NISHIKI, KUMAMOTO PREF. – A project to build a war museum in the town of Nishiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, has drawn the ire of a group of local residents, who say the initiative is “downplaying its peaceful purpose.”
The plans for the museum put too much emphasis on its function as a tourism facility, making it sound “like an amusement park,” the citizens group said.
The design of the museum, scheduled to open Aug. 1, was based on an ordinance approved by the Nishiki Municipal Assembly in June.
The museum is on the site of a navy base that was used to train pilots and members of suicide attack units in the closing days of World War II.
Construction of the base started in November 1943, with its main facilities built underground in the event fighting in the Pacific War reached Kyushu. The base had a 1,500-meter runway and over 50 facilities, and suffered damage due to airstrikes.
The underground facilities were rediscovered in 2016.
The museum will display documents, photos and other materials that explain the history of the former base. Of the project’s roughly ¥49 million price tag, half will be financed by a state subsidy program intended for facilities that are expected to contribute to tourism-oriented communities.
“The museum is expected to deepen people’s understanding of history, function as a hub for education and exchanges among residents, and help promote tourism,” the town said in a draft ordinance submitted to a regular assembly session in June.
The ordinance was met with criticism from the citizens group, who lambasted the town for failing to make the fostering of peace an objective of the museum.
The museum’s name — which translates to “Nishiki mountain navy town and secret base museum” — conjures up images of an amusement park and doesn’t adequately communicate an anti-war message, the group said, claiming that the museum is prioritizing tourism. The group has urged the town to change the name.
Speaking to reporters, Nishiki Mayor Kanichi Morimoto said that it is not necessary to refer to the peaceful purpose of the museum because that is “obvious” and people can understand the purpose of the facility without the word “peace” being included in the ordinance.
“I want to make the museum a facility for the purposes of both peace and tourism,” the mayor said.
The name was publicly chosen, according to the town’s tourism division, so the municipal government sees no need to change it.
An official at the town’s tourism division said the municipality has been utilizing the base ruins as a facility to encourage people to think about peace and learn history.
“Unless the base ruins attract many visitors, we won’t be able to help people learn more about war,” the official said.
The citizens group said it will consider its response after examining the content of the museum’s exhibits. It is planning to report the museum to a nationwide organization that works to preserve war remnants.