Japanese ministry plans to train war 'memory keepers'

PHOTO: Reuters

The welfare ministry plans to launch a project to develop "memory keepers," people from the postwar generations who will listen to the experiences of World War II survivors and pass those memories on to others, according to sources.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry intends to include about 10 million yen (S$111,000) in its budget request for fiscal 2016 for the envisaged project. Prospective memory keepers would spend three years listening to war survivors, and then speak at schools and other locations about what the survivors experienced.

Similar projects have already been launched in Okinawa Prefecture, where an extended land battle took place, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, cities savaged by atomic bombings. However, the memory keeper project will be overseen by the central government to pass on war memories to future generations.

The government plans to seek applications for memory keepers from the public from April. The prospective storytellers will receive regular training for about three years at the National Showa Memorial Museum, which exhibits historical items related to life in Japan during and after World War II, and the Shokei-kan, which displays materials that convey the hardships endured by those sickened and injured during the war.

Both facilities are located in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

After completing the training, the keepers will begin their storytelling activities at locations including primary and middle schools from fiscal 2019.

The ministry aims to nurture about 20 memory keepers in the project's inaugural year, the sources said.

During training, trainees will hear about war experiences from people who currently serve as war storytellers, such as those who suffered injuries and sickness during the war and survivors of air raids. They will also hear from bereaved family members.

The trainees are further expected to study the wartime period using historical materials, to deepen their contextual understanding, and learn effective storytelling techniques from experts.

According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the number of people born before or during the war totaled more than 50 million in 1980, but had dropped to about 25 million in 2014 - less than 20 per cent of the total population. With the population aging, storytelling by war survivors has become more difficult.

The welfare ministry has preserved recordings of accounts by the war wounded and sick, but has also found it possible to make war-related narratives available to a wider audience by proactively training memory keepers who can be dispatched across the nation.