Stroll through history at Tokyo's Ichigaya Memorial Hall

Stroll through history at Tokyo's Ichigaya Memorial Hall
Many people, including children on school trips, visit Ichigaya Memorial Hall in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Above the central entrance is the balcony where novelist Yukio Mishima gave his speech.
PHOTO: Japan News/ANN

"Your excellency!" On Aug. 14, 1945, a group of military officers looked desperate as they approached War Minister Korechika Anami to hear the results of a conference, held in the Emperor's presence, to decide whether to surrender.

"His Imperial Majesty has decided to unconditionally accept the Potsdam Declaration," Anami said gravely. "If you object, kill me first and walk over my body."

Mournful cries echoed through the war minister's office.

The 1967 film "Japan's Longest Day" depicts the tense situations in Building No. 1 of the War Ministry the day before World War II ended for Japan.

Building No. 1 was later partially restored. Located in the Defence Ministry, it has been renamed Ichigaya Memorial Hall.

The structure now has only two stories, instead of its original three, but its white exterior and interior retain the atmosphere of the old days.

Enter the memorial hall, and you'll find yourself standing in front of the Grand Hall, which is dimly lit by the same hexagonal lights used when the building was originally constructed.

The wood flooring comprises about 7,200 pieces of oak that have turned light brown over the years.

A platform at the front of the room was used for the Emperor's throne. The architectural design employed forced perspective to make the room look deeper, so the throne looked farther back than it actually was.

Made for the Emperor's exclusive use, the stairs leading up to the throne are equipped with traction and easy to ascend. Reverence for the emperor can be seen in every aspect of the design, lending an air of dignity to the Grand Hall.

With the war's end, massive renovations were carried out on the Grand Hall, which was then used as the courtroom for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, or Tokyo Trials (see below).

At the direction of the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces (GHQ), the platform was taken down and replaced with a booth for simultaneous interpreters and seats for high-ranking GHQ officials.

The defendant's seat was installed on the right-hand side and the bench on the left.

According to the book "Tokyo Saiban" by Noboru Kojima, a US military journal remarked that former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and his men would have been surprised to see the drastic changes in the Grand Hall, where they would be prosecuted by the rest of the world.

At the Tokyo Trials in November 1948, Tojo and six others were sentenced to death by hanging.

From the 1960s, the former office of the War Minister served as the office of the commandant of the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force Eastern Army. But it emerged on the centre stage of history when the so-called Mishima incident attracted public attention to it once more.

On Nov. 25, 1970, novelist Yukio Mishima visited the commandant's office on the second floor of the building.

He and several members of the Tatenokai private militia he had formed presented a list of demands titled "Geki." Then Mishima drew his Sekinomagoroku sword and advanced on the commandant, Kanetoshi Mashita.

Mashita was taken hostage, and his office was barricaded and occupied. Just before noon, Mishima stepped out on to the balcony and addressed the Self-Defence Forces members who had gathered below.

The novelist was dressed in the Tatenokai's own military uniform. With his fists held high, he lamented the spiritual devastation of the Japanese people, appealing for constitutional change and other issues.

"Is no one willing to join me?" he asked the SDF members listening. But only booing and hissing could be heard in answer to his cries.

Mishima yelled at the crowd below, "You are samurai warriors, aren't you?"

He then returned to the commandant's office and committed seppuku ritual suicide through disembowelment. He was beheaded by a member of the Tatenokai, ending his life.

The heavy wooden door of the commandant's office bears three scars from Mishima's sword. The marks tell us of the mental rigour of the great literary figure, who chose to die by a fierce, anachronistic method of suicide a full 25 years after the war's end.

Today the voices of visiting children can be heard in the building where the sound of military boots once echoed. It makes us feel grateful once again for the peace of today.

Tokugawa family mansion in Edo period

Located on a hill commonly known as "Ichigaya-dai" to the west of the Imperial Palace, Ichigaya Memorial Hall is a two-story reinforced concrete building.

The site once housed the mansion of the Owari branch of the Tokugawa clan in the Edo period (1603-1867). They were one of the three families of the house of Tokugawa. The site was returned to the state after the Meiji Restoration, and a military school was relocated there from Kyoto.

In 1937, Building No. 1 was completed as the head office of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. In 1941, the building housed the army section of the Imperial General Headquarters, the War Ministry and the Joint Chief of Staff, which made it the command centre for war.

The building was taken over by the US military at the end of the war and transformed into a court for the Tokyo Trials.

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Mayumi Moriyama, 87, was involved in the tribunal. She translated English documents from the trials as a part-time job and even listened to the trials when she was a student at Tsuda Juku Senmon Gakko (current Tsuda College).

"I had mixed feelings, but I felt that Japan was moving in the right direction," she recalled.

Building No. 1 was returned to Japan in 1959. It became the Ground Self-Defence Force Eastern Army headquarters in the following year.

It was pulled down to construct a new office when the Defence Agency (now the Defence Ministry) was relocated in 2000. Many rooms with historic value - such as the Grand Hall, the former office of the War Minister and the Bin-den-no-ma, or the Emperor's resting room - were restored and turned into a memorial.

Tokyo Trials

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Trials) was held by the Allied Powers after the end of World War II to judge Japan's responsibility for the war. A total of 28 military and political leaders of the wartime Japanese government were indicted on Class A charges of crimes against peace, and 25 of them, except for those who died of disease, were convicted. Former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and six others were executed by hanging.

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