Japan wants UN to recognise kamikaze letters

Japan wants UN to recognise kamikaze letters

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Japan wants the letters of pilots who committed to suicide missions in the last months of the war to be listed as documentary heritage.

The Wednesday announcement by Kampei Shimoide, mayor of the southern Japanese city of Minamikyushu, comes after South Korean outrage at Japan's proposed UNESCO World Heritage listing of early industrial sites, some of which used forced labor during World War Two.

An unsuccessful bid last year by the city, which hosted an airfield from which hundreds of pilots launched suicide missions 70 years ago, was condemned by China, where memories of Japan's occupation run deep.

Both China and Korea suffered under Japanese rule, with parts of China occupied in the 1930s and Korea colonised from 1910 to 1945.

"Our project is in no way whatsoever being undertaken in an attempt to glorify, romanticize or otherwise rationalise the historical legacy of [the pilots]," Shimoide told a news conference, referring to the letters and wills from the pilots preserved at the Chiran Peace Museum.

China applied last year for the inclusion of documents from the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and archives about the women forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels under the same program, prompting protests from Japan. A decision on this is expected later this year.

The Minamikyushu bid failed to clear the Japanese domestic selection process last year. Should it succeed this time, it would be considered for listing in 2017.

UNESCO's Memory of the World program, launched in the 1990s, has registered dozens of projects to reflect the "documentary heritage" of different periods. Documents include Britain's 13th century Magna Carta, Anne Frank's diary from World War Two and an annotated copy of Karl Marx's Das Kapital.

"This project is being undertaken to make a contribution to lasting peace in humanity's future," said Mordecai George Sheftall, a historian and professor at Shizuoka University in Japan. "The world needs the Chiran documents so that nothing like the kamikaze will happen again."