← Back to Manga and Anime
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 *.
Military museums with a focus on soldiers/weaponry. Some are Japan Self-Defense Force facilities, implying continuity between the pre- and postwar Japanese militaries.
- Hokuchin Museum: JSDF facility in Asahikawa giving a history of the military in Hokkaido from colonization to the present day.
- JMSDF Kanoya Base Museum: Maritime naval history museum. Kanoya was an important base for kamikaze attacks.
- Kaiten Memorial Museum: Memorial to suicide submarine pilots.
- Nasu War Museum*: Nationalistic collection of military memorabilia.
- Naval History Museum: An educational facility on military history within the grounds of the JMSDF Etajima First Service School (not a tourist site, but it can be visited on a pre-booked tour of the base).
- Yamato Museum: About the battleship Yamato.
- Yushukan: Nationalistic military museum in the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine. See Takashi Yoshida, “Revising the Past, Complicating the Future: The Yushukan War Museum in Modern Japanese History”.
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.
- Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum*: In northern Kyoto prefecture documenting the town’s history as a repatriation port. See Chapter 19 by Akiko Sugawa-Shimada in War as Entertainment and Contents Tourism in Japan.
- Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum: Records the dropping of the second atomic bomb.
- Noborito Laboratory Museum for Education in Peace: A museum in the grounds of Meiji University about the activities of the Noborito Laboratory (famous for developing balloon bombs).
- Ookunoshima Poison Gas Factory Museum: Displays about Japan’s wartime chemical and biological weapons programme. In Hiroshima prefecture. See Philip Seaton, “Islands of “Dark” and “Light/Lite” Tourism: War-related contents tourism around the Seto Inland Sea”.
- Sendai War Recovery Museum: Small exhibition about air raids on Sendai.
- Showakan: Museum in central Tokyo depicting life on the home front. Run by the War Bereaved Association. See Philip Seaton, “Japanese Society at War: History and Memory”.
- Women’s Active Museum (WAM) *: About the “comfort women” issue. See Nishino Rumiko, “The Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace: Its Role in Public Education”.
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”.
Forward to Music →