Miyazaki’s controversial Peace Tower continues to cause unease

by Hiroshi Motomura

Kyodo

A monument in the city of Miyazaki built to glorify Imperial Japan’s occupation of Asian nations and later rededicated as the city’s Peace Tower has been a source of local discomfort for decades.

In 1965, authorities restored an Imperial-era slogan on the 36-meter stone tower, despite opposition from critics who felt it sent the wrong message.

The four-character phrase is “Hakko Ichiu” (Eight Corners of the World Under One Roof). The slogan was used by the Imperial Japanese military as it sought to create “a new world of human fraternity under the Japanese emperor.”

The tower was built in 1940 to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of the ascension of Emperor Jimmu, the nation’s first emperor.

Made of stones from around the Japanese empire, it was used to rally people’s fighting spirit in World War II but was later scorned as a symbol of that ill-fated venture. It eventually survived as a symbol of peace.

Ikuko Yasuda, 90, was one of many high school girls drafted to help level the ground for the tower’s erection.

A year before the war ended, Yasuda worked at an air base in Miyazaki and saw off many young pilots on kamikaze suicide missions.

“I couldn’t say a word and felt helpless,” Yasuda recalled. “We should call Aug. 15 the anniversary of Japan’s ‘defeat in the war,’ instead of ‘end of the war,’ and recognize with a sense of remorse that the postwar era started from something negative rather than from zero.”

Some people in Miyazaki are baffled by how a symbol of the Imperial invasion of Asia became a symbol of peace.

Keiichiro Saita, 71, set up an amateur research group that for the past quarter of a century has been studying the tower and its history.

Saita agrees with a local history book that says the words Hakko Ichiu were removed from the tower at the request of the U.S. military after the war, and that it was rededicated as a tower “built in the hopes of peace.”

Heiwadai Park was one of the starting points for torch relays for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. With the park drawing attention at a time when the Imperial family was the object of increasing popular interest, the prefectural government accepted a request from the local tourism association to reinscribe Hakko Ichiu on it.

The work was carried out quickly before opposition could crystallize, Saita said. He considers that unfortunate.

The tower bears testimony to Japan’s invasion of Asia as it was built with stone brought from China, Taiwan, Korea and other places under Japan’s control, Saita said. But as there is no signboard in the park to explain the historical background, it cannot be called a “peace tower in the real sense of the term unless the negative part of its history is squarely looked at,” he said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Miyazaki became a popular destination for newlyweds after Takako Shimazu, the fifth and youngest daughter of Emperor Showa, and her husband Hisanaga Shimazu honeymooned there in 1960.

The tower itself has survived the changing tides of history, Yasuda noted, and as a survivor of conflict it “allows us to pass down memories of the war from generation to generation.”

Vividly remembering the days just before World War II, Yasuda is worried by whether the Abe government’s reinterpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution might lead the nation into war once again.

“Japan must never go to war because it is a small country that cannot live by itself,” she said.