Japan Museums: Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum
Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum 予科練平和記念館
Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum in the Ami district of Tsuchiura city in Ibaraki Prefecture, 60km north of Tokyo on the shores of Lake Kasumigaura is a modern museum dedicated to the "teenage boys in the Showa period who volunteered for Yokaren."
Yokaren was the largest of the 19 pilot and flight crew training bases situated around Japan before World War II. It was moved from Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1939 and trained young boys aged around 15-17 to become Japanese navy pilots and ground support staff.
As is the way of such things in Japan, the museum is named in rather Orwellian doublespeak: "Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum" rather than the "Yokaren War Memorial Museum." According to the museum its purpose is "to increase awareness of the importance of life and world peace through their [the boys'] life." The museum, set just outside the present JSDF air base in Ami, glorifies the bravery and self-sacrifice of the pilots trained at Yokaren but says little of how Japan found itself at war with China and later the USA in the first place.
History of Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum
Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum opened in 2010 and is a modern facility with a striking exterior and interior design.
The town of Ami just outside Tsuchiura on the shores of Lake Kasumigaura has a long history as a navy town and air base. It was near here in 1929 that the Graf Zeppelin had landed and the town was also visited by American aviator Charles Linburgh in 1931.
Yokaren is an abbreviation for "Naval Aviator Preparatory Course Trainee" and can refer to the institution itself. Japan established a number of these flight schools for young boys aged 14 and a half to 17 from 1930 onwards. Between 1930 until the end of the war in 1945, 240,000 students passed through the various flight schools with 24,000 of them going on the serve as fighter pilots. Some of these pilots flew as kamikaze and over 80% of them, 19,000 in total, were killed.
Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum Layout
The Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum is divided into seven sections mirrowing the seven buttons found on the uniforms of the young recruits. The "seven buttons" stood for the seven oceans of the world and became synonymous with Yokaren. The seven themes of the museum are Enlistment, Training, Letters & Diaries, To the Sky, The People of Ami, Desperate Straits and Kamikaze Attacks.
On entrance to the white-walled interior visitors can view 42 striking black and white photographs taken of the base by the celebrated Japanese photographer Domon Ken (1909-1990), who stayed at Yokaren for a while. Most of his photographs of Yokaren were incinerated just after the war but these have survived and are displayed.
The Enlistment section explains the social system and background of the boys who volunteered for Yokaren. Japanese flags, photographs and books are on display.
The Training room has actual wooden desks from the times, examples of the textbooks used by the boys which included English and mathematics and gives an idea of the strict discipline and hard regime of the institution.
The Letters & Diaries room has reproductions of the moving correspondence between the boys and their parents during their time at Yokaren.
The To the Sky section follows the graduates as they became pilots and moved to the front. Model planes, photographs, equipment and uniforms are on display.
The People of Ami display shows the strong bond between the local people and the trainees living among them.
The Desperate Straits section details the large US air attack on the town in 1945 with video interviews with survivors and a reconstruction of the attack with a video projected on the ceiling and walls showing bombs falling from the sky and exploding.
The Kamikaze Attacks room has video of kamikaze assaults on Allied shipping and is lit with small lights symbolizing the souls of the lost pilots.
Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum also includes a museum shop with a variety of souvenirs on sale, a special exhibition and lecture room and library. Photography inside is prohibited.
A short walk through a pleasant garden inside the Ground Self Defense Force Ordnance School is the Yushokan - a free museum dedicated to Japanese pilots during World War II many of whom graduated from Yokaren. Here photography is allowed and there are uniforms, pieces of equipment, photographs and biographies of some of Japan's ace pilots including Nishizawa Hiroyoshi, who flew with another Japanese ace Sakai Saburo in the Pacific.
Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum Access
Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum is located on National Highway 125, 15 minutes from Sakuratsuchiura IC on the Joban Expressway or 15 minutes from the Ushikami IC or Amihigashi IC on the Ken-o Expressway.
There are buses from the west exit of Tsuchiura Station. Take either a JR bus for Edosakihomen and get off at the Ami stop or a Kanto Tetsudo bus for Amichuokominkan and get off at Ami-sakashita bus stop.
Tsuchiura can be reached in about an hour or less on the JR Joban Line from Tokyo Station and Ueno Station. From Tsukuba Station in Tsukuba buses take about 30 minutes and cost 570 yen presently to Tsuchiura.
The 3-star Bell's Inn is close to Tsuchiura Station.
Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum
5-1 Hasamado, Ami-town, Inashiki
Ibaraki Prefecture 300-0302
Tel: 029 891 3344
Admission is 500 yen for adults.
Hours: 9am-5pm; closed Mondays or the next day if Monday is a public holiday.