Commemorating War Dead: Central, Local Government Involvement Needed to Preserve Monuments

Monuments across Japan commemorating the war dead are aging and becoming difficult to maintain and manage. If the responsibility for maintaining such monuments is left in the hands of aging family members of the deceased, the condition of such memorials will inevitably deteriorate. The central and local governments should increase their involvement.

Monuments erected privately have been managed mainly by families of the deceased and local residents. In recent years, there have been a number of cases in which no one was looking after such monuments after family members died or family associations were disbanded.

The number of members of the national organization Nippon Izokukai (Japan War-Bereaved Families Association) decreased from 1.25 million households in 1967 to 570,000 in 2019.

According to a 2019 national survey, of the 16,235 monuments nationwide, 228 were “poorly managed” and 552 were “somewhat poorly managed.” The existence of 1,495 monuments could not be confirmed and the people responsible for certain memorials could not be identified. The current situation is likely even worse.

If aging and deteriorating monuments are left unattended, they may collapse in the event of a disaster. It is imperative to decide who will look after monuments and how they will be managed in the future while family members are still around.

Although it would be desirable to keep all of the monuments out of consideration for the feelings of family members, this is not realistic in view of the large costs involved. Nippon Izokukai has stated that it is necessary to consolidate monuments that are currently scattered around various regions.

It is essential for local governments to play an active role in such efforts.

The city of Maibara in Shiga Prefecture is in the process of replacing aging monuments with new ones and inscribing plaques to commemorate the war dead and others. Information boards will reportedly be installed at former monument sites and used to educate visitors about the importance of peace, among other purposes.

The city established a council consisting of experts, bereaved family associations and representatives of local residents to gather their opinions. In line with the council’s report, the city decided to use public funds to dismantle aging monuments.

Some local governments have decided which monuments to keep in consultation with families, and subsidized the costs of maintaining the memorials that remain. Local governments must share more information with family members of the deceased and other concerned parties, and carefully discuss how to manage monuments.

The central government has said the people who erected the monuments should basically be responsible for looking after them. But the central government must take into account the current situation and assume a certain level of responsibility.

There is a central government program to partially subsidize local governments for the cost of relocating or repairing monuments. However, the subsidy is rarely used because of certain conditions, such as that the monument must be at risk of collapse.

The central government has an important responsibility to preserve records of the existence of those who lost their lives in the service of the nation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 22, 2023)