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October 03, 2004
Edo-Tokyo Museum
Filed in: Current Affairs, Japan

Took a brief tour of the Edo-Tokyo Museum this afternoon.

Went through the the special exhibition first - a selection of items from the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. What incredible things are displayed there! There were fine portraits of the Catherine's and the Peter's, as well as progeny, friends, and enemies. There were architectural layouts of many of the palaces there - they are incredibly huge (some measured in hectares instead of acres!). There is a full guilded carriage on display that was used as recently as the early 1900's for a coronation or two.

To my utter astonishment, the display was completed by a collection of European Renaissance art - original masters from some of the most significant artists in Genoa, Venice, other parts of Renaissance Italy, and Scandinavia. These incredible originals were diverse, many featuring striking Madonnas and scenes of the Crucifixion along with scenes of boats on long wharves with pirate-like men smoking enormously long pipes. There were several portraits of Russian nobility, that had been contracted to Renaissance painters. There was an astonishing 'Assumption of Mary Magdelene' that had angels transporting this Mary to heaven - and most of the angels were the heads of babes with only wings attached at their necks - nothing else at all to these little divine ones - it's one of those things you have to see to really appreciate I guess.

I moved on from the special exhibit to the permanent exhibition which is a history of Edo (the predecessor to Tokyo) and Tokyo proper. The Edo exhibit is much like our exhibits of the Native Americans we have in the states - lots of scrolls, kimonos, and relics from the past. I found it interesting but far removed from our present world of course.

Tokyo history was more interesting to me - but I was ill prepared for the WWII portion of the exhibit. I had no inkling of the complete devastation that our B29's afflicted on Tokyo in the Spring of 1945. During repeated raids by B29's launched primarily from aircraft carriers, the entire city of Tokyo was raized to the ground - it had primarily been wooden structures and our bombers were using incendiary bombs - whatever we had prior to napalm. In one raid on May 10, 1945 over 100,000 people in Tokyo were killed.

There is no mention of Pearl Harbor here. There is only a description of the pain and travail that the people of Tokyo suffered near the end of WWII. It is a scene of utter devastation.

There are unexploded bombs, pieces of shot down B-29s, photographs of a flattened Tokyo landscape here. There are also repeating films like you see in many museums but these do not shirk from showing the horror of war. There are images of stacks of bodies, many charred beyond recognition, along with buildings burning and people screaming. There are reels that show B29's dropping bombs by the hundreds that explode with fiery catastrophe below.

I was struck by the American resolve to end this war by a clear demonstration of air superiority. It went on for months and months. I was also struck by the imperious resolve of the Japanese regime in that they did not surrender in the face of this incredible devastation to their infrastructure - their ability to make war - even to live - was destroyed. Still they did not surrender. It took something incalculably more devastating for that to occur. And despite that horror, it seems fitting today that the war was ended without even greater loss of lives - Japanese and American.

The end of the war signaled an end to a certain way of life in Japan. There is grudging admittance here that the adoption of many things Western - including Democracy - fashioned a new, blossoming culture to replace the bloodthirsty regime that, fresh from their Russian conquest, thought they would take on the world.

Japan's progress from WWII forward is nothing but amazing. Everything here in this incredible urban sprawl is less than 60 years old. It's almost incomprehensible. And it was free markets and democratic government instilled by General MacArthur that spawned what is here today.

On the train ride back to Kichijoji from Ryogoku station, I wondered at the Japanese aggression and the hard fought resolve that America brought to defend her freedom yet again with the blood of patriots. I wondered yet again at this fearsome enemy who in the span of a couple of generations has become a thriving ally.

Then I wondered once more at the face of a new enemy - remembering a part of NYC in 2001 that looked much like some of the pictures I had just seen of Tokyo in 1945 - and thanked God for the resolve of our President and our military that will still go to where the enemy is and take them on to preserve the free choices that we so often take for granted.




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