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“Student Battlefield -70 Years After the War-” Exhibition

Mizuki Hiwa
Waseda University Archives Assistant Professor

Centered on the theme of students and war, Waseda University Archives is hosting the spring exhibition, “Student Battlefield -70 Years After the War-”.

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in the Asia-Pacific War. Sent to battle in 1943, students had already prepared themselves for war and certain death.

With the exemption from military service for students being abolished in October 1943, many students were sent to war while still enrolled as students and lost their precious lives. However, the issues of students and war did not end with their deployment. Many students made themselves eligible for military service by graduating early, and others were deployed after graduation. Furthermore, family and friends of those who perished during the war, and surviving students had to live in a postwar society while coming to terms with the deaths of those lost.

This exhibition will not focus on the tragedy or heroism of the war and the students who perished in it, but rather on the disposition of students forced to face their own death. It will hopefully be an opportunity to requestion the true nature of the war that led to such tragic circumstances.

Below is a brief explanation of the exhibition.

From “everyday life” to the battlefield

The relationship between war and students changed greatly in 1941. In October of that year, students had their period of education shortened by 3 months, and it became clear that, for students, participation in the war was inevitable. Japan fully entered the quagmire of war when on December 8, war was declared against the United States and England. Students in their final year had their period of education shortened by 6 months from 1942 onward, continuing until the end of the war.

The temporary exemption from military service granted to students was abolished in October 1943, making those who reached the age of service eligible even when enrolled as students. Student soldiers drafted into the army were given the equivalent of a leave of absence, and those expected to graduate the following September were awarded provisional diplomas and “graduated” on the battlefields. Those who died in the war were recognized as graduates, with their diplomas sometimes being received by families. From 1944, the draft age was lowered to 19, and it was evident that vast mobilization of students was under way.

【Photograph 1】Fan (Written with messages for Yasuo Ichijima when he left for war, at Asakusa Kisai-ya) / October 10, 1943

Many farewell parties were held for student soldiers such as the well-known “Meijijingu Gaien.” Attendees praised student soldiers' loyalty and bravery to die for the country, while others prayed solely for students' safe return. A fan sent to Yasuo Ichijima (photograph 1) had messages written on it ranging from the unhampered “We pray for your good fortune in battle. Fight hard”, to the frank “I only pray that you live, survive, and come back alive.” Professor Sentaro Kemuyama (specialist in Russian history), speaking at a farewell party for the history department, said to students, “You must not die. Do not take it upon yourself to rush into death. I want all of you to come back safely”. It goes without saying that considering the political climate and the state of society at the time, Professor Kemuyama was prepared to accept the consequences of his words and actions.

Voices such as Professor Kemuyama's were drowned out by violence and nationalism during wartime and in postwar society as well as by words praising those who died at war. We must lend an ear to the candid voices of family and friends who did not wish for these students to die.

Students on the Battlefield

Drafted students were sent into battle after training with inland troops. As the war came to a close, there were numerous cases of students sent to battle without participating in training regiments.

“Student Battlefield” refers to many locations. From mainland China to Southeast Asia, and from the Philippines spreading out toward New Guinea, many students moved to several battlefields, where their stay would last a number of years.

【Photograph 2】Postcards from Kenji Fukutomi addressed to his family / around Spring 1944 - April 1945

There are not many materials detailing the spirits and lives of students on these battlefields. For students forced to survive in battle, or flee into the jungle to survive, there was no time for them to think or communicate their survival to relatives or the outside world. We must envision the experiences of students who were not able to contact their families or write farewell notes before perishing on the battlefield.

Letters and postcards (photograph 2) between family and friends are valuable in understanding the spirits of students who fought on the battlefield. The letters deal with various themes, such as gratefulness towards family back home and worries concerning damage from the air raids, as well as apprehension regarding one's family's well-being after they have died. While the constraints of censorship were present, in contrast to the extravagant language praising the war and state, the letters enable us to understand the minds of student soldiers.

From the battlefields to “everyday life”

Families and friends were notified of students' deaths in many ways, ranging from brief notifications to detailed accounts from those connected to the students' unit. As you well know, there were cases where even the location of a student's death was not clear.

There are letters from family and friends of students who died in battle. Some letters express a desire “to take revenge”, while others detail grief towards students forced to face death.

Students who returned alive faced great difficulties. After being discharged from the army and readmitted to university, some students resumed their studies, but there were many others who, for economic and other reasons, had to give up the idea of continuing their educational pursuits. Furthermore, among surviving students, many regretted “not dying” themselves and experienced guilt towards fellow students who perished. Tormented by their own existence, some students were hesitant to speak of their experiences on the battlefields.

For families, it was impossible to simply accept the deaths of students. Some families would search for comrades from the same unit in an attempt to understand the cause and location of their death.

We must not forget that those who survived the war bear the heavy burden of war and the deaths of students like a cross.

【Spring Exhibition “Student Battlefield - 70 Years after the War”】
March 25 (Wed) - April 25 (Fri), 2015 Closed Sundays
Opening Hours:
10:00 - 17:00 (final admission 16:30)
Waseda University Building No.2 Aizu Museum Special Exhibition Gallery
*Free admission

Mizuki Hiwa
Waseda University Archives Assistant Professor

Mizuki Hiwa was born in 1973. He completed his doctorate at the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University. He holds a Ph.D. in Literature. He majors in early modern and modern Japanese history, and northern history. He has authored Jinsei Ideorogii to Ainu Touchi (Benevolent Rule Ideology and Ainu Rule) (Yushisha, 2014), and coauthored Satsuma / Chousen Toukoumura no Yonhyakunen (400 years of Satsuma and Korean Potter Villages) (Iwanami Shoten, 2004) etc.