The National Museum of Japanese History (国立歴史民俗博物館) is located in the Chiba prefecture of Japan. Our group visited this museum on Friday, March 31st, sadly our last day in beautiful Japan. We began our adventure to the museum with a brief lecture given by Professor Kosuke Harayama. The museum has six permanent galleries, with each covering a different era of Japan, touching upon aspects from the beginning of Japanese civilization to World War II to modern day Japan. This museum depicts the historical and cultural development of the Japanese people and Japan. It covers every important historical aspect that has shaped Japan, and explains how it has contributed to shaping and influencing Japan to what it is today.
As we walked through the museum, we noticed that there was a great emphasis on World War II, and its military aspects. The museum had a lot of military propaganda on display, which was used throughout World War II. Japanese propaganda was used to motivate people to join the war force in different ways, such as joining the productivity force. The propaganda that was used emphasized the strong cultural identity of Japanese–they instilled pride and influenced how people thought and felt during the time. At the very beginning of the museum, there were three banners that were displayed, which were congratulations to the men for entering the war. Women did not play as significant of a part during the war, but they found their own ways to contribute, through the home front or working in a factory. Many Japanese did not want to become involved with a war, yet Japan had a strong military history, which serves as a collective memory. Aside from World War II, Japan engaged in the Battle of Okinawa and occupied Korea for quite a bit of time.
As we continued to walk throughout the museum, we noticed the emphasis on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These atomic bombings implemented by the United States marked the ending of the war in August, 1945. The museum focused more on the fact that human beings actually created such a crazy, destructive weapon. It did not seem as though the Japanese put the United States for blame, which was something that was really interesting to us. After the war, it was difficult for the Japanese to get back to their regular lives, and they had a desire to become more American. This desire was seen through the exhibit as there was an American jukebox that played American songs, and other American-esque displays. While walking through the other galleries, there was a replica of a movie set from the 1940s/60s.
This museum really opened our eyes to understand the war from the Japanese perspective. As Americans, we learn about World War II from the American perspective, and how it greatly impacted Hawai‘i, so it was really interesting and thought provoking to see the tactics used throughout the war for Japan. Although Hawai‘i was occupied and a territory of the United States during this time, World War II greatly affected the island and everyday life of the people of Hawai‘i. The museum gave a clear depiction of both the wrongs and the rights that the Japanese have done throughout their history. It portrayed their successes and their failures, which is something that is really different from the United States.
To us, it was amazing that we got to actually experience seeing these propaganda in person. We got an inside look into how Japan operated during the war. It almost felt as though we were actually living in Japan during this time because the displays were so visual and realistic. It is amazing to see the progress Japan and the United States has made in becoming allies after being relentless enemies throughout the twentieth century. A lot of the history that was shown throughout this museum, is directly related to many of the Japanese American residents of Hawai‘i. Throughout the twentieth century, Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i had the highest population rates, and today, they are still a plurality. Although the United States and Japan were once enemies, it is amazing to see how we use each other today to be one of the strongest allies across the globe.
Being able to see a war from both sides is a really amazing thing. As students, and especially as Hawai‘i residents, we’ve learned a lot about war and have delt with its repercussions. But in times of war we all forget that there’s more than just the side we’re on. Visiting this museum has been a reminder that there were sacrifices made on both ends. Every soldier had a family, friends, and a life outside of the military. Japanese men celebrated when they were accepted, they celebrated when they got out, they trained and ate together, slept and threw on their uniforms together, just like they did in America.
Another thing we have in common is our remembrance. Neither side has forgotten the lives that were lost. Seeing the clocks and watches that were stopped at the time the bombs went off in Nagasaki and Hiroshima had a big impact on us. Two entire cities worth of lives stopped exactly when those clocks did. We learn about those attacks in school, but seeing something like that in person really makes you stop and reflect on moments like these.
One of the most inspiring things of this museum, is the Japanese hope for the future. After passing through the dark times of the war, there’s a section for post war life. The relationship between Japan and America began improving greatly then with Japan taking more adaptations to western culture. This section in particular had a big impact on me (Kiana) because it was during this time that my grandparents met and moved to America. My grandfather was an American soldier in the Navy stationed in Japan where he met my Japanese grandmother.
The National Museum of Japanese History is a museum that educates, remembers, and honors. It remembers and honors those who fought relentlessly during World War II. It educated all of us about the different aspects of Japanese culture, from the dawn of civilization to present day Japan. There was an abundance of information and amazing artifacts, that we easily could have spent hours upon hours looking at the exhibits throughout this museum. This was an amazing way to learn about all the different aspects of Japanese history. Another amazing thing was seeing so much hope and understanding, and even forgiveness between the two American and Japanese cultures. It is a real inspiration, and we are glad it’s something we’re continuing to learn from through places like this museum.