Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Sugamo Prison "Memorial" (Reid Knight)

Given the option between 3 clues for locations within Tokyo, I chose to hunt for the memorial stone for Sugamo Prison. I did so because I’ve always had an interest in how crime and justice are defined in different societies; I even took a class titled “Letters from Prison” as my First-Year Initiative course. Upon a preliminary Google search, I found out that I already knew the general location of the memorial. In fact, the former location of the prison was a building I had already been to multiple times: Sunshine 60 in Ikebukuro, a skyscraper which houses a mall complex on the first few floors (including the Mega Tokyo Pokémon Center, the primary reason why I can’t stop going back).
A view of Sunshine 60 from where the Sugamo Prison memorial is located. Where is that exactly? Read on to find out... 
However, even though I had been to this area more than any other besides where my dorm is, I had not recalled seeing anything resembling a memorial before. Finding the exact location of the memorial required a bit more research, and along the way I gained some more knowledge about Sugamo Prison. The prison gained notoriety in World War II, and the inmates included Japanese people who broke the “Peace Preservation Laws”, set during this period to suppress political dissent. The prison was also used to incarcerate people believed to be spies for the Allied Forces. After Japan became occupied by the United States, the prison was taken over by the Allies and used to house Japanese war criminals, some of whom were executed on the prison grounds. Shortly after the end of World War II, the prison ceased its functions and was torn down.

At the end of the summary I read on Sugamo Prison’s history was one sentence about the memorial stone: that it says “Pray for Eternal Peace” on it in Japanese. Looking up that phrase as a keyword, I found a blog post that said the stone was located in a park. I took the easy 20-minute train from Shiki Station to Ikebukuro, walked about 10 more minutes to the Sunshine 60 building, and then tried looking for parks around the building. Sure enough, a couple of minutes’ walk past Sunshine 60 was a park.

What seemed to be the centerpiece of the park: an elaborate rock waterfall contraption. Notably absent is the Sugamo Prison Memorial Stone.
Because of the small size of the park, it was relatively easy for me to find the stone I was looking for. However, it was noticeably “separate” from the rest of the park, in a corner surrounded by trees. I had to wonder how often anybody stopped by this place, and if they did, if they had any idea what the stone was memorializing, or if it was even a memorial at all. There was no sign indicating it was a memorial (outside of flowers and incense which may be an indirect indicator), and nothing that said Sugamo Prison on it anywhere it sight.

The Sugamo Prison Memorial. For those that want to look up the Japanese characters, it says 永久平和を願って.
Through my time studying Japanese, I have gotten to take courses on Japan and World War II, and the memorial for Sugamo Prison aligns with what I have learned: that Japanese discourse regarding the war has a tendency to gloss over certain factors regarding their culpability for war atrocities, and instead focus on themes such as preserving peace now rather than addressing past destruction. In this way, I wasn’t surprised by the fact that the Sugamo Prison Memorial didn’t seem to “memorialize” anything about the prison. However, I was interested in finding out more about the prison through this memorial, so it was a bit disappointing to find that the structure itself offered very little knowledge. In addition, it was a little saddening to think that those that ought to be remembered through this memorial are likely not getting this recognition. What once was a prison is now just a mall and a stone, and it almost feels disrespectful to call this stone a “memorial” when it does nothing to offer insight into the lives of these prisoners.

To end this post on a somewhat happier note, here is a picture of a cat I met at the park. It seems that there are many cats that gather there, so I'll probably come back to pet them sometime.


Sarah said...

This is really interesting, because I was rather underwhelmed by my memorial as well, Mimizuka, for victims of the invasions of Korea. For such an important time in history I expected something a bit grander. It really is saddening and a bit amazing that such a big thing (both physically and historically in your case) could be reduced to something so small.

Reid said...

It's especially interesting to think about considering how the narrative of Hideyoshi trying to unify East Asia by invading Korea was also used during World War II as a form of propaganda to justify the war efforts (which I'm sure Furukawa-sensei can tell you much more about!)

Jonah Shlaes said...

After learning a lot about Japan's war history, the development and redevelopment of Tokyo, and how Japan looks back on its past transgressions now, the location and kind of ambiance behind the former prison and memorial stone really falls in line with what I've learned. Japan seems to gloss over a lot of things that have happened in its "darker past", and it really is a testament to how quickly things changed after world war two that there's this huge mall/monument to western consumerism over where this pretty grim piece of history used to be. Then again, the US doesn't really go out of its way to acknowledge Japanese internment camps's a bit hazy what to make of all of this.

where to stay tokyo said...

Very interesting... Thank you :)