This section describes some of the
places one can view military artefacts in
By far the most
famous/infamous/notorious of Japanese military museums is Yushukan, the museum
attached to Yasukuni Jinja (Yasukuni Shrine). This Shinto shrine has
traditionally been where
The shrine is immediately to the
north of the
The museum was re-done a few years
ago and is very modern and slick. There are only a few guns there, mostly older
rifles. The displays include a holster, and in the big exhibit hall at the end
there are a couple of Type 26 revolvers and a Papa Nambu that were fished out
of the ocean after rusting almost beyond recognition. The most striking thing is
the extremely distorted perspective of the displays. They follow the rightist
Despite its awkward politics, this place is a must-see because of its fame/notoriety, high-quality exhibits and easy access. They have a flea market in the approach area every Sunday morning. In general there is seldom much good military stuff there, just the usual selection of old pottery and the like, although recently (summer 2007) a prominent dealer in military material has started attending.
Here is the artillery in the lobby. The signs say the one on the left is a Type 96 15cm howitzer, and the one on the right is a Type 89 15cm cannon.
This is the locomotive in the lobby. It is a Type 56 from the infamous Thai-Burma railway.
I have visited this place several times and went back for another look in July, 2007. It is right next to and run by the infamous Yasukuni Shrine. I think they have toned down some of the more obviously spurious rhetoric about how the US forced Japan into the war, at least in the English labelling, but it is still quite misleading and can really only be properly appreciated by people who already know enough about the war to put the museum’s unorthodox viewpoints into context. There were also more guns than I remembered seeing before: a Type 22 Murata, Type 30 and 38 Arisakas, a Type 2 paratrooper rifle and a knee mortar, besides some antiques (like a Snider, etc.). The only pistols were in a display of stuff salvaged from the depths of the ocean and showed the effects of their time there: a Papa Nambu, a couple of Type 26 revolvers and a US-made .22 target pistol.
This museum focuses on the suffering of the Japanese during the wartime and post-war periods. It is much smaller than Yushukan, but it is just across the road from Yasukuni, so it is easy to visit. It is not as overtly political as Yushukan, but still focuses on the suffering of the Japanese, with no mention of what they did to their neighbours.
The subway stop is the same as for Yushukan, i.e. Kudanshita on the Tozai, Toei Shinjuku and Hanzomon lines. Take Exit 2.
Japanese-language website: ようこそ昭和館ホームページへ.
This museum is just around the corner from Showa-kan, so you can easily see Yushukan, Showa-kan and Shokei-kan in one expedition. Shokei-kan focuses on the hardships of Japanese soldiers wounded in WWII. Its displays show things like medical devices (including prosthetics) of the period as well as wound medals and documents, etc. One of the soldiers in the reproduction of a cave hospital is armed with a Type 99 rifle with monopod. They must not get many foreign visitors. When I showed up and they discovered I could speak Japanese, the director, curator and chief librarian were called out to greet me and they kindly gave me a kind of illustrated catalogue to the collection, an item that is not for general sale. Japanese-language website: しょうけい館(戦傷病者史料館）
Nasu War Museum (Nasu senso hakubutsukan)
This is a true military museum with some real character. After Yushukan (which has the advantage of being highly accessible to visitors to Tokyo), I would rank this place as the next “must-see” for visitors in the Tokyo area. It is a seedy, run-down place that really should take better care of its artefacts and is a bit awkward to get to, but the collection is remarkable (just ignore the dust). The brochure states it has 15,000 items. I didn’t count, but I believe it.
The museum is privately run by a right-winger with a penchant for dressing up like General Nogi, a hero of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) who performed rather less well during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). The General is also famous for having committed suicide (with his wife) when the Meiji Emperor died in 1912. There are two large indoor galleries and numerous outdoor exhibits, the latter mostly under carport-like structures. The indoor galleries have all kinds of uniforms and weapons (more firearms than I have ever see in a Japanese museum) as well as everything else military-related. The labelling is only in Japanese, very sparse, and often wrong, but if you know what you are looking at you will see some great stuff.
The outdoor exhibits include a fairly well-preserved tank (labelled Type 90; middle photo below) and the rusty remains of another tank (Type 97) that came from Saipan, a huge Russo-Japanese war 28cm artillery piece (see entrance photo above and ticket photo below), a plane (labelled a Type 95; see below), engines from a Zero and B-29, a military truck sort of like a jeep, etc. For animal lovers there are also two horses, one of them a white one like Emperor Hirohito used to ride. For 100 yen you can buy a cup of carrot sticks to feed him (he gets excited when you go near the table the carrot cups are on, so he definitely has figured out this game).
Most people visit by car so there is a fairly large parking lot. However, you can get there by public transit. From Tokyo take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Nasu-shiohara station. It takes about 80-90 minutes. Most of the Shinkansen trains don’t stop at Nasu-shiohara, so be careful which one you get on. At Nasu-shiohara transfer to the Tohoku line and go one stop to Kuroiso station (about five minutes). Exit the station and board a bus at platform one. Tickets are sold in a pink building with a clock on it off to the left of the exit, next to the police box. Get off at the Morikosaka stop (20 minutes, 650 yen). The museum is right across the road. It is open 9-6 every day and admission is 1000 yen. There is a tourist information window in Kuroiso station where you can confirm this travel information, but they only speak Japanese.
Heiwa Kinen Tenji Shiryo-kan
This one takes the prize for most
unexpected location: the 31st floor of the
This museum again focuses on the
hardships of the Japanese, with special emphasis on non-pensioned veterans,
Japanese repatriated from the zones
Japanese-language website: 独立行政法人 平和祈念事業特別基金.
This is not actually a military
museum, but I have included it since they have a complete Zero on display. It
is located with several other museums in
Tsuchiura is in
Saitama Peace Museum (Saitama-ken heiwa shiryokan)
This museum is in a huge building but the actual main exhibition hall is surprisingly small. They have the expected exhibits about life during the war, with English explanations of the main theme of each display case. There are reproductions of a classroom with a simulated air raid and an air raid shelter. Somewhat incongruously, they have a reproduction of a balloon bomb. Perhaps this was to show that the Japanese also tried to bomb North America. There is also a small gallery for temporary exhibits. The one on display when I was there was about Japanese Red Cross nurses during the war.
It is easy to overlook what is perhaps the most interesting part of this museum. The Grouped Items Exhibit (Bunrui tenshi shitsu) is a sort of storage area that has a lot of stuff in drawers that you can pull out and see, although the labelling is very sparse (and only in Japanese). It also has a small table with some artefacts that you can handle (uniform, shoes, senninbari, etc.).
To get there from Tokyo take the Tobu Tojo line from Ikebukuro Station to Takasaka. Avoid the Tokkyu (Special Express), which does not stop at that station. Any other train will do. The Kyuko (express) is the fastest, about 50 minutes. At Takasaka station take the west exit and board a bus that stops at Daito bunka daigaku. From that stop there are signs in English (“Peace Museum of Saitama”) that will point you in the right direction. It is about a ten minute walk.
Red Cross Museum
In Tokyo the Japanese Red Cross Society has a museum on the history of the organization that includes some war-related exhibits. It is pretty small, though, so only worth visiting if you are in the area or are a dedicated Red Cross history enthusiast. They do have an interesting publication for sale that show medical-related wartime artefacts and photos. The text is all Japanese but it has photo captions and section headings in English and an English title: The 125th Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition of the Japanese Red Cross Society 1877-2002. Their site is in Japanese but has a map to show how to get there. It is near the JR Hamamatsucho and Shinbashi stations on the Yamanote Line. 【日本赤十字】献血・ボランティア・義援金-情報プラザ～本社施設案内～-
Yoshimi Caves (Yoshimi Hyakuana)
This is an unusual site with over two hundred caves cut into a hillside in Saitama Prefecture north of Tokyo. Most of the caves are very small and were dug about 1500 years ago as burial chambers. However, there are a couple of much larger ones that were enlarged in 1945 through the efforts of 3,500 Korean forced labourers. They were intended to house the Nakajima Aircraft Factory as part of Japan's effort to move munitions industries underground to spare them from the US bombing. There is nothing in the caves from the WWII era, but they are a stark reminder of how desperate those days were. The sign on the left says: "This cave is the site of an underground munitions factory".
To get to the caves, take the Takasaki Line train from Ueno Station in Tokyo to Konosu Station (50 minutes). Go out the east exit and board a bus bound for Higashi Matsuyama Station at Platform 1. Get off at Hyakuana Iriguchi (20 minutes, 400 yen). When you get off the bus, look back in the direction you just came from. You can see some caves in a hillside next to a temple gate. Head back in that direction and veer off to the left at the fork in the road just past the temple. The temple is devoted to Kannon, a Bodhisattva often referred to as the "Goddess of Mercy" and is worth a quick look (free). You can also get there via the Tobu Tojo line from Ikebukuro. Get off at Higashi Matsuyama Station and take a shorter (5 min.) bus ride in the opposite direction to the route described above.
The Japanese name of this museum is Chiran Tokko Heiwa Kaikan. Tokko is an abbreviation for tokubetsu kogeki, “special attack"
which was the Japanese euphemism for kamikaze. Chiran is about 30 miles west of
A person who has done a lot of work in the kamikaze field has created a very thorough website on the topic. Here is a link to the part he has written on Chiran. He also has a section on a similar museum in nearby Kanoya.
The website of the museum itself is only in Japanese: 鹿児島県知覧町.
The Japanese name of this museum
is . In contrast to Chiran, this one
focuses on the Navy kamikazes. It has a nice Zero on display. To get there,
take a #16 bus from the Yamagataya Bus Centre or the Kagoshima-Chuo shinkansen station to Kamoike Port. Then take the ferry
to Tarumizu and transfer to a Shibushi-bound bus. The bus stops out front, then
you have about a three or four minute walk past the Emily Flying boat to get to
the entrance. I visited the
The same person who did the Chiran
site also has an excellent page on the
The website of the museum itself is only in Japanese: 鹿屋航空基地 史料館 フレーム版
Here is a photo of their Zero fighter.
This is their Type 2 Flying Boat, known to the Allies as an “Emily"
Although not run by the
As for the museum itself, it has
both artifacts recovered on
If you are interested in contacting Mr. Majewski regarding a tour, please let me know and I will provide his contact information.
Himeyuri Heiwa Kinen Shiryokan
Himeyuri, literally “lily of the valley" is the term applied to the young Okinawan girls who served as nurses for the Japanese forces. They were from elite girls' schools and had to perform their duties in cave hospitals under horrifying conditions, doing things like sneaking out in the dark to dispose of amputated body parts during lulls in the bombing. Later when the Japanese retreated they were simply abandoned to look out for themselves, some of them taking grenades along so they could commit suicide (due to Japanese propaganda they feared rape and torture if captured by the Americans).
The museum often has one of the survivors present to discuss her experiences. Besides artefacts and a reproduction of a cave there is a hall with photos of most of the girls. The museum is located by one of the caves where they served, but it is not open to the public. The cave mouth is the site of various memorials.
Underground Naval Headquarters
This museum is located in the
This is a rather large museum in Mabuni that does not mince words about the poor treatment of the Okinawans at the hands of their Japanese “defenders" although there is also a noticeable anti-American slant to some of the exhibits. Unfortunately a large display of weapons and other artifacts is just thrown in a big pile to slowly rust away. Outside the museum is a large area of monuments to the dead, with special sections for the dead of various prefectures, military units, etc. Walking a little further takes one to the place where Lt. General Ushijima and Major General Cho, the two top Japanese commanders took their lives in June, 1945 when it became obvious all was lost and the end was only hours or days away. Also on the site are the cave where the last Japanese headquarters were located (not open to the public), the infamous “spring of death" where the Japanese quartered there had to endure American shelling to fetch water, etc.
I visited this museum long ago and went back in July, 2007 for an update. It is not so much a military museum as a museum of a specific wartime experience, i.e. the atomic bombing. It has a lot of background information on the development of the atomic bomb and the decision to drop it as well as, of course, many sad exhibits about its gruesome effects, both immediate and long term. It does not shy away from describing the military facilities in the city (it had long been a major military transportation point) and maintains an even tone in the description of the exhibits, which are well labelled in English. However, it really glances over the big question of whether on balance the bombing saved both American and Japanese lives by finally pushing the indecisive, faction-ridden Japanese government of the time to surrender. Whether one agrees with this thesis or not, it certainly deserves much more attention than a passing, indirect mention that is easily missed in the mass of other peripheral issues that get a lot more attention. Visiting is an experience that will move the hardest heart, even if you don’t agree with the leftish politics that dominate some of the later exhibits about post-war peace movement activities in and inspired by Hiroshima. A bargain at 50 yen, and located in the same park area as the famous Atomic dome, pictured above. Take a street car from Hiroshima station and get off at the Genbaku-domu-mae stop.
Japanese & English web site: 広島平和記念資料館WEB SITE (click in the upper right to get to the English site)
Many years ago I went t
There are other heiwa-kan in many places. Almost every prefecture and major city seems to have one or be planning one.
Other City History Museums
Local museums often have a special exhibit related to the war in late July-early
August, just before the anniversary of Japan's surrender in WWII. These
typically focus on local experiences, but you never know what you may find at
one. In August, 2007 I visited one in Warabi, north of Tokyo. Among other things
it had a ceramic grenade and a land mine.
Local museums often have a special exhibit related to the war in late July-early August, just before the anniversary of Japan's surrender in WWII. These typically focus on local experiences, but you never know what you may find at one. In August, 2007 I visited one in Warabi, north of Tokyo. Among other things it had a ceramic grenade and a land mine.
A Great Site on Military Museums in Japan
Here is a link to a great site on military museums in Japan. This site is how I found out about the Nasu Museum.
Last modified: October 7, 2007.
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