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Tuesday, May 16, 2000


Four cities accept East Indies war exhibit

Staff writers

An exhibition commemorating the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies in World War II is set to arrive in Japan later this year, but will not be held in either Tokyo or Osaka due to pressure from rightwing groups and certain bureaucrats.

The exhibition, "Memories of the Japanese Occupation of Indonesia According to Dutch, Japanese and Indonesians," consists of photographs and testimonies, including diaries and drawings, of those who lived through the Japanese occupation.

It was put together by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation and is being brought here as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations of Japanese-Dutch relations. It was first displayed in the Netherlands last year.

Dutch officials have confirmed that the exhibition will be on show in four locations -- Usuki in Oita Prefecture, Mizumaki in Fukuoka Prefecture, Nagasaki and Kyoto.

The exhibition begins at the Kyoto International Peace Museum, which is supported by Ritsumeikan University, where it will run from Aug. 1 to Aug. 10.

"The function of the museum is to present a wide variety of opinions about the war years, and we felt this exhibition was in line with our mission," said Masahiko Yamabe, a museum official.

Yamabe said the Kyoto Peace Museum has not experienced the same problems as Tokyo, where pressure from rightwing groups led officials to cancel the event.

"Since we decided to hold the exhibition, we have had no threatening phone calls from rightwing groups," Yamabe said.

This was not the case at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, where Dutch officials had hoped the exhibition would be held. The city has so far refused.

However, the municipal and prefectural governments are still discussing the issue and the Dutch organizers and Nagasaki citizens in favor of the exhibition are pressing local officials to allow it to go ahead.

Erik Somers, of the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation and the exhibition director, sent a letter to Nagasaki Gov. Genjiro Kaneko and Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito at the end of March urging them to allow the city to hold the exhibition, said Sadao Kamato, of the Nagasaki Peace Institute, which wants to sponsor the exhibition.

"The refusal by the Nagasaki mayor got us a lot of press attention," Somers said. "Because of that, other organizations became interested. The best way is to give the exhibition a fair chance and then make up your mind afterward."

But a museum official, speaking anonymously, said he doubted the exhibits would be displayed at the museum.

"The city is still discussing what support to give the exhibition," he said. "But some people opposed to it have called us to complain, saying it would not be appropriate for an atomic bomb museum to sponsor an exhibition on Japan's wartime occupation."

Kamato said that his group's proposal was for a more diversified exhibition.

"We want to revamp the original exhibition to include the experiences of Dutch prisoners and Japanese who were in Nagasaki when the bomb was dropped, as well as include more information about Japan's 400-year relationship with Holland," he said.

Kamato said that although no dates have been set for the Nagasaki exhibition it would probably take place in early autumn at the Nagasaki Citizens' Hall.

Somers, meanwhile, said the exhibition already has been slated to appear at the citizens' hall from Nov. 16 to Nov. 24.

Of the other three cities to agree to the exhibition, two are in Kyushu. Usuki was the place where the Leifde, the first Dutch vessel to arrive in Japan, ran aground after a severe storm on April 19, 1600.

The exhibition is set to arrive in Usuki in mid-September. Although city officials said no dates have been set, the Dutch side says it will open there Sept. 15.

It will also be shown in Mizumaki, which has close relations with the Netherlands. A memorial for 800 Dutch soldiers who died during the war has been erected in the town and officials from the Netherlands visit the site each year.

An Usuki official said the city has been attempting to gauge public reaction, inviting local residents to submit their views via letters or the Internet.

"Some residents have expressed fear that the exhibition would express a lopsided view in favor of the Dutch," the official said.

City officials decided to go ahead with the exhibition after seeing videos of it that did not suggest any particular anti-Japanese sentiment, the official said.

"We decided that it was important to make people aware that there are also some painful images in the two nations' past," he said.

Dutch diplomats have said the exhibition will only be in these four cities, apparently giving up on original plans to hold it in Tokyo and Osaka.

The venue for the Tokyo exhibition, Iki-Iki Plaza in Chiyoda Ward, was canceled after officials received threatening phone calls from rightwing groups.

The Osaka exhibition, which was to have been held at Peace Osaka, was canceled after museum officials said they already had an Anne Frank exhibition scheduled.

However, several of those involved in trying to bring the exhibition to Osaka said that although museum officials themselves welcomed the exhibition, prefectural bureaucrats in the Osaka Municipal and Prefectural governments, which jointly fund the museum, were opposed.

Sadao Oba, who was stationed in the Dutch East Indies during and after Japan's occupation, said alterations to the exhibition have made it even more palatable for Japanese.

"The character of the original exhibition has been remodeled and pictures and other documents deemed offensive to Japanese will not be exhibited. I don't think the exhibition should cause much controversy," he said.

Oba added that he seriously doubts Tokyo residents will see the exhibition in the capital, because institutions here suffer from a kind of "allergy" when it comes to holding such displays. "They are very sensitive to being criticized by either leftwingers or rightwingers," Oba said.

Oba arrived in Bandung in 1944 and stayed in West Java until long after the Japanese surrender. In 1946, he was sent to Batavia (Jakarta), where he was imprisoned in Tanjung Priok camp.

"It's very difficult to piece together differing accounts of the Dutch, Indonesians and Japanese," he said. "Consensus is difficult and because of that, Japanese organizers are hesitant to accept the proposal from the Netherlands."

Somers emphasized that the aim of the exhibition is not to accuse. "We want to show there is not just one side to a war," he said. "Presenting others' experiences will lead to better understanding."

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The Japan Times

Article 11 of 14 in National news

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