Oka Masaharu Memorial Nagasaki Peace Museum
A small, privately-run museum in Nagasaki
which – almost uniquely in Japan
! – covers the subject of Japanese war crimes before and during WWII
, including the hardship of POW
s and in particular Koreans who also became victims of the A-bombing of Nagasaki. One particular aspect that the museum highlights is the dark history of Hashima
, as a place where Koreans and Chinese POWs were sent for forced labour in the coal mines. All this is ignored, swept under the rug or glossed over in the commercialized tours to the island or the associated museum
. So this little museum is an important counterbalance to that skewed portrayal of the island, and in general fills an important gap in the general historiography of Japan within the country.
More background info:
The museum takes the first part of its rather cumbersome official name from Oka Masaharu, a minister and human rights activist who had been one of the first people to raise the issue of the Korean
victims of the Nagasaki A-bombing
. These were not receiving recognition by the Japanese government, nor did the Korean survivors of the bomb get official support.
In addressing this issue, Masaharu then uncovered the story of the forced “mobilization” of Koreans for slave labour in Japan
(including on Hashima
) during the occupation of the Korean peninsula.
Hence he proceeded to campaign for Japan
to accept responsibility for its various war crimes during (and before) WWII
and pay compensation to the victims' relatives and to survivors – ultimately unsuccessfully, but nonetheless relentlessly. To this day, however, these topics are mostly swept under the rug or greatly glossed over in Japan's official historical narrative. Most Japanese these days hence know little or nothing about these darker sides of their country's history.
Masaharu had therefore also advocated the establishment of a memorial museum to properly cover these issues, but unfortunately he passed away in 1994, before this idea could come to fruition. His colleagues and friends, however, did go on to create this museum soon afterwards. It opened in October 1995, one year after Masaharu's death.
What there is to see: The museum may be small, but it is crammed full of material. There aren't many concrete artefacts on display, but countless documents, photos, newspaper cuttings and so on covering the museum's topics.
Amongst these is, first and foremost, that of the forced labourers “mobilized” from Korea
to work in Japanese industries, in particular in coal mining (to compensate for the lack of workers, as most Japanese able-bodied men were fighting as soldiers in the military). There are a few objects on display here, such as miners' helmets and boots as well as a couple of bowls filled with an unidentifiable gloop – representing the meagre food rations the labourers received.
The largest exhibit here is a recreation of the entrance to a coal mine, complete with miners' tools and blocks of (presumably fake) coal. This is obviously related mostly to the mining island of Hashima
, dubbed “The Island of Hell' by the Koreans. Hashima is also covered by a separate section of panels and photos in the exhibition.
Other sections cover yet more very dark chapters, such as the plight of the over 100,000 so-called “comfort women”, i.e. women systematically displaced and used as sex slaves. These were mostly from the occupied territories in South-East Asia, Korea
and included many underage girls as well.
There's also one section about the grim subject of the so-called “Unit 731
”, which was a chemical and biological weapons research and development centre set up by the Japanese army in occupied Manchuria, China
, and a range of unspeakably cruel human-guinea-pig experiments were performed here that were every bit as inhumane as (if not worse than) those similar experiments conducted by the Nazis
at some concentration camps
such as Dachau
Other war crimes covered necessarily include the Nanjing Massacre
or the Death Railway
, but also smaller-scale atrocities that were all too common throughout the Japanese war of aggression that affected large parts of Asia and beyond.
One section also points out the inadequate compensation for victims, especially compared to the way this has been handled by Germany. Indeed, while in Germany
“Vergangenheitsbewältigung” ('coming to terms with the past', meaning especially also the hard parts that require acknowledging guilt) is highly institutionalized and advanced, in Japan it is all too often neglected or ignored altogether.
The museum's coverage extends beyond its main focus on Japan, and also has a shorter section on colonialism in Africa, illustrated by some familiar but still awfully horrible images from Belgian Congo
, for instance. In fact, the photos in this museum are frequently extremely graphic, so it's not for those with a weaker disposition and certainly not a place to take young children along to.
On a lighter note, the downstairs part of the two-level exhibition also has a kind of peace shrine, featuring the typically Japanese colourful origami cranes (see Hiroshima
), and another section is devoted to the peace activist whose brainchild this museum was (even though it only opened after his death – see above
). In a glass display cabinet adorned with flowers there are a few personal belongings of Oka Masaharu, such as a briefcase, a watch, a hat and a pocket calculator.
Note, however, that most text materials are in Japanese, and also some in Korean and Chinese, but there's hardly anything in English (except for a few books on display). Labelling of exhibits does occasionally come with English translations, but not consistently enough. Hence most international visitors without the prerequisite language skills will struggle with most parts of the exhibitions. Museum staff may be able to help a bit (the director, by the way, is an academic in German studies, and hence speaks that language well), but large parts of the exhibition will remain not fully decodable to non-Japanese speakers.
I knew about this before I went and therefore contacted the museum well in advance and asked if I could get a guided tour in English. And indeed: not only did I quickly receive a reply, a local historian associated with the museum offered his English guiding service at the museum and in addition suggested yet more sites in Nagasaki that he volunteered to take me to. I was quite impressed with this. So I suggest you do the same and try to arrange a tour in advance (see details below
All in all
, this was a most valuable and insightful addition to my itinerary in Nagasaki
, and in particular to my tour to Hashima
, where the issue of forced labour and POWs is completely glossed over. So this museum fills an important gap in Nagasaki's portfolio – and indeed that of Japan at large. I can therefore only warmly recommend this museum.
By the way, one final piece of advice: do not get this longer-named museum confused with the “Nagasaki Peace Museum” by the waterfront near the Gunkanjima Digital Museum
. That shorter-named Peace Museum isn't really a museum but a centre for peace activism and education directed more at youngsters and hence of little value for international tourists. There's nothing in English there, and as far as I could tell also not anything of much depth and relevance to visitors interested in Nagasaki's/Japan's dark history, so it can really be skipped. The Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum, in contrast, should not be missed.
just behind the 26 martyrs Monument, Museum and Church, on a quiet side street winding up the hill to the east of Nagasaki
Access and costs: a bit hidden, but not too tricky to find; inexpensive.
Details: To get to the museum, from Nagasaki station it's a ca. 10 minute walk: cross the main street and walk north then turn sharply right and proceed up the hill. The winding street will take you past the well signposted 26 Martyrs site, but the Oka Masaharu Peace Museum is also signposted these days.
Opening times: 9.am. To 5 p.m., daily except Mondays; closed between Christmas and 5 January.
Admission: 250 JPY; under-18-year-olds 150 JPY.
Since most of the museum's contents lack English-language labelling and explanatory texts, it is a good idea to arrange a tour in advance. You can contact the museum direct at tomoneko[at]ngs1.cncm.ne.jp – or try the local historian to whom my enquiry was passed on to and who not only gave me a tour in English at the museum but also drove me to additional sites of interest, including the Sumiyoshi WWII tunnels
and Shiroyama Elementary School (see under Nagasaki
). His name is Hideto Kimura and his email is: ktrail[at]mxa.cncm.ne.jp.
Time required: depends … if you can read Japanese (and/or Korean/Chinese) then you could probably spend a whole day in here, if not more. If you can arrange a tour, then that may last between 30 minutes and an hour, possibly a little longer. But otherwise, without the relevant language skills or assistance you may be back out again rather quickly.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
In general see under Nagasaki
Following the tour of the museum, our guide also drove me and my wife to a place associated with POWs within Nagasaki, namely to a plaque about Fukuoka 14 POW
camp. The memorial plaque was at that time well hidden behind a building site – for the ongoing construction of the shinkansen bullet-train line to Nagasaki
(which has been in the planning for many years). The plaque, installed by the Atomic Bomb Museum
, has two photos of the camp after the A-bombing (taken by a US survey team) and a short text (in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean) that states that about 200 Dutch, British and Australian POWs were held here, and that eight of them died in the A-bombing.
Obviously, actually going on a tour to Hashima
is a must-do combination, especially as this museum, which you should therefore visit first, will have prepared you to see through the glossing over of the real story of foreigners on the island in the tour narrative.
Moreover, the story of POW
s/Korean victims of the A-bomb
is also covered in one section of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
, which is the city's Number One must-see institution in any case.
In the immediate neighbourhood of the Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum is also the “26 Martyrs” site, with a large memorial, an adjacent museum and an associated church (whose spires are more than just a little bit reminiscent of the style of the celebrated Barcelona
architect Antoni Gaudi). What is commemorated here falls way outside the normal time span for dark tourism (see concept of dark tourism
) but is surely a dark story: namely the execution of 26 Christians – by means of crucifixion! – in Nagasaki back in 1597, at a time when Christians were persecuted in Japan
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
See under Nagasaki
- Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum 1 - outside
- Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum 2 - signposted
- Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum 3 - peace shrine
- Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum 4 - personal belongings
- Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum 5 - exhibition room downstairs
- Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum 6 - mining relics
- Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum 7 coal mine mock-up
- Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum 8 - info about Hashima
- Oka Masaharu Memorial Peace Museum 9 - library