From Simple Anti-War Agenda to Expansive Peace Initiatives


Nuclear Abolition News | IPS

Mutsuko Murakami interviews IKURO ANZAI, honorary director of the Kyoto Museum for World Peace

TOKYO (IPS) - Of approximately 170 peace museums that exist around the world, a third are found in Japan. [JAPANESE | SWAHILI | PORTUGUESE | TURKISH]

The Kyoto Museum for World Peace at Ritsumeikan University, located in Kyoto, is the only one in Japan housed in a higher educational institution. It captures the history of the country’s aggression as well as its tragic wartime experiences. The private university in Japan’s ancient capital was once an active advocate of the country’s belligerent behaviour during World War II.

In 1992 the university founded the Museum as part of its commitment to peace building. The Kyoto Museum has attracted more than 900,000 visitors. Today, it is widely known for its active peace education campaigns and collaborative programmes at home and across borders.

Considered a major force behind the Kyoto Museum is Dr Ikuro Anzai, who is also its first director. A trained physicist, he taught at a medical school before he was invited to teach international affairs at Ritsumeikan in l986.

Dr Anzai has since gained recognition as a leading scholar on peace studies. He now serves as director emeritus of the Nanjing Research Institute for International Peace at Nanjing University, China, which aims to gather historical documents on the atrocities committed by Japan during its occupation of China’s ancient capital in December 1937.

In 2008, the Museum hosted the 6th International Conference of Museums for Peace, which drew over 5,000 participants from more than 50 countries. Dr Anzai was a key mover in making the event possible. The first such conference was convened in l992 at Bradford, England, giving rise to the International Network of Museums for Peace (INMP), where he sits on the executive board.

The INMP plans to have the next international conference in 2010 in Barcelona, to be followed by another one two years later in The Hague.

In an interview with IPS, Prof Anzai discusses the important role of peace museums in the global peace efforts as well as the prospects and challenges involved.

Q: Why does Japan have so many peace museums?

A: Our country’s aggressive pursuit of war left so many scars, not to mention memorial items to exhibit. Because of the war and partly because of the (Japanese) people’s tragic experiences of nuclear attacks [referring to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki], people developed a strong urge to pursue peace.

In 1978 the Japanese collected 30 million signatures for the first Special Session on Disarmament of the United Nations General Assembly. They have been a major force calling on local (prefectural) governments and cities to declare a nuclear-free status or build peace museums in cities and towns. Civil society in Japan has indeed demonstrated its capacity for peace building.

Q: You say peace museums can do more than document and depict historical facts on wars and their consequent human sufferings. What role do peace museums play in this regard?

A: To promote "peace literacy" and contribute more effectively to peace building in the world, museums can organise lectures, film showings, research efforts, tours, peace conferences and touring exhibits, among others. We can build a network of such museums and support each other for the common cause, too.

Some peace museums in Japan are already sharing exhibit items among themselves and jointly organising new programmes. We have invited officials and curators of other Asian museums outside Japan to exchange experiences and ideas. Together we can do a lot more than the "cobweb"-style exhibits, where we only wait for people to come.

Q: What other factors steered peace museums in this new direction?

A: We have seen the evolution of the concept of peace since Dr. Johan Galtung – the Norwegian scholar and founder of peace studies – redefined it during the l970s.

Peace is not just the absence of war, he says, but also of any form of violence, deprivation of human rights, environmental exploitation or cultural violence. We have shifted our emphasis at our museum from simple anti-war agenda to expansive peace studies. Some other peace museums have also adjusted to adopt this new definition of peace.

Q: What did the 2008 International Conference of Museums for Peace accomplish? What is the next step? A: In addition to the success of the conference itself, it led us to build a framework for its organising body, the INMP. We have made it a legal institution, created its constitution, appointed officials, built its membership system and set up the administrative office in The Hague.

Prof Peter van den Dungen of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford (in Britain) acts as its general coordinator. Such institutionalising process provides us with a solid base for further development in the future. Through the INMP, we can strengthen our unity, expand our peace studies in collaboration (with similar institutions) and help new museums to be launched.

Q: You have established strong ties with the Nanjing Massacre Museum, which shows the gross injustice committed by the Japanese military in China in 1937. Has there been any progress in the reconciliatory process between China and Japan through efforts like yours?

A: Although the Nanjing Massacre Museum (the largest museum of its kind in the world) depicts massacre and human sufferings, it now also emphasises "peace creation." It is significant to note that they appointed me – a Japanese – as director emeritus at its Research Institute for international peace.

We will continue our endeavors toward true reconciliation. Someday I hope we can exchange exhibits with the Nanjing Massacre Museum and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Q: What are the next challenges for you?

A: I would like to see our museum expand into a new peace museum complex, comprising three new museums. One will be a Science and Technology Museum for Peace at our university’s Lake Biwa Campus; the second, an International Understanding Museum for Peace at Ritsumeikan Asia-Pacific University in Oita Prefecture down south; and thirdly, a Digital Resource Museum for Peace Education at the university-affiliated primary, junior and senior high schools.

Internationally, I expect the INMP to develop further all the way to the 2012 conference in The Hague. It will be an epoch-making event paving the way for our people to play active roles in the decade that will follow.