I’m back on my side of the world again and in the reality of teaching in the classroom. I am lucky to be teaching in a public school where I can design my own courses. I am teaching a course called Japan and the World and an orientation social studies class that teaches the tools of social studies by comparing Japan and the United States. I also teach an elective class called Japan-0-Mania that is a more fun and activity based class that includes a lot of movies.
I was not able to keep up with my blog as I raced from Kyoto, Hiroshima, Hiroshima, and back to Tokyo. It was a hectic pace to be following but one that followed the timeline of World War II’s final days in Japan. On August 3rd, I spent the night in Kyoto to visit the Kyoto Museum for Peace. Since the museum was closed on my first day, I made a bee-line for the Kyoto International Manga Museum, thus managing to visit Kyoto without visiting a single temple. I wanted to check out their collections to see if there were any World War II connections and just to see what else they had available.
I began with the special exhibition on Yokai.These are hundreds of Japanese shape-shifting monsters varying from the mildly amusing to the horrific. They have been richly illustrated for hundreds of years and have been the inspiration for many manga artists such as Shigeru Mizuki, the creator of “Ge Ge No Gitaro.” Photographs were strictly prohibited within the exhibit of antique Yokai, but I was able to take pictures in outside exhibits:
The rest of the museum is largely a library of manga going back decades. The bulk of the collection comes from a retired bookstore owner who donated his entire collection, supplemented by donations. Patrons are free to borrow manga and read them indoors or take them to an outdoor space so basically the museum is more like a manga cafe with a more extensive collection and specific exhibits.
A rather small and out of the way exhibit in the basement touched on manga’s role in politics, war, and propaganda. Here is a sample from a a 1940 journal called Manga which demonized Franklin Delano Roosevelt before open hostilities with the United States began in 1941.
Manga characters of all sorts were “enlisted” into the war effort, beginning with the invasion of China in the 1930′s. This lovable black cat, in the 1930′s was conscripted as an army recruit and donned a helmet, gun and participated in all sorts of exploits against enemies in China. After the war, the cat was pacified once again and just became a normal non-combatant manga character.
The next day I went to the Kyoto Museum for World Peace at Ritsumeikan University. This is one of the few museums in Japan that examines Japan’s militaristic role during World War II, atrocities committed in Japan’s colonial empire, in addition to examining the American fire bombing and atomic bombings on Japan. In a small space, the exhibits examine how Japanese society and youth became militarized and how the Japanese military dehumanized its own soldiers in its misdirected campaigns.
I was not allowed to take pictures here but you can get an idea of some of the exhibits at their website at http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/eng/profile/peacemuseum/index.shtml. What was interesting was that the museum was hosting a local group of citizens who were hosting their own amateur exhibits about the war in the name of peace. The museum did not curate these exhibits but I thought it was interesting that there were citizen groups that got together to create their own exhibits about remembering the war. Exhibits included everything from personal memorabilia, photographs about atrocities committed by Japanese troops in mainland Asia, the atomic bombings, and statements supporting Article 9 of the American influenced Constitution which bars Japan from creating offensive military capabilities.
Another great exhibit was what looked like a high school project, completed with markers poster board but which examined the Self-Defense attempts to recruit young people into their forces, and interviews with American soldiers about their training and where they go after their training in Japan. Unlike my visit to the public schools, this seemed like a place where young and old both were actively examining not only Japan’s experience with World War II, but also its sometimes troublesome military relationship with the United States and its internal debates about defending itself and what role the Japanese military should have in its society.