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From the Olympics Toward Tomorrow
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Shinano Mainichi
Shinano Mainichi

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From the Olympics Toward Tomorrow


A Message of Peace

Coming to a consensus on "Matsushiro" an ordeal

    Construction of Peace Prayer Memorial abandoned until the Olympics

On a residential map of Kiyono, a neighborhood in the Matsushiro area of Nagano City, approximately 170 houses are marked up by one of four colored pencils, turning the creased map ragged.

There is a planned Peace Prayer Memorial in this neighborhood, commemorating the Matsushiro Imperial Headquarters tunnel complex, built during World War II. Citizen's groups and the Matsushiro Peace Prayer Memorial Construction Committee, which had hoped to complete work before the Olympics, have visited every household since the spring of 1996 in hopes of gaining support, marking down the feeling of each visit with a different color.

Green is for "positively supportive," and yellow-green for "supportive." These two colors combined add up to 100 households. Most of the remaining households are marked in plain yellow for "supportive depending upon certain conditions." Only two households were completely opposed. However, in winter of last year the area had shown an attitude of ambivalence toward the issue.

Students from Shinonoi Asahi High School together with local residents use their Sunday free time to clear brush from the proposed site for the Peace Prayer Memorial facing the Kiyono entrance to the Matsushiro Imperial Headquarters tunnel complex in Nagano City. (June 22, 1997)

On September 11, 1996, more than ten members of the 28-member "Matsushiro Tunnel Preservation Committee" composed of city-appointed scholars, local interested parties and city council members, met at the Matsuhiro City Government branch office to discuss developments. Local city council members representing Matsushiro, local district chairpeople and business group representatives were in attendance. A kind of cautious dialogue developed and quickly took over the discussion. "The tunnel complex itself is a memorial. There are now no decent roads in the area. Building something like this would cause such an annoyance..."

The Kiyono neighborhood held a residents' conference in November 1996. Yoshiaki Koyama, who was the district president at the time, and President Yoshio Sunohara of the Matsushiro Commerce and Manufacturing Association took the lead by putting forth concerns and explaining what had up to that point been discussed. "The movement (for the memorial) started out as an ideological debate." They mentioned that their "stance differs from that of the City." They started by explaining the negative side of construction.

There was some objection to the questions posed because the main representative of the executive committee was not present, but the district president dismissed those objections by saying that "the executive committee's position is noted in this flier." There were a number of people who said they were in agreement with construction of the memorial.

But at this meeting the district president replied by saying that "this is not the place where we are to decide if we agree or are opposed." Confirming that "the group supporting careful progress is in the majority" was the next step. In December the leader of a seven group coalition consisting of the local government district president's association, local Matsushiro commerce and manufacturing associations announced that "it is feared that (building the memorial) will be destructive of a tranquil living environment," and petitioned the city government, opposing its construction. The executive committee in March 1997 abandoned construction until after the Olympics, stating that they had "not received enough local support," and postponed its completion target date until April 1999.

The Peace Prayer Memorial will likely exhibit various displays such as the results of a twelve-year study of the tunnel complex conducted by Shinonoi Asahi High School's local research group. It was designed to introduce nearby remaining traces of the war in order to appeal to peace. In Europe there are many places displaying the remains of war to convey the mistakes of mankind to future generations. It was hoped that Matsushiro would help send the Nagano Olympics' message of peace to the world. Voices anticipating as much have been strong since the Olympic bid stage.

But Nagano City Mayor Tsukada says, "I don't think we can really just force a connection between (the memorial) and the Olympics. There are various ways of thinking on the tunnel complex. There is no consensus among city residents on how the issue should be handled. On top of that, local opinion is still mixed."

The City Government's administration section says, "the issue of responsibility for the war would certainly be raised if the Imperial Headquarters tunnel complex were to be brought out. It's difficult to take on such nagging international problems at the Olympics." It appears that postponing construction until after the Olympics is more convenient for the City.

Even now voices of agreement on construction among residents of the Kiyono neighborhood are not few in number. One agricultural worker says, "The Peace Prayer Memorial really wouldn't be any bother. It's only that the 'higher ups' in the area are opposed."

On the other hand there is wariness and strong opposition to the local citizen's construction movement. But the conscription of Korean laborers to build the complex during the war, along with the problem of "comfort women" used as sex slaves for Japanese military and laborers, would send an image to the world equating Matsushiro with those atrocities. One frustrated resident says, "We suffered here during the war as did other places. Why does Matsushiro have to take all of the blame?"

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On June 22 a number students from Shinonoi AsahiHigh School and local residents cut grass at the proposed site for the Peace Prayer Memorial. The high school students also pick up trash in the area every week. While quietly persevering in these duties they will be borrowing a building during the Olympics for the research display, making their own appeals for peace. It is said that recently local support has been on the increase once again.

Committee chief Etsuo Obinata says, "We expected to fully understand the local residents' feelings by now, but maybe there just hasn't been enough intensity. Postponement has been one ordeal. There isn't a whole lot of meaning in praying for peace we the committee and the residents are fighting about it. We would like to continue in our efforts to gain a greater public understanding in order to truly give the memorial its own spirit."

A history of the Matsushiro memorial construction movement

The Peace Prayer Memorial building committee was organized in 1994. The Kiyono district, on the western side of the underground tunnel complex, has approximately 5,000 aquare meters of land reserved for the project. Approximately 40 million yen in contributions have been collected among the 110 million yen set aside for project expenses. The Saijou district on the eastern side of the tunnel complex has set up a committee to build another Matsushiro historical museum, which is moving forward with plans to restore a building used for "recreation" during the construction of the tunnels and archives dealing with other historical issues including women's history, in particular that of the "comfort women." They had planned on opening this before the Olympics as well, but the opening target date has been postponed due to local and other opposition.

(originally run June 24, 1997)

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Copyright 1999 The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun