Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Forgotten Memorial? (Sarah)

Mimizuka (The Mound of Ears) is a monument dedicated to the Korean soldiers killed during Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea. The noses and ears of the soldiers were taken back to Japan instead of heads as proof, and although not all the remains ended up in the monument, the concept alone is powerful enough. However, when I visited Mimizuka, I have to admit that I was initially disappointed.

When I first started researching Mimizuka I asked my host mom if she knew it, but she had never heard of it. The man working in the customer service booth at the train station also didn’t know what I was talking about, so I went with the information I could find online.

When I arrived in Shichijo, where Mimizuka is located, I kept looking around at the neighborhood trying to find something to connect it to the monument. But nothing about the neighborhood or the students wandering its streets seemed to suggest anything was different from my own neighborhood in Hirakata, except perhaps the sheer number of taxis parked with their drivers asleep in their seats. As I moved on I found a rather sizable museum, unfortunately it was closed at the time, but I felt the museum was a good sign, I must be getting closer. Only a little bit further down that same street I happened upon a temple of sorts. I’m not sure if it had a specific purpose, but there seemed to be a ceremony going on at the time that looked something like a marriage.

At this point, according to my map, Mimizuka was only just across the street. But looking down the street from the steps of the temple, I didn’t see anything that struck me as an important war memorial. I saw a playground and more sleeping cab drivers. As I made my way down that street, if I hadn’t been paying attention I could have easily passed it without noticing. I didn't seem like a historical site to me. It didn’t have enough presence. It was a rather unassuming mound nestled into the middle of a neighborhood, and most disturbing to me, right next to a children’s playground. The front gate was locked, so I couldn’t actually walk up to the mound. Instead, I stood in front of the information sign that was written in both Japanese and Korean, but got nothing much from it, so I took a few pictures and started to head back.

As I was walking back down the street, I decided that I couldn’t just leave. I hadn’t learned anymore about the site than I could learn by looking at a picture online. I decided I needed to ask someone, but I wasn’t going to wake up one of the sleeping cab drivers, so I decided to go back to the temple and ask a man I had seen earlier manning a booth off to the side. I asked him what he thought of Mimizuka being there and what the general attitude towards it was in the area, but much to my frustration I couldn’t understand much of what he said. At the same time, customers were gathering at the booth and I was getting the increasing feeling that he was uncomfortable talking about this, so not feeling the need to drag the matter out any longer, I decided to try someone else. I had seen a nice looking snack shop on my way from the station. Since I planned to buy some snacks to bring back to my host family anyways I figured I could ask the storeowner.

As I approached the shop, at first I thought the owner wasn’t there, I only saw two elderly women sitting on a sofa off to the side. It turned out they ran the shop together, and as I asked what snack was most popular with kids, I tried to think of how to frame my question to make the interaction more comfortable this time. I think having interacted with them as a customer before hand helped because the answer I got was much clearer this time. The woman running the cash register was mainly the one who talked with me, but she was a bit hard of hearing so the other woman would help occasionally by repeating what I said if she didn’t hear it. 

What she told me was that people these days don’t pay much attention to it anymore like the older generations used to. But even if the locals and Japanese in general don’t pay much attention to it, Koreans will still sometimes come to pay their respects. So whether it be that more recent generations have less direct experience and connections to war or something else, it seems like, in the area, Mimizuka isn’t very present. That might explain it’s lack of grandeur and why it seems to be rather arbitrarily and unceremoniously placed next to a playground in the middle of the neighborhood.

After our conversation was over and I thanked them for their help and headed over to McDonalds to contemplate war over some ice cream before heading back home.


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