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The Synthesizing Role of The I.N.A. Martyrs' Memorial: Moirang & The Indo-Japanese Peace Cenotaph: Lotpaching (Red Hill)

Manindra Singh Mairembam


10. International Significance of the Indo-Japanese Peace Cenotaph:

On a 5,000-sq-m-plot at the northern foothill of Lotpaching (Photoplate 10-5)immediately to the south of the Imphal-Moirang road, M/s. Mitsui Construction Co.of Japan undertook the construction of this India Peace Memorial (Indo-Japanese Peace Cenotaph) in September 1993 and by February 1994 it was completed at the cost in rupee terms of around Rs 2 crore, and thereafter inaugurated with a befitting ceremony on 21 March 1994 against the backdrop of the three national flags of the United Kingdom, Japan and India and in the presence of a large team of 161 members coming from all over Japan representing war veterans and their bereaved families, besides officials from Japan. The memorial was so designed as to conform to the limited area of the available land i.e. on a narrow strip of land surrounded by the hill on the south. State highway on the north, and grove of eucalyptus trees on the east. It contains a main gate, 1 feet thick RCC pavement finished with red sandstone (Rajasthani), ceremonial yard protected by two concrete Japanese pattern screen (By§bo) of five folds on the south and north. The two concrete structures of 'By§bo' look simple but very imposingly beautiful piece of structure.

It is said that the 3 (three) crude unpolished red sandstone blocks brought over from Rajasthan (India) lying in the center of the ceremonial yard represents the blood of Indo-Japanese and Allied forces who laid down their lives in the battle of Imphal in 1944. The landscape of the site is the main attraction of the shrine. Cherry blossoms _ the most favoured flowering tree of Japan _ brought over by war veterans also find their place around the memorial. A special memorial service in unique Japanese custom and style was also conducted according to Buddhist rites by four monks in their traditional attire with rosaries in their hands praying for eternal peace of the departed souls of the fallen heroes. Photographs and scrolls depicting the insignia of their old Divisions and Regiments were also put up with ceremonial yard. Lighted candles, wreaths of beautiful chrysanthemum flowers (local Madhabi), Haikus (specially prepared for the occasion), gohan (Japanese rice), sake (Japanese wine), salt, cigarettes, snacks and sweets _ all supposedly favourites of soldiers have been placed on the altars.

After the inauguration of the same Peace Memorial ( 1994), one Kitsu Watanabe visited the Memorial with a touchingly unique purpose at hand, because he was just 4 days old when his father, Kenkichi Watanabe left his home (Tochigi Prefacture, Japan) for the war campaign, and eventually was killed in the Red Hill. The same Kitsu Watanabe represented his bereaved family in the 3rd Japanese-government sponsored mission which came over to Manipur _ apparently overwhelmed at his ability to pray for the eternal peace of his father's soul after a long lapse of 34 years at the proposed site even before the construction of the peace memorial. Notably enough Shutaro Kotani, the Chairman of the Imphal Committee, the host of the ceremonial function reminisced as follows:

"In 1944, those battles were fought here in Manipur and Nagaland among such people as INA volunteers, Japanese expeditionaries and Britons. Some fought at the behest of their fatherlands' governments. Some dedicated their young and precious lives to the cause of India's Independence. Some died in sympathy with the cause. Even the local populace also sustained numerous casualties. Since then, 50 years, a half century, has already passed. During the long period, we have tried to do something about it but not been able to do it until recently due to various circumstances in the two countries."

He then declared: "The monument, we officially call Indo-Japanese Joint Cenotaph for World Peace" and further hoped that it will achieve two of his fervent hopes:" 25

"Our hope is to maintain it as a place of rest for the Indian and Japanese war deads so they can lie peacefully and permanently and thus, provide opportunities for their courageous deeds to be narrated to posterity."

"The other, to see that the monument will serve as a bridge between India and Japan so that it will contribute to increased comradeship between the two nations."

"In other words, the cenotaph, a symbol of world peace, should remain a righteous story teller to pass on the history from one generation to another in a successive way."

"Please let this ceremony mark the beginning of a fresh road leading to a never-endingly increasing Indo-Japanese friendship."

On the same occasion Susumu Nishida26, President of the IBAWAVAJ sent his message as follows:

"You, war deads lying under the terrains of Manipur and Nagaland! It is more than a thousand emotions to hold the splendid ceremony to your memories here at the Cenotaph just completed in the old battle site of 2926 Hill of Imphal."

"We are all the more moved to see the cenotaph to be completed in this significant year exactly falling on the 50th year, counting from the fierce war when we feel fully obliged to you..."

"We only hope that the monument will remain a glorious symbol as a place to praise the deeds of the Indo-Japanese war deads in the thousand years to come and expect it to enhance the friendly tie between India and Japan, and consequently contribute to the Asian and worldly peace in the end..."

Since then no other war had been fought at least by Japan, which has since embarked on a policy of a war-free globe. In loving memory of these war deads the war veterans of Japan and U.K. held a joint memorial on 17 March 2001 against the backdrop of the flags of host India, and the two erstwhile warring nations _ Japan and U.K. It continues to draw in particular hosts of respectful Japanese tourists and bereaved families of war veterans every year.

A museum in Tokyo paints Japan in its wars of 1937-45 as the 'liberator of Asia, a victim of Western belligerency'. The Yasukuni shrine, the memorial to 2.5 million Japanese war dead, but also the focus for unrepentant militarism, is dutifully visited by patriotic Japanese on August 15th every year as 'the anniversary of the emperor's admission that Japan had lost the war.' Current day leaders, including prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, are however no diehard imperialists. He sees the war dead as victims of Japan's own militarism.

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