-minute war-related video in which Japan is not labeled an aggressor.
The Osaka International Peace Center was established in 1991 and was known for being a rare public facility in Japan shedding an equal amount of light on the nation’s role before and during World War II as well as the sufferings of the Japanese during that period.
Masaaki Arimoto, who led the secretariat of the museum for three years from 1992, said the facility opened at a time when there was growing awareness of the importance of learning about Japan’s militaristic past.
“There were advances in the research on Japan’s aggression, and many of those who fought in the war were alive,” said Arimoto, 78. “People in Osaka shared a notion that they would never be able to fully understand the backdrop behind the air raids without knowledge of Japan’s acts in other parts of Asia.”
Although the museum attracted about 70,000 to 80,000 visitors annually, it has long been condemned by conservative politicians and organizations.
In some cases, the museum was forced to withdraw or revise exhibits following protests.
Yoshinori Kobayashi, a renowned manga artist, denounced the museum by calling it a “system to brainwash viewers in the name of a peace museum” in his 1998 manga “Sensoron,” which defended Japan's actions during World War II.
The critical turning point came in 2011, when the Hashimoto-led Osaka Ishin no Kai became the dominant political party in both the prefectural and municipal assemblies.
The museum was already planning a renovation when Osaka Ishin no Kai party members at the prefectural assembly in the autumn of that year lambasted it, with one saying it had “too many unbalanced exhibits.”
In response, Hashimoto, who was the governor at the time and pushing through a review of public affiliated entities, pledged to “consider the possible closure of the museum if the exhibits are determined to be inappropriate.”
As a result of the criticism, the Osaka International Peace Center proposed in 2013 to scale back the display on the aggression and widen the exhibits on the air raids.
What was installed as a direct replacement for the items on the aggression was 14 minutes of footage portraying the period leading up to Japan’s defeat in World War II starting with the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5 and including the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5.
The section has an overall title of “When the world was embroiled in war.”
The narration of the footage does not use the term aggression regarding Japan’s wartime behavior.
On the Nanjing Massacre and Bombing of Chongqing, it simply states a large number of residents were killed.
The exhibits removed from the museum were thrown away late last year.
“Our storage room is small and very old,” explained Shigenobu Okada, the head of the museum.
Kazuya Sakamoto, a professor of international politics at Osaka University, defended the removal of the exhibits.
“It runs a risk of instilling an erroneous idea in the public that air raids (on Osaka Prefecture) were only expected since Japan did terrible things abroad,’” he said. “There is a need to fully convey the suffering of local residents first. After this, officials can get the public to ponder the development leading up to the aerial bombings, as well as Japan’s aggression.”
But Keiichi Harada, professor of modern Japanese history at Bukkyo University in Kyoto, said the display depicting Japan's wartime acts was vital in offering a bigger picture of the war.
“If the tendency to scale back exhibits of the aggression continues, war could be glorified and prevent the masses from grasping the reality of war,” he said. “That would make it easier for the nation to go back to war. We need to show both sides of war in peace education.”