The Architecture and Space of Memorialization in Modern Japan

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In modern Japan, the chureito, which entomb the remains of soldiers scattered on battlefields, emerged as a new type of memorial architecture follow ing the 1904 -1905 Russo-Japanese War. In the 1930s, Chuta Ito contributed to the building of the Earthquake Memorial Hall (Shinsai kinendo) and the Main Gate (Shinmon) of Yasukuni Shrine. Here we can obser ve the practice of linking design to “Japaneseness.” Many modernist architects participated in the government-sponsored competition for a chureito design during the war in 1939. Yet, despite the populist mood of the competition in which even elementar y school students submitted proposals, only works shaped like tombstones won prizes.

Kenzo Tange was an architect who sought to combine traditional design with the idea of modernism that emerged in this context. He rose to fame in 1942 when his submission won first prize in the competition for the design of the Greater East Asia Co -Prosperity Sphere Memorial Hall. This plan to build a sanctuar y for loyal spirits at the base of Mt. Fuji was done on a massive scale on a level that we might call national reconfiguration.

A fter the war, Hiroshima planned to construct a memorial hall (ireido) at the ground zero site where the atomic bomb was dropped. Yet, the guidelines of the 1949 Peace Memorial Plan omitted it because of political considerations while under the United States, occupation. Tange attempted to revive the idea and incorporate it in his proposal for the Peace Museum when he won the competition for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Yet, the plan was scrapped again due to the consideration of Japanese people’s feelings because Isamu Noguchi, whom Tange commissioned the hall’s design, was an A merican citizen. Therefore, the Peace Memorial Plan was already politicized right from when it was planned.

Tange, who had lost his friend in the war, was finally able to realize his hopes of building a memorial in 1966 through his design of the Student Soldier Memorial Hall (Senbotsu gakuto kinenkan) on Awaji Island. Yet, it received ver y little coverage in architecture journals because he avoided informing the public of his client’s political position. Thus, the Student Soldier Memorial Hall is an unknown masterpiece of the architect even today.