Japanese city turns to digitalization to keep World War II memories alive

Kyodo

With memories of World War II fading 73 years after its end — and with fewer people remaining who have firsthand experience — a suburb in western Tokyo has been working to digitize accounts of survivors.

Videos of survivors recounting the damage caused by air raids, their daily lives during the war and experiences on the battlefield have been released online by the Mitaka Municipal Government and Yahoo Japan Corp.

The Digital Peace Museum website features videos of 31 survivors sharing their experiences in Mitaka, Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as overseas locations such as northeastern China, and Sakhalin and Siberia in what is now Russia.

Among the accounts on the site, Toshiyuki Miyauchi recalls his experience with food shortages, an air raid in Tokyo, and people’s lives after the end of the war. Another survivor, Yoshiaki Tsukada, a former crew member of the Japanese battleship Musashi, recounts his memories of the vessel’s sinking in 1944 in the Sibuyan Sea in the central Philippines following a torpedo attack.

Among others, Hiroko Kitagawa talks about how female students participated in drills, deploying bamboo spears to attack mock enemies, and made military uniforms.

Passing on war memories to future generations has been a challenge, as many who lived through the war have already died and their number continues to shrink.

From April 2013, Mitaka asked its residents and people who have a connection with the city to talk about their experiences and began filming their accounts.

The website was launched in February 2016. Many of the participants were in their 80s when they gave their accounts and some have died since the recordings.

“We want to pass on the memories of war to the younger generation without letting them fade away,” said Kazuyo Shimasue, the 50-year-old chief of the city’s peace promotion department.

Unlike conventional facilities, the online museum can display a lot of material without worrying about maintenance fees or space limits, she said.

One volunteer expressed delight at being able to pass on war experiences to the next generation after remaining hesitant to speak about painful memories for many years, the city said.

Along with video accounts, a total of 114 photos, including those capturing newspaper reports on the war, are available on the website.

Coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, Yahoo Japan launched an online project in 2015 called “Passing on war memories to the future” to publicize wartime accounts and photos.

Users can discover details about air raids in each region by clicking on an area of a map. They can also watch footage of interviews with survivors about their experiences during air raids.

The website also details war-related incidents and U.S. military plane crashes in postwar Japan.

Among such items, photos and testimonies explain a U.S. fighter jet crash in June 1959 at an elementary school in what is now the city of Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, which was under U.S. control at the time. Survivors are seen recounting the accident that killed 17 pupils and local residents, as well as another man who later died due to the aftereffects of his burns.

Another section covers a U.S. military plane crash in a residential area of Yokohama in September 1977 that killed three and injured six others.

Seiji Miyamoto, a producer for Yahoo Japan’s news portal, said, “These are incidents linked to the war but some people do not know about them as memories fade away.”

He said the project has received a strong response from the public, with one viewer requesting that the company continue sending out messages about the horrors of war.

The company says the project is “a special feature that passes on memories and records” for future generations.