On Dec. 7, 1941, Peter Willett was feeding his rabbits in the backyard of his house at Ford Island, which sits in the middle of Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor.
He noticed planes heading toward the island. He thought they were U.S. military aircraft, but one of them flew so low over his head that he could see the Japanese emblem.
Then a second plane started shooting its machine gun, marking the beginning of Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack and the Pacific War.
“Peter raced into the house, waking his mother and sister. They calmly took showers and dressed in their Sunday best because they refused to be taken prisoner in their nightgowns,” a text attached to an old photo of Peter reads on a new web archive documenting the 1941 attack.
The website (1941.mapping.jp) was launched Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of the fateful event, by Hidenori Watanave, associate professor of information technology and design at Tokyo Metropolitan University.
Watanave is known as the creator of high-profile web archives featuring voice recordings of survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
He said he felt obliged to create a similar archive of the Pearl Harbor attack when he organized an exchange event held in New York in September for Japanese and American high school students to discuss how technology can be used to promote world peace.
Interview records published by the Pearl Harbor Archive are based on “Ford Island December 7, 1941,” a 2014 book written by Katrina Luksovsky.
Luksovsky, a resident of Ford Island, interviewed 18 families of military personnel who directly witnessed the Pearl Harbor attack.
Many family members of U.S. naval personnel lived on the island, which was used as a base. The 2-sq.-km island was one of key targets of the Pearl Harbor attack.
“By creating the archive, I have realized how little I knew about the Pearl Harbor attack,” Watanave told The Japan Times on Wednesday.
“Some family members of military personnel lived in places only several hundred meters away from the spots where battle ships were being sunk. The archive map brings home that fact well,” he said.
Some quotes from Luksovsky’s book indeed shed light on little-known details about how residents of the island reacted.
“Our parents were well aware of the atrocities inflicted on Chinese prisoners of war by the Japanese. It seemed evident that this bold bombing attack was a first step in a Japanese invasion of Hawaii,” reads text written by Charlotte Coe Lemann on the website.
“Mother asked a young Marine wearing a pistol and ammunition belt to step aside for a moment to speak with her. She then implored him to save three bullets if the Japanese were to come ashore. ‘When I am sure that my children are dead, then you will shoot me.’ ‘Yes, Ma’am,’ he replied without hesitation,” Lemann wrote.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made headlines this week by announcing that he will visit Pearl Harbor later this month to pay tribute to war victims.
Watanave believes Abe’s visit is very “meaningful” in the political arena. But he said he is more interested in promoting exchanges between ordinary people on both sides of the Pacific.
Watanave tried to keep the website design as simple as possible, and focused on presenting facts and quotes just as they are. Interpretation of the material is left to the site visitors, he said.
Watanave also said he has an impression that in many war exhibitions in the U.S., the suffering of ordinary citizens in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings is little explained. Likewise in Japan, the suffering of ordinary people in the Pearl Harbor attack is little known, he said.
On the website, visitors can see many photos of U.S. war ships under attack by clicking small icons on the map.
All the photos in the archive were originally in black and white, but when users place the mouse over a photo, it is automatically colored with technology developed by Waseda University of Tokyo.
Watanave now plans to translate the English text from the Pearl Harbor Archive into Japanese, possibly by March, with assistance from automatic computer translation.
Meanwhile, all the text of the Hiroshima Archive (hiroshima.mapping.jp/index_en.html ) can now be read in both English and Japanese.