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Museums depicting the war fall into a number of distinct categories in Japan.

  • Hakubutsukan (museum): A legal status which confers on the museum the obligation to undertake various scientific activities including the preservation/display of artifacts and engaging in research. The functions of hakubutsukan are determined by the Museum Law (Hakubutsukan-ho).
  • Shiryokan (document centres): A centre, often with additional functions of a community centre, that gathers materials relating to the war.
  • Kinenkan (memorial): A site commemorating a specific group of people or event.
  • Tenjishitsu (exhibition room): Often smaller in scale and a space within a multipurpose building.
  • Senta (center) or Myujiamu (Museum): Names borrowed from English.

A large number of museums in Japan have the word “peace” (heiwa) in the title, while very few have the word “war” (senso). Peace museums are typically municipal museums and listed in a separate page: Peace Museums.

The museums below all have extensive war exhibits. I have visited all the museums except those marked with an asterisk *.

War Museums

Military museums with a focus on soldiers/weaponry. Some are Japan Self-Defense Force facilities, implying continuity between the pre- and postwar Japanese militaries.

National/Prefectural History Museums (hakubutsukan)

Generic history museums with significant focus on national/local war history. Almost all the prefectural history museums (kenritsu rekishi hakubutsukan) have sections on the war.

  • Edo-Tokyo Museum: A generic history museum which had extensive Tokyo air raid exhibits in its pre-2022 exhibits (closed for major renovations from 2022).
  • Hokkaido Museum: Prefectural history museum with significant exhibits about the colonization of Hokkaido and its role in the war.
  • National Museum of Japanese History: Japan’s flagship national history museum. (The war exhibits were added after the publication of Japan’s Contested War Memories).
  • Niigata Prefectural Museum of History: Prefectural museum with air raid and forced labour exhibits.


Other Articles

For a general introduction to issues relating to war museums in Japan, see Akiko Takenaka and Laura Hein, “Exhibiting World War II in Japan and the United States”.

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