National Stadium in Shinjuku Ward — the main stadium for the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo — will be demolished next year and a new stadium with a seating capacity of 80,000 will be built for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, which Tokyo will host.
Just inside of what is known as Marathon Gate at the current stadium — through which the competitors in the 1964 marathon event left the track and entered the road course — stands a stone monument that testifies to one of the tragedies of World War II seven decades ago. Inscriptions on the monument dedicate it to “roughly 100,000 students who left the pen for the sword and were sent off to the battlefields.”
National Stadium was built in 1958 on the former site of Meiji Jingu Gaien Stadium, where a ceremony was held Oct. 21, 1943, to send off university and higher vocational school students to the war. The moratorium on the conscription of college students was lifted for those at least 20 years old to make up for the worsening shortage of troops as Japan’s war prospects increasingly deteriorated.
In the ceremony organized by the education ministry, roughly 25,000 students carrying rifles marched on the field in the rain, with Prime Minister Hideki Tojo in attendance.
No official records are available to give even an estimate of the number of students actually mobilized for the military — or how many of them were killed in the war.
The stone monument was built 50 years later — in 1993 — by some of the former students who survived the war and bereaved relatives with the hope that the younger generation would remember that many youths had to give up their studies to go to the battlefield.
The survivors group has since held memorial gatherings every Oct. 21. This year’s was the last event before demolition of National Stadium starts in July 2014. The group has urged the operator of the stadium to place the monument within the new stadium compound when it’s completed in 2019.
The Japan Sports Council says it plans to preserve the monument as part of the new stadium. Given the Olympic goal of “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” the monument belongs inside the new stadium — the main venue for the 2020 games — so that people have the opportunity to reflect on the loss of so many students in the war.
As people who experienced World War II reach the end of their lives, it is imperative for citizens, educators, researchers and local government officials to push activities that pertain to the preservation of war-related sites as well as publications, records and interviews that enable people to consider what the war brought to the Japanese and other peoples.
Lack of knowledge about the war’s tragic aspects or insensitivity to them could be among the factors behind the Abe administration’s move to gut the war-renouncing Constitution.