TOKYO — A Japanese city’s plan to seek UNESCO recognition for its collection of documents related to its role as a launching base for “kamikaze” suicide attacks in the desperate last months of World War II is raising questions over how such memories should be preserved.
Kampei Shimoide, mayor of Minamikyushu, and others associated with the project said Wednesday they hope that registering the document collection as a UNESCO “Memory of the World” will help ensure it will convey the horrors and suffering of the war to future generations.
Chiran, a tea-farming town that is part of today’s Minamikyushu, was the site of an Imperial Japanese Army base that launched hundreds of attack missions during the Battle of Okinawa in the war’s final months. The Chiran Peace Museum, which houses the document collection, was built as a memorial to the pilots.
“The documents serve as a reminder of the extremes people are driven to in such desperate conditions,” said Mutsuo Kuwashiro, an adviser to the city government and curator of the Chiran Peace Museum. “We believe they are an invaluable record of the horror of war.”
Seventy years after Japan’s defeat in August 1945, sensitivities over its wartime legacy remain acute, especially in neighboring China and South Korea. Many in Japan fear that memories of the suffering the country caused might be lost with the passing of the older generations. Others both in and outside Japan worry that war-related monuments and artifacts might be used to glorify the war.
Among the items the Chiran Peace Museum is seeking to include in the “Memory of the World” registry are “hachimaki” headbands inscribed by families and friends, farewell messages and heartbreaking letters from the pilots, who took off on their bombing raids expecting to die, with their fighters carrying only enough fuel to reach their targets.
“Take courage, forget the past, and find new ways to be happy in the future,” says one, written by 23-year-old pilot Toshio Anazawa to his fiance, Chieko, before he died.
To formally apply for the UNESCO “Memory of the World” recognition, Minamikyushu must gain approval from Japan’s education ministry, but it is unclear whether that effort will succeed.
M.G. Sheftall, a history professor at Japan’s Shizuoka University and an adviser for the project, said the group would drop the plan if any effort was made by the authorities to distort its message.
“This project is being undertaken to make a contribution to lasting peace and humanity’s future,” he said.
Among hundreds of items in the “Memory of the World” registry are documents related to the Guttenberg Bible and Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz,” as well as the 1703 Census of Iceland.
Separately, UNESCO is considering registration of 23 former industrial facilities dating back to Japan’s 1868-1910 Meiji era as World Cultural Heritage sites. That plan also has drawn criticism, because some sites used forced labor and prisoners of war.