The Encounter at the Library and "the Future of Chuureidou"
Hello, everyone. I'm Niu, a writer who loves visiting shrines, temples, and historical sites.
Hello, everyone. I'm Niu, a writer who loves visiting shrines, temples, and historical sites. Currently on my second journey to explore all 47 prefectures, I have a story to share about unexpectedly reflecting on war cenotaph through a chance encounter with a book at the library.
Have you ever come across "cenotaphs" in your city, such as at temples or parks?
They often blend into the landscape, seemingly just another part of the scenery, yet hiding within them could be the history of the city that you never knew.
This is the kind of story I will be sharing, and I would be delighted if you could accompany me for a while.
Encountering "Isotose" at the Library
"The places where we live or work surely have deep ties with us.
I want to ponder the history of those places," said a friend one day.
This all started from a conversation about how land is blessed by deities, and ground-breaking ceremonies are held to seek their permission before utilizing the land. This made me realize that we all have connections with certain places.
Although it was just a casual remark, it resonated with me and led me to visit the library later.
I found myself questioning, "What kind of history does this city have where I eat, bathe, and sleep every day? I've heard that before our home was built, this land was a mulberry field..."
Feeling a certain undefined curiosity, I desired to delve deeper into the history of this city that I barely knew. As soon as I arrived at the library, I went straight to the local history section.
It was located at the very back of the library. I had been to the manga section right before it a few times (why is it that libraries never seem to have the complete series of manga?), but local history was definitely not an area I usually had any connection with.
Perhaps there aren't many people with an interest in the city like me, as there was not a single person in the local history corner from the time I entered until I left.
Taking advantage of the quiet, I browsed through the books that piqued my interest. Among them, a peculiar title on the spine of a book caught my eye: "Isotose?" I wondered.
Upon picking it up, it was a simple book, reminiscent of the anthologies we used to create in elementary and middle school. Besides the title "Isotose," it had the words "50th Anniversary of the End of the War - Collection of War-time Experiences" written on it.
"Isotose" apparently means "50 years."
"Isotose" apparently means "50 years." I have a hobby of visiting shrines, temples, castles, and historical sites, and I have also explored the remains of battles from the early modern era.
So, I thought there might be war-related remnants in Fukushima Prefecture that I have never visited, and information about them might be included in this book. Although I feel slightly embarrassed admitting it, I borrowed the book casually, hoping it might contain relevant information."
The Discovery of Chuureidou through the Pamphlet "Isotose"
Younger brothers and sisters.
In the booklet "Isotose," issued by the Fukushima Prefecture Bereaved Family Association to commemorate 50 years after the war, the feelings of those who went to the battlefield as soldiers and those who lost their lives were expressed from their respective standpoints.
Some conveyed their thoughts in formal language, while others used spoken language.
Some presented their feelings in the form of traditional Japanese poems and verses. Initially, I was puzzled by the lack of uniformity, but it seemed that each individual wanted to express their thoughts in their own words, rather than using clichéd phrases.
One story recounted the experiences of a child who lost their father six months before birth and grew up alongside their mother's struggles. Another story was from a bereaved family, recounting the morning of the husband's departure for war, where he left without saying a word due to his rush, leaving his family behind in an unending wait.
As I turned the pages, my heart filled with emotions, making it difficult to read further.
In the previous war, approximately 130,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture were conscripted, among whom 62,000 lost their lives in the conflict. The sheer magnitude of these numbers might lead one to perceive them merely as statistical figures.
However, within each of these vast numbers lies the individual stories of how the fallen soldiers were born and went on to the battlefield, as well as the emotions that cannot be put into words when addressing their families. Each and every life is filled to the brim with experiences.
The booklet "Isotose" compressed the thoughts of 120 bereaved families over 50 years into the form of a book, representing the precious lives of those 62,000 souls.
Between the lines, one can feel the deep sense of sorrow, frustration, and emptiness. Nevertheless, they resolutely face the future with determination, leaving me deeply moved.
Amidst the heartfelt accounts, I came across a particular passage that caught my attention: "The Kotayama Chuureidou, established in 1943, is a rare memorial hall for the support of bereaved families, and managed as a Fukushima Prefecture facility."
There is a Chuureidou (Memorial Hall for the Fallen) in Aizuwakamatsu City, and I had no idea that such Chuureidou existed in Fukushima Prefecture.
According to the passage, after the war, the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces (GHQ) issued a "Shinto Directive," which separated the connection between shrines and the state, leading to a ban on the construction of Chukonhi monument and other memorial monuments.
The Kotayama Chuureidou was also requested to be demolished, but thanks to the desperate appeals of the bereaved families, it was able to remain standing as it is today.
The perseverance of this Chuureidou, despite facing such difficulties, left me with a strong desire to visit and pay my respects.
However, it's worth noting that the booklet "Isotose" was published 50 years after the war. Now, almost 78 years have passed since the end of the war, and almost 30 years have passed since the publication of "Itsotose."
During this time, there have been events like the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Offshore Earthquake, resulting in some historical buildings sadly collapsing.
As I set off towards Aizu, my mind was filled with both anticipation and anxiety, wondering if the Chuureidou had managed to withstand the test of time without collapsing.
A Gracious Encounter at Chuureidou
I arrived at the site just as the evening sun was painting the sky in shades of orange.
Among the hilltop temples and residential areas, the Kotayama Chuureidou stood before me.
At first glance, it appeared like any other park in the city, but there were no play structures. Apart from the red hall, the area was dotted with old stone monuments amidst pine and cherry blossom trees.
A little girl was playing with what seemed to be her mother and grandmother.
An elderly man from a nearby house came out as I was moving a fence to park my car. He asked, "What brings you here?"
I explained that I had read the booklet from the bereaved families' association and had come to pay my respects.
Upon learning that I came from another town, he kindly said, "I appreciate the effort you've made to come all this way." Though he was not a member of the bereaved families' association, he proceeded to explain about the Chuureidou to the extent he knew.
The Kotayama Chuureidou is a facility in Fukushima Prefecture, managed by the bereaved families' association on commission.
Inside the Chuureidou, the remains of 18,000 war dead are enshrined, some of which are urns containing only pieces of paper.
Outside the hall, there are Chukonhi monuments for wars like the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War.
The kind old man, dressed casually in a jersey, spoke in a gentle manner that seemed incongruent with his appearance.
As I wondered about this odd contrast, he said,
"Actually, I was just mowing the lawn here (at the Chuureidou)."
He spoke a bit shyly about his relaxed attire, and I asked, "Today must have been hot for mowing."
"Yes, it took me five hours."
I was surprised by the amount of time it took, but he explained that he did the lawn mowing as a voluntary act of kindness.。
I couldn't imagine myself doing such work even for an hour, even if I were paid for it.
"I sometimes clear the grass with a lawn mower to keep my own garden neat since I live nearby."
"Is that so..."
My heart swelled with warmth from witnessing the old man's volunteer spirit, and I was at a loss for words.
Gratitude and the Future of Chuureidou
After being seen off by the old man, I decided to pay my respects to each of the Chukonhi monuments erected outside the hall.
These monuments have accumulated history and are indeed aged, covered in moss. The Chukonhi Monument for the Russo-Japanese War is so ancient that the inscriptions are unreadable, and some parts of the stone have crumbled.
- Russo-Japanese War Chukonhi Monument
- Instead of flowers, there are red "akabeko" stones at the Chukonhi Monument.
Moreover, there are several tree stumps scattered around. According to the old man from earlier, "There used to be pine trees planted here, but they were cut down because it was difficult to clean up the fallen leaves."
As for the Chuureidou itself, the members of the bereaved families' association, who are responsible for its management, are only present on Mondays and Wednesdays. Therefore, I couldn't enter it and had to offer my prayers from outside.
(Thank you for safely letting me visit...! Rest in peace.)
(I hope you can rest peacefully.)
Even though my prayers were through the closed shutters, I hope my feelings reached them even a little.
"The members of the bereaved families' association are all over 80 years old," the old man spoke to me again as I finished my prayers and prepared to leave.
"Well, it's quite challenging to do the grass-cutting, you see..." he continued.
"The local women's association comes twice a month to weed the grass for us," he said, "But during the summer, the weeds grow so fast that twice a month isn't enough."
I couldn't help but wonder and asked the old man, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but how old are you?"
"I? I'm 75," he replied.
"Really? And you manage to spend five hours doing the grass-cutting? That's impressive!" I praised him, though my words might have sounded like flattery.
Without responding to my compliment, the old man gazed at the Chuureidou and said, "Families' associations all over the country are struggling with an aging membership."
"I've seen news about it," I said. I recalled reading about a certain cenotaph in the Hokuriku region being removed due to the aging members of the bereaved families unable to manage it.
"I hope it will continue for a long time," he added.
On the stairs of the Chuureidou, I saw the young girl I had seen before, holding hands with her mother and grandmother, playing happily and cheerfully. Their lively voices mixed with a sense of warmth and longing.
Blending into the local community, the Chuureidou stands as a symbol of remembrance.
With the old man's words, "Please come again on Monday or Wednesday," lingering in my mind, I started my journey back home.
Once I arrived home, I searched on the local TV station's website and found that due to the aging members of the bereaved families' association, the memorial service on the day of the end of the war had also been canceled at the Chuureidou on Odayama. The membership was decreasing every year. Since it is a facility managed by the prefecture, I don't think it will completely fade away. However, the thought of what would happen if that old man was no longer able to continue his kind efforts or if the continuation of the bereaved families' association became difficult, leaves me with a sense of unease.
Although it was not the main topic I mentioned earlier, if we consider the connections to places, the Chuureidou and the Chukonhi Monument have been the cherished locations that have embraced the thoughts of 18,000 war dead and their bereaved families. They are essential places for the local community.
If these places to direct our thoughts, like the Chukonhi Monument, were to disappear, I wonder where those thoughts would go? Would they just vanish?
As I saw the young girl at the Chuureidou, I hoped that she would become a schoolgirl and learn about the history of this temple. I wished that things could stay as they are now, and if possible, even longer.
Such thoughts filled my mind.
I wanted to know the history of this town, which I only vaguely knew about. As a result, I had an unexpected experience after stepping into the library.
Moreover, living in Japan, I realized that the history of a town is often intertwined with memories of war.
In school, history classes tend to rush through from the Jomon period to the present, so there was never a proper opportunity to learn about the period of wars.
However, through this experience, every time I come across a "cenotaph" or "Chukonhi monument" in some town, I am likely to remember that Japan had wars in the past and recall my encounter with that old man.
Furthermore, due to the aging of bereaved families' associations, not only this Chureido on Odayama but also the management of memorial monuments across the country is becoming increasingly difficult.
There may be various opinions and perspectives on how to deal with this situation, such as whether they should be removed for safety reasons or entrusted to local authorities.
As I lack the knowledge on how to address this issue properly, I am unsure of the best approach. However, at the very least, if I encounter a memorial monument during my travels or elsewhere, I will offer my prayers and express gratitude for the safe passage of those who have passed away and wish for the peaceful repose of the souls of the war dead in that place.
Have you ever come across a memorial monument in your town?
Even if it stands inconspicuously, there may be a history or background unique to that land, similar to the background I experienced.
If you are interested, why not direct your thoughts to the history and background of that cenotaph?
・"Isotose: 50th Anniversary Memorial, War Experience Collection" (Fukushima Prefecture Bereaved Families Association) ・Fukushima Prefectural History, Volume 15" (Fukushima Prefecture) ・"Aizu-Wakamatsu City's Odayama Chureido Memorial Hall Commemorates War Dead" (Fukushima Central Television News)