In the course of traveling, I often visit peace museums and other monuments that focus on peacebuilding. The last two weeks, I’ve been traveling with my family in South Korea and Japan. We spent most of our time in Seoul, visiting with our daughter who was engaged in study abroad at Yonsei University this past semester. While there, I visited Service for Peace.
The museum starts with looking at the Japanese experience and the role the Imperial Army played in militarizing the country in the 1920s. The invasion of Manchuria in 1931, known as the start of the “Fifteen Year War,” is considered. The Japanese consider the war as starting then and ending in 1945 – 15 years – when World War II ended. It’s a critical and honest look, considering the treatment of prisoners and the forced conscription of comfort women. The stories of individual residents of Kyoto are looked it, including those who opposed the war. How the war impacted the Japanese overall is considered including food rationing and dealing with constant bombardments. The storyline continues to the expansion of Japanese colonies in the far east and the response of the Allies. The atomic bomb drops at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are looked at, and the responsibility for war crimes. The museum was especially critical of Emperor Hirohito’s role.
After a look at the war, the exhibits focus on the development of modern warfare and global militarization. The Cold War is looked at as well as weapons development and contemporary conflict. The wars in Vietnam and Korea are also considered.
The final focus is on building peace. The exhibit covers the Hague Appeal for Peace, the work of the United Nations, and what individuals can do in their communities. Particular Japanese efforts such as Peace Boat and the Japan International Volunteer Center are considered.
The museum did not permit photography, but I’ve included here photos from outside the museum and from the English guidebook, which was quite detailed.
The museum is nicely developed and balanced, and for me, provided the Japanese story which we miss in the U.S. There was much emphasis on the effects of nuclear radiation, which we often don’t hear much about in American interpretations.
If you are in Kyoto, I would recommend a visit. I wish I had had more time to dig deeper into the exhibits (which were for the most part also in English).