Imperial past casts shadow over Japan's monument to peace

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The Independent Online


It should have been a proud and momentous day for the city of Nagasaki. After five years of preparation and a solemn ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday, the city will this morning open the doors of its finest monument, the new Atomic Bomb Museum. But its opening is steeped in controversy. Situated in a gleaming new building in the city's peace park, the museum cost yen 7.6bn (about pounds 48m).

Its 1,600 exhibits, including maps, interactive videos and gruesome photographs, describe in detail the moment, on 9 August 1945, when a plutonium bomb exploded over the city, killing more than 70,000 people. But the noble enterprise, which aimed "to serve as a symbol of Nagasaki and its efforts to bring about lasting world peace", has become a political football bounced between right-wing revisionists and Japan's Asian neighbours.

The trouble began at the end of February when a precis of the new exhibition was shown to a group of conservative councillors on the local assembly. They took keen exception to a section of the museum describing the history of Japanese aggression in China and South-east Asia. After a formal protest from the assemblymen and a group of nationalistic local businessmen, several passages were removed from the written text and a photograph of civilians in the Chinese city of Nanking massacred by the Imperial Army in 1937 was replaced by a picture of Japanese troops victoriously entering the city.

The amendments were angrily reported in the Chinese media, including the government-sponsored People's Daily.

For centuries, Nagasaki has had one of the biggest Chinese populations in Japan, as well as a consulate and numerous Chinese businesses. Last week, the controversial photograph was changed yet again - the compromise, which the museum's first visitors will see today, shows Chinese women being bundled off for execution by Japanese soldiers.

At yesterday's official opening protesters handed out leaflets complaining that the exhibition makes scant mention of the 20,000 Koreans, many of them slave labourers, who died in the bombing. Compared to other official accounts of the war, however, the remaining exhibits are still exceptionally strong. A video display of the Imperial Army troops in Manchuria refers unequivocally to the Japanese "invasion", a taboo word which still provokes even the conservative Japanese to squirm.