The Memorial Service for the POWs of the British Commonwealth and the Allies Who Died in Japan During World War II
After defeat in 1945, Japan saw the birth of a new constitution. It was the Constitution of Japan that was promulgated in 1946 and came into effect in 1947. In the preface the Japanese expressed their desire for eternal “peace for all people,” and resolved that “never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war,” recognizing that “all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.” This preface is followed by Article Nine which declares that “the Japanese people forever renounce war and the threat or use of force. “ That is the Japanese Constitution of 1947.
During World War II Japan invaded the Asia-Pacific areas, thereby plunging many countries and peoples into the state of “fear and want.” In each place Japan invaded, its inhabitants were conscripted and forced to work and even residents from the Allied Nations were detained in prison camps and inhumanely treated in violation of international law.
In the infamous “Bataan Death March” of 1942, more than 20,000 soldiers and civilians were killed. Furthermore, during the construction work of the Thai-Burma Railway in the Valley of the River Kwai, hundreds of thousands of people (the POWs of the Allies and countless numbers of Asian laborers known as “romusha”) fell victim to heavy labor and atrocities.
Behind these tragic incidents was the harsh brainwashing of the Japanese military which did not regard the POWs of the enemy as human beings. One of such incidents broke out in 1944 in the Japanese POW camp of Cowra, Australia, where hundreds of Japanese prisoners attempted a group escape which turned out to be a suicidal act. This group suicide had much in common with what happened near the end of the war during the Battle of Okinawa where the fanatic mind-controlling discipline of the Japanese military headquarters forced soldiers and very often civilians to kill themselves instead of allowing them to surrender to the enemy. In fact, they were forbidden to be captured by the enemy, and indoctrinated to believe it was a disgrace to surrender and become a prisoner. This resulted in treating foreign POWs with contempt.
The destinies awaiting the prisoners who were transported to Japan were cruel; for instance, hard labor at munitions factories and coal mines, malnutrition, the desertion of the seriously injured and the critically ill. Many of the POWs were destined never to see their homeland again, ending their lives in this foreign land.
Of the POWs of the Allies, over 1800 rest in the War Cemetery of the British Commonwealth in Hodogaya, Yokohama. The grudge and hatred that the families and close relatives of those victims bear against the Japanese military must be infathomable. On the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in August 1995, we held the first memorial service at this cemetery. By so doing, we hoped that we might be able to seize an opportunity to find a way that would lead to reconciliation between the Japanese and the victims who had not yet been released from their grudge, and that it might contribute in a small way to building a lasting world peace. This is the basic idea of the memorial service that we have been holding since 1995.
Overcoming hatred and malice, facing up to the past, becoming aware of the war responsibilities of our country, and then making an apology to the victims—these are the essential prerequisites on the path to reconciliation. For far too long, the leaders of this country have closed their eyes to the crimes committed by Japan and the Japanese. And yet in spite of our past failure, we now express our profound apologies for our past wrongs without averting our from them.
We also declare our position which stands in opposition to war in any form, because when we look back upon human history, we learn the lesson that no war can be justified. That is exactly the message we hear from those who rest in this very cemetery where we celebrate our annual memorial service. The ceremony takes place in the midst of the heat in August so that we may listen to the silent voices of the war dead.
While listening to them, we also pay our respects to over 3 million Japanese compatriots who perished in the war as well as to the more than 20 million Asian victims of the Asia-Pacific War (1930-45). We are convinced that the peace we enjoy today is founded upon the sacrifice of such an incalculable number of precious human lives.
In order to hand down this heritage of peace to our future generations, we gather together to conduct this memorial service at 11:00 a.m., the first Saturday of every August. It is our sincere hope that no matter what may happen, the service will be continued for many years to come by younger generations, whereby we could fulfill our mission, as peacemakers, of transmitting war memories from generation to generation.
June 1, 2008
Sponsors of the Memorial Service Held at the War Cemetery for the POWs Who Died in Japan During WWII:
Takashi Nagase (deceased)
Kazuaki Saito (deceased)
Takao Okutsu (Executive Committee)
Note : The original Japanese version of this prospectus was first drafted by the late Professor Saito.