Passing the Baton of Memories to the Next Generation
~ A Visit to Tanga Battery and Chukon no Hi Monument ~
This summer marks the 78th year since the end of World War II. However, even now, the evaluation of this war seems to vary greatly depending on one's standpoint, and it is difficult to find a consensus.
Recently, the news covered Prime Minister Kishida's dedication of a sacred sakaki tree at Yasukuni Shrine during its spring festival. The relationship between the state and Yasukuni Shrine has been the subject of political and judicial debates for a long time, attracting the attention of many. On the other hand, I feel that research and literature on war memorials in local communities are very scarce.
In this feature, I would like to examine various war memorials and introduce the war remains and memorials in my hometown, Saiki City, Oita Prefecture.
２．Genealogy of Cenotaph
When thinking about the most famous cenotaph in Japan, many might first think of the "Cenotaph for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb" in Hiroshima. The phrase engraved on the stone, "Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil." is so well-known that almost everyone has heard it at least once. The "Peace Statue" in Nagasaki Peace Park is also famous. The statue adopts a unique pose, with its right hand pointing to the sky symbolizing the "threat of the atomic bomb" while the extended horizontally left hand symbolizes "peace," and the closed eyelids expressing prayers for the repose of the atomic bomb victims' souls. Many elementary school students from Kyushu visit Nagasaki Peace Park on school trips.
In Kagoshima, known for its kamikaze base, there is the "Chiran Peace Museum." Nearby, the "Tokko Heiwa Kannon Do" (Chiran Peace Kannon Temple) stands, and every year on May 3rd, a memorial service is held. In August 2022, a "Peace Fountain" was completed in Chiran Heiwa Park thanks to an offer and donation from Mr. Kazushige Nagashima.
While I have listed some famous war memorials, there might be lesser-known ones that blend into their local areas, and we might overlook in our daily lives.
Actually, in my hometown, Saiki City, Oita Prefecture, there is also a Chukonhi (viewing living things through eyes of grace statue) monument. It is located next to the bicycle parking lot of my alma mater, Saiki Kakujo High School so I should have seen it every day during my high school days, but I'm ashamed to admit that I never offered my prayers there.
However, in February of this year, when I returned home after a long time, I visited the cenotaph and found that beautiful flowers were offered to the Kannon statue! My mother told me that this Kannon is dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. Indeed, for wars as significant as the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, there would be no surviving veterans, so I wonder if it's the bereaved families who offer the flowers.
In the first place, I don't know who manages this Kannon (whether it's a temple, a bereaved family association, etc.), and I'm curious if there have been any seismic retrofitting works. I tried inquiring with the Saiki City Hall, but I couldn't get a response. The "cenotaph" erected for the repose of war dead exists all over the country and is referred to by various names such as "Chukonhi," "Chureito," and "Shokonhi." The origins, motivations, and styles of these cenotaph are so diverse that it is difficult to fully grasp. One possible reason is that simply categorizing them under "war dead" does not capture the singular cause of their deaths. Let me list some of the main types. (Note 1)
・War dead cenotaph in local communities ・Cenotaph for combat units erected within the precincts of gokoku jinja (shrines dedicated to the spirits of those who died for the nation) ・Monuments and cenotaphs erected at departure bases and other sites ・Cenotaph for victims of air raids and other war casualties ・A large concentration of prefecture-level cenotaphs is erected in Itoman City, Okinawa Prefecture ・Cenotaph erected in regions where fierce battles took place overseas
When classified in this manner, many of these facilities for honoring the war dead seem to exist independently of the framework of the nation or Yasukuni Shrine, having been created autonomously by various local communities.
３．Saiki City and Saiki Naval Air Force
If asked about a city that once flourished as a naval port, many people would likely mention Kure, Yokosuka, Sasebo, and Maizuru. These cities served as the naval headquarters of the former Imperial Japanese Navy, defending the surrounding waters of Japan, an island nation. Even today, they are widely recognized for housing bases of the Maritime Self-Defense Force.
On the other hand, there is a city that played an important role in the Pacific War but is not as well-known today. That city is my hometown, Saiki City in Oita Prefecture.
In 1931, during the February town council meeting, Saiki unanimously decided to attract a naval aviation unit. The following year, construction began for the Saiki Naval Air Unit, which officially opened in 1937.
Saiki, originally known for its abundant marine resources with a saying, "The lord of Saiki holds the bay," was blessed with the riches of the sea due to its complex terrain known as the Ria coast. The Japanese Navy took notice of this.
Saiki, with an inlet resembling Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, became the site of large-scale military exercises, including visits from Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
In fact, on November 18, 1941, the fleet heading for the attack on Pearl Harbor departed from Saiki, assembled in the Hitokappu Bay on Etorofu Island in Hokkaido, and then proceeded to Hawaii.
Today, the site of the former Saiki Naval Air Unit barracks houses the Saiki City Peace Prayer Museum Yawaragi, where you can learn about the history of Saiki City as a military hub. Near the Peace Prayer Museum, there is a monument called "Site of the Departure of the Combined Fleet's Pearl Harbor Attack Carrier Task Force."
４．War Remnants "Tanga Battery Site" and Chukon no Hi Monument
As mentioned above, various cenotaph and war remains can still be found in Saiki City. I attended local public schools from elementary to high school, so I thought I knew the history of my hometown fairly well.
However, while working on this special feature article, I conducted more in-depth research and discovered the existence of rare war remains: the Tanga Battery Site.
① History of Tanga Battery
The Tanga Battery Site is, as the name suggests, the remains of a battery.
Construction of the Tanga Battery began in June 1927, and it took four years to complete. The Tanga Battery played a crucial role as a fortress to defend the Bungo Channel area.
However, on January 11, 1942, during a test firing with live ammunition in preparation for combat, the last shot exploded inside the gun barrel. The right gun barrel broke, the turret suffered heavy damage, and fragments were scattered up to about 200 meters away, reaching a nearby settlement. Soldiers who were away from the battery were also blown away, resulting in 16 deaths and 28 injuries of varying degrees.
② Access to Tanga Battery
The Tanga Battery is located in a place called Tsurumi, which is about a 40 to 50-minute drive from Saiki City.
The coastal road leading from Saiki to Tsurumi is very winding. For those who may consider visiting the site after reading this article, it is recommended to take motion sickness medication beforehand..
As you leave Saiki City behind, you might start to feel anxious, wondering if people actually live further ahead, as the road conditions become quite remote. However, you will still encounter passing cars, and even community buses were running steadily.
③ Visiting the War Remnants "Tanga Battery Site"
When you search for the Tanga Battery on the internet, you'll find many photos uploaded by visitors. However, even after looking at the photos, I couldn't quite imagine what it was like inside.
I thought that since it was a "battery," it would be placed on the mountaintop, but it is actually carved into the mountain. As a battery, it was designed to be hidden from the enemy's view. After paying the admission fee, the caretaker will guide you, and you can ride a lift to reach the turret well.
This lift was added later, as soldiers had to climb up and down steep stairs. The maximum incline angle is 45 degrees, and there are over 160 steps.
From there, you climb up the central spiral staircase and can see traces of the explosion accident engraved in the concrete. When you step outside, the strong sunlight momentarily blinds you.
Outside, it is an observation park, and on clear days, you can overlook Saiki Bay.
As you gaze at the magnificent scenery, the memories of sorrow seem like something from another world.
However, in reality, it was an event that shook this place 81 years ago.
④ Chukon no Hi Monument and Tower of Peace
The explosion accident claimed the lives of Lieutenant Colonel Naito and 15 others. At the time, it was determined to be an accident rather than death in combat, and they received no compensation. Ultimately, the battery was never used in practice.
At the Tanga Battery Site, there is a Chukonahi monument engraved with the names of those 16 people. The surviving soldiers are said to have collected their belongings to erect this cenotaph.
In front of the stone cenotaph, there were actual shells from that time displayed.
Adjacent to it, there is a Tower of Peace inscribed with the names of 465 people from the old Tsurumi town who lost their lives in the Pacific War.
After the end of the war, metal recovery businesses reportedly rushed to the Tanga Battery and took away all the iron materials.
As the memory of the accident began to fade, in February 1991, a dome-shaped roof was built over the turret section, and it was developed into a tourist facility.
The facility has been closed at times, but there were voices from the local community urging it to be preserved for future generations, and it has since reopened.
５．Memories and History of War
As we approach the 78th anniversary of the end of the war, the number of war veterans is rapidly decreasing. Attention is being called to the aging of cenotaphs, and it is predicted that in the future, the maintenance and management of these cenotaphs will become increasingly difficult.
For those of us living in future generations, how should we face this reality? One aspect is the issue of financial support. Some argue that the government or local authorities should provide support, but is money alone sufficient?
Within the exhibit panels, there was a statement from someone who fortunately survived the incident (Note 2). "It was miserable. I've refrained from talking about it all this time for the honor of the deceased, but it may be the fate of those who handle weapons. It's something that must be conveyed, but it's sad."
When I read this testimony from 61 years after the accident, I felt a pang in my chest. As I mentioned earlier, the casualties at the Tanga Battery were considered accidents, not deaths in combat. During those times, criticizing the military or similar matters was not tolerated. And after the war, it probably remained unspeakable as well.
I find this fact to be laden with implications. I am of the belief that memories of war are ever-changing, shaped and influenced by the era, political climate, media, and a myriad of other factors. Even the same memory can shift in perspective over time, depending on the epoch.
On the flip side, it's undeniable that shared memories have fortified the bonds among us. But it's insufficient to simply inherit these memories. We must approach the past with dual perspectives: that of "memory" and "history." It's incumbent upon us to introspectively explore these memories and study history.
We must remain steadfast, unflinching, and critically engage our own minds and conscience.
We must remain steadfast, unflinching, and critically engage our own minds and conscience. There's no single way to appraise history, but having our own stance is becoming increasingly vital as we progress in time. A visit to the war remains of the "Tanga Battery" and the cenotaph has reinforced these convictions within me.
When I was a child in Saiki City, it was customary that August 6th was always designated as a school day each year. We were required to be seated by 8 o'clock. The whole class gathered in the classroom to observe a moment of silence. Similarly, on August 9th and August 15th, sirens would echo throughout the city. No matter what I was doing, I would pause and bring my hands together in prayer during those times.
Whenever summer came around, we often received a homework assignment from school to go and listen to stories from those who had experienced the war. My late grandfather, who was a war veteran himself, was one of the people I would hear these stories from.
He was a man of few words, but in his later years, he began to pen down memories, including those of the nights he spent on the battlefield. Even now, a piece from his memoirs and a photograph have a special place in my grandmother's living room.
However, opportunities to hear from war veterans are becoming increasingly rare. I fear that by the time my daughter grows up, there may no longer be a chance to hear about the war firsthand from those who experienced it. Therefore, it's ever so crucial that we continue to pass down these memories. I believe it's a mission that falls upon our generation.
Lastly, I was inspired by the breathtaking view of Tsurumi and felt compelled to compose two poems, which I'd like to share here.
To the Sea
My breath turned white
On a frosty morning of a certain November
The sea, it took him away
Deep into the distant, dense forest
With a young child in my arms,
What could I have possibly done?
Neither could I chase, nor cling,
Nor even lay my life down,
I could only stare at the vast sea.
Amidst the throng filled with fervor,
I ran up the winding hill,
And beyond the familiar ridge,
I saw the sea we once admired,
So vivid, so blue,
Our serene, beloved sea.
Please, I beg you, oh sea,
Return him to me,
Bring back the man I love.
In the now deserted lighthouse,
Today, as always, I offer my prayers.
I had a dream after a long time,
As if I were called by that person,
Unhindered by the vast distance between us.
Countless nights have vanished into darkness,
Countless words have been swallowed by the waves.
I was waiting for that person.
But even those memories,
Will they someday fade away like bubbles?
Yet now, I can see it,
You have become tiny specks of light,
Descending upon the sea.
Right by my side.
I am alone,
Praying for forgiveness for forgotten things,
Just like on that day,
While gazing at the sea.
- (Above) View from the gun turret well of Tanga Battery. The surroundings were neatly trimmed with beautiful grass.
As the Tanga remains seemed on the verge of collapse, a dome-shaped roof was added. The guide informed us that local people worked hard to preserve it.
- (Below) Tsurumisaki Lighthouse near Tanga Battery. The easternmost point of Kyushu. It attracts many people on New Year's Day.
１）Case Study on the Establishment and Ceremonies of War Dead Memorials and Cenotaphs in Postwar Local Communities" by Mitsugu Koumoto, in "Genealogy of Memorial Services," edited by Koukyo Murakami and Akira Nishimura, published by Sinwasha.
２）August 20, 2001, Morning edition of Mainichi Shimbun, Tanga Battery exhibition panel.