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Special Feature on Cenotaphs for the War Dead

Osaka's Pilgrimage to Cenotaphs


Throughout various locations, cenotaphs for military personnel and ordinary citizens who perished in the Pacific War remain. In this article, I embarked on a pilgrimage to the cenotaphs in Osaka, immersing myself in their history, and reflected on the challenges associated with ensuring their legacies are passed down to future generations.

The Difference Between Cenotaphs and Chukonhi Monuments

Cenotaphs are monuments erected to console the spirits of soldiers who lost their lives in war, as well as civilians who perished in mainland bombings during the Pacific War. The inscriptions on these stone monuments include characters representing "consolation," among other various elements. On the other hand, "Chukonhi" refers specifically to cenotaphs for soldiers who died in battle, upon which the characters for "Chukon" (loyal spirits) are inscribed. "Chukon" signifies "spirits loyal to the Emperor," and in a broader sense, Chukonhi can also be considered a type of cenotaph.
Based on the meaning of "Chukon" mentioned earlier, it's reported that the occupying forces post-Pacific War instructed that the term "Chukon" should not be inscribed on cenotaphs. Consequently, while cenotaphs commemorating those who lost their lives in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars often bear the "Chukon" inscription, it is said to be exceedingly rare on those erected after the Pacific War.

Cenotaph at Osaka Gokoku Shrine in Suminoe Ward, Osaka City

When it comes to commemorating the fallen soldiers, one of the first things that come to mind is the nationwide Gokoku Shrine found in each prefecture. Although I live in Osaka, I had never visited the local Osaka Gokoku Shrine before, but I finally made my first visit this time. Osaka Gokoku Shrine is located in Suminoe Ward, Osaka City, right after you exit Suminoekoen Station, the terminal station of the Osaka Metro Yotsubashi Line.
This shrine was established in 1940 with the purpose of enshrining the spirits of those who died for the nation. Currently, it enshrines the spirits of over 105,000 people, including Osaka residents and related individuals, who perished in the Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, Pacific War, and others.

  • Example of an Army cenotaph.
    Example of an Army cenotaph.
  • Example of an Army cenotaph.
    Example of an Army cenotaph.

Upon passing through the torii gate facing the main highway, the main hall comes into view, with a multitude of cenotaphs lining the stone-paved path leading to it on both sides of the precinct. On the right, there are cenotaphs associated with the Army, and to the left, those affiliated with the Navy. Some cenotaphs feature Navy-related designs such as anchors or airplanes. Many of these cenotaphs, be they for the Army or Navy, were erected post-Pacific War and are typically sorted by regiments or units. However, none were found to bear the inscription "Chukon".

  • The torii gate of Osaka Gokoku Shrine.
    The torii gate of Osaka Gokoku Shrine.
  • The main hall of Osaka Gokoku Shrine.
    The main hall of Osaka Gokoku Shrine.
  • Example of a Navy cenotaph.
    Example of a Navy cenotaph.
  • Example of a Navy cenotaph.
    Example of a Navy cenotaph.

Osaka Gokoku Shrine was originally established to enshrine those who died in war, and many of its cenotaphs appear to be well-maintained. However, the association that supports this shrine has less than 300 members, of whom only about 40 are bereaved family members. Given the population of Osaka is 8.8 million, and the shrine commemorates 105,000 war dead, it's clear that the situation is somewhat precarious.

Cenotaphs for the Fallen Soldiers Left in the City

Beyond the cenotaphs at Osaka Gokoku Shrine, which were erected to honor the war dead, I started my search for other cenotaphs and Chukonhi monuments throughout the city. My journey began around Kintetsu Yao Station, an area known for its historical charm and old-town atmosphere. My first stop was at "Jokoji," a temple known as the birthplace of the Kawachi Ondo dance. Here, two cenotaphs were discovered. One cenotaph was erected in 1983 by a group of volunteers from the 4th Platoon of a battalion, which was formed in the outskirts of Beijing, China, in 1938, and they all safely returned home. This cenotaph is engraved with the phrase "Eternal Peace." The other, located near the entrance of a small cemetery, was slightly aged and bore high-positioned, cenotaph-like inscriptions. While it was clear that it was a cenotaph, the specifics were not discernible.
Following this, I visited "Yao Shrine," located near the temple. Here, I found a cenotaph marked as the "Commemoration of Military Service Monument."

  • Cenotaph located at 'Jokoji Temple'
    Cenotaph located at "Jokoji Temple"
  • Cenotaph found at 'Yao Shrine'
    Cenotaph found at "Yao Shrine"

Neither the cenotaphs at Osaka Gokoku Shrine nor the small temples and shrines in Yao bear any "Chukon" inscriptions. In a bid to witness a Chukon monument, I took to the internet for guidance and set off for Sanadayama Park in Tennoji Ward, Osaka City.
The site was home to the "4th Cavalry Regiment" long before the Pacific War and had a monument in place to commemorate those of the regiment who had fallen in battle. It is engraved that the lower two tiers of this monument were erected in 1927, with the "Chukon" inscribed stone on the topmost tier added post-war. The overall visual imbalance of the monument could presumably be attributed to this later addition.

Chukon Monument at Sanadayama Park.
Chukon Monument at Sanadayama Park.

According to the orders of the occupying forces, very few post-war cenotaphs bear the inscription of "Chukon." Nevertheless, it was here that I first came across a so-called "Chukon" monument. Although it stands in a corner of the park, it's written that the nearby "Sanko Shrine" conducts its memorial services.
I have toured various cenotaphs and Chukon monuments erected in city temples and shrines, and currently, their maintenance seems to be well-managed..
However, for monuments dedicated to specific military units, the number of related parties is relatively small, making one wonder about the extent of support that the hosting temples and shrines can provide.

Cenotaph Mourning the Victims of the Kyobashi Air Raid

Besides the soldiers who fell in battle, numerous civilians also perished in the war due to bombings. To mourn these civilians, large-scale memorial facilities have been established in areas such as Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
Nonetheless, devastating air raids also occurred in other major cities like Tokyo and Osaka. This time, I visited the memorial site for the Kyobashi air raid that occurred in Osaka on August 14, the day before the end of the war. There were six significant air raids in Osaka city, and on the day before the war ended, 145 B-29 bombers targeted the Army artillery factory located between present-day Osaka Castle Station and Kyobashi Station, dropping a staggering 650 one-ton bombs. These bombs directly hit the nearby JR Kyobashi Station, resulting in the death of approximately 500 to 600 civilians. Of these, only 210 victims have been identified.
The memorial site is situated just beside the south exit of JR Kyobashi Station. Here, a Buddhist tombstone inscribed with 'Namu Amida Butsu' and a memorial mound are enshrined. Additionally, a statue wishing for peace, installed by the Rotary Club in recent years, is also present.

  • Kyobashi Air Raid Cenotaph
    Kyobashi Air Raid Cenotaph
  • Hope for Peace Statue
    Hope for Peace Statue

JR Kyobashi Station also takes part in the annual memorial events, ensuring that this memorial site will not be forgotten as time passes.

Memorial Facilities Managed and Operated by Municipalities

During my recent pilgrimage, the cenotaphs that I visited, memorializing the war dead, appeared well-maintained without signs of imminent collapse or neglect. However, it's been 78 years since the end of World War II, and the number of descendants of the fallen, now into their grandchildren's generation, continues to decrease.
Indeed, many of the smallest memorials, such as graves, are becoming unattended as connections to their descendants fade. To counteract this, we are seeing an increase in columbariums and burial facilities offering perpetual memorial services.
Considering these circumstances, it's unrealistic to assume that cenotaphs can be sustainably maintained without intervention. It seems imperative that local governments establish and maintain memorial sites and cenotaphs not only for fallen soldiers but also for civilian casualties. These locations can serve as places where prayers for peace are continually offered.
As one of the local government's places of remembrance, I visited the memorial facility in Higashiosaka City. This facility, located in a corner of Yaenosato Park, which includes an arena and is managed by Higashiosaka City, was established in 1963 by the former Fuse City. Primarily, the facility was built to offer solace to the civilians who lost their lives due to bombings. However, it also welcomes the families of those who died on the battlefield to pay their respects.
The facility features a front hall-like building, with another building behind it, housing a large cenotaph. Unfortunately, it opens its gates only once or twice a month, and I wasn't able to enter the interior to pay my respects on the day of my visit. Thus, I couldn't determine what the inside looks like.

  • The Memorial Facility of Higashiosaka City
    The Memorial Facility of Higashiosaka City
  • The Memorial Facility of Higashiosaka City
    The Memorial Facility of Higashiosaka City

From the examples above, it's clear that memorial facilities maintained and operated by local governments are often established to console civilian war victims. However, there should be a more substantial effort to memorialize those who were conscripted and perished on the battlefield. Even small towns and villages that may not boast grand facilities like those in Higashiosaka City can erect cenotaphs in a corner of municipal office grounds. The municipal office could maintain these sites and conduct memorial services on significant occasions like the anniversary of the end of the war. The expense should not be prohibitive, as establishing such memorial sites doesn't have to be excessively costly.
As for the Pacific War, various perspectives and assessments exist, and it's not uncommon for it to be politically exploited. Nevertheless, I believe there should be no issue with municipalities offering places to remember and pray for peace, that honor all who lost their lives in the war - professional soldiers, conscripted servicemen, or civilian bombing victims - without discrimination.