Yokohama War Cemetery

Since 1995 the first Saturday of August has been the date for a memorial cemetery held at the Yokohama War Cemetery that is held in honor of those who died in POW camps in Japan during WWII. I was invited to attend by Taeko Sasamoto and Yoshiko Tamura who are educators and POW researchers. They met us at Higashi-Totsuka Station we drove by car to the gate of the cemetery that is located about 9 kilometers from downtown Yokohama. Inside the gate we met foreigners and Japanese who gather here every year to remember the dead.

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The Australia War Graves Group designed and built the Yokohama War Cemetery for the purpose of creating a lasting tribute to those who died in Japan as Prisoners of War and also service men who died in Japan during the occupation of Japan after the war. It is a beautiful location with four main sections: the United Kingdom section, the Australian section, the Canadian and New Zealand section and the Indian Forces section in which there are 1,555 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the Second World War, including 53 unidentified burials. There are also special memorials to casualties known to be buried in the cemetery, whose graves could not be precisely located including one First World War burial and a Dutch war grave. The Occupation period or post-war section 171 non-war servicemen and civilian graves. At the Yokohama War Cemetery is the Yokohama Memorial which commemorates 20 members Royal Indian Air Force and Indian Army who died while serving with the occupation forces in Japan.

The ceremony started in 1995 when on the the 50th anniversary of the end of the war the late Professor Nagase, the late Professor Saito, and Professor Emeritus of Aoyama Gakuin University Dr. Tsuyoshi Amemiya still attending in 2012, decided that a meaningful way to apologize to those buried in the cemetery would be to hold an international service as a foundation for peace and reconciliation for the future. On August 4 2012 I attended the 18th Memorial Service for the POWs of the British Commonwealth and Former Allied Nations Who Died in Japan during WWII.

Presiding at the service was Pastor Takao Okutsu of Shinjuku Horizon Chapel and an alumnus of Aoyama Gakuin who began with Psalms 100 and a reading from Mark 6:35-37. The Memorial Meditation was given by Rev. Kensaku Iwai of Meiji Gakuin Church followed by a Prayer for Peace. Then greetings on behalf of the Commonwealth was Group Captain Malcolm Selkirk, Defence Attache, Australian Embassy Tokyo followed by Mr. Roger Hekking, First Secretary of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Tokyo. Captain Andy Edney, Defence Attache, British Embassy Tokyo presented a wreath of flowers at the memorial with a student representative from a local school. After the memorial service was over the group moved to each cemetery section and made presentations of flowers and songs at each site. The Cremation Memorial, the Australian section, the Canadian and New Zealand section, India and Pakistan section were visited during a very hot morning sun but one which burned in the mind a memory of how appropriately respectful and sincere the proceedings had been conducted. The event should be better known to a larger community and especially those who have noted previously that Japan has not done a good job of recognizing it’s war history. This is one important effort that will soon count 20 years of job well done.

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