Poison Gas Museum
- darkometer rating: 8 -
A small but thematically very dark museum, namely about chemical weapons production and use in warfare, located on Okunoshima
, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan
More background info:
About the history of the museum's topic see under Okunoshima
The museum is a private/local initiative that was opened in 1988. It could probably not have come about any other way, as it's difficult to imagine a state-run museum on a topic such as this in the general climate of commemoration in Japan. In that sense it is similar to the Oka Masaharu Memorial Museum
, which also focuses on the really darker sides of Japanese history especially in WWII
, namely its many war crimes.
The use of chemical weapons is one such crime, given that such weapons were banned by the Geneva Protocol of 1925.
What there is to see: Not all that much, but worth it. The museum consists of two rooms. To the left of the lobby, where you have to buy your ticket from a vending machine, is the main exhibition room. Make sure to pick up a leaflet in English before going in, as almost all labelling is in Japanese only – except for a few basic overview texts.
On display are objects such as ceramic pots used in chemical weapons production, gas masks and even a whole protective suit for plant workers. Most dominant and visually impressive is one large piece of equipment used for mixing chemicals.
In addition there's a timeline and countless documents and photos. One item caught my eye, namely the display of a book by Reiko Okada which also featured English translations. I later saw it in the museum shop and bought a copy. It provided valuable insights, namely from the perspective of one of the “mobilized” high-school girls that were sent to the island to work in 1944.
In a second room, which doubles up as a lecture theatre (and I've heard that sometimes special presentations are given here – but presumably all in Japanese only), there are yet more exhibits, including a protection/gas mask for a horse (attached to a taxidermy horse head), a scale-model diorama of Okunoshima
at the time its chemical weapons plant facilities were in use, a couple of maps and yet more photos, and also some gruesome coverage of the use of chemical weapons in Iraq
(some of the photos are definitely not for the squeamish!).
All in all
: it really is a very small museum and one that is ill-prepared for international visitors … understandably, though, as it's a private initiative and aimed primarily at educating Japanese visitors about their country's history's darker chapters and war crimes. So it is still a valuable addition to the island's relics and other commodification
. And given that it doesn't cost much, why not take it in when on the island …
right by the road between the main ferry pier of Okunoshima
and the hotel, almost opposite the National Park visitor centre, and a mere 200 yards from the hotel entrance.
Access and costs:
Easy to find once on Okunoshima
; fairly cheap.
The museum is practically impossible to miss, it's in a low red-brick building by the main (only) road on Okunoshima
a few steps from the visitor centre so you'll invariably walk past when on the island at some point.
Opening times: daily except Tuesdays, from 9 or 9:30 a.m. to 4 or 4:30 p.m.
Admission: 100 JPY
No photography allowed inside the exhibition!
Time required: Not long, unless you can read Japanese, otherwise maybe 15 to 20 minutes.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
See under Okunoshima
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
See under Okunoshima