Growing up in Germany education about history is almost omnipresent, both in school and on TV. Most people know about the proud events and people of the past – Arminius defeating the Romans, Charlemagne unifying Europe, Ludwig van Beethoven becoming one of the greatest composers of all time, the German Revolution of 1848, … there are too many to name. But people also learn about the darkest time of German history – the years 1933 to 1945; those 12 and a half years out of thousands of years of German history actually make up for about a third of the school’s history classes, most of the rest being used to educate students to be good democrats: the ancient Greeks, the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution and similar events are all taught with a purpose.
After studying Japanese history and living in Japan for a couple of years it strikes me that Japanese schools handle history a bit differently. It’s all about the proud samurai past, World War II takes up only a couple of pages in history school books, downplaying events like those in Nanking 1937 by calling them incidents – while the rest of the world uses terms like “massacre” or “rape”. Popular places to remember World War II in Japan nowadays are Hiroshima and the Yasukuni Shrine… remembering losses Japan had to suffer, not so much remembering the misery Japan spread all over Asia from 1931 to 1945.
Until a couple of years ago there was another rather huge memorial accessible to the public: The Young People’s Plaza (若人の広場), dedicated to the young people who lost their lives in World War II. Designed by the famous architect Kenzo Tange in 1966 and opened in 1967 this impressive monument with an appendant museum is towering 25 meters high over the once so strategically important straight between Shikoku and Awaji Island. In 1995 the Young People’s Plaza was closed down due to dwindling visitor numbers and irreparable damage caused by the Great Hanshin Earthquake earlier that year. An important part of the centerpiece, an eternal flame placed right at the concrete sculpture once protecting it, was removed since then.
The museum, beautifully embedded into the breathtaking landscape and located on the way to the monument, was once filled with items left behind by the students who went to war, countless pictures and information boards telling their stories. It seems like the museum was boarded up in 1995, but as with all locations like that you will always have people trying to make their way in. Worried about the exhibits all 2000 items of historical value were donated to the Kyoto Museum for World Peace, which is part of the Ritsumeikan University, in 2004. Nowadays the museum is almost completely empty and a rather spooky place…