Tokyo is absolutely packed full of museums and just when you think you’re aware of most of them you hear of another that has somehow bypassed you. I came across this one about 13 months ago whilst touring around Tokyo using my Grutto Museum pass to maximum effect. This one wasn’t included in that pass as it’s free to enter for all.
With a curiosity about the vast geographical region of Siberia and ever interested by any war-related museum, I was keen to check this place out as I thought it was about the Japanese intervention in Siberia (1918-1922) but it was actually to do with the Japanese prisoners of war at the end of WWII. It’s called Heiwa Kinen Tenji Shiryokan which in English is the not-so-simply named Memorial Museum for Soldiers, Detainees in Siberia, and Postwar Repatriates!
This small museum consists of three main zones designed to present the hardships suffered in WWII by Japanese soldiers, prisoners of war, and repatriates in a permanent exhibition of relics, graphics, footage and dioramas that can help ensure that the memory of what they were subjected to is passed down to future generations who have no experience of war. The first area one encounters on entrance is the Soldiers Zone which includes uniforms, diaries, letters and other materials from some of those who endured great hardship after leaving their families to go and fight for their country.
Detainees in Siberia Zone is just round the corner with a diorama (below) reproducing life in a Russian concentration camp where the inmates endured brutal forced labour in mines under very poor and terribly cold conditions with extremely limited rations of food. As you’d expect for any museum, there are plenty of accompanying pictures as well as examples of hand-carven wooden tools such as spoons.
There’s another model reproduced in the Postwar Repatriates Zone with this one showing the interior of a ship (above) that carried postwar repatriates to Japan. It has to be said that the museum is severely lacking in information in English beyond the basic introductory leaflet given out at reception. Given that there are probably only ever two or three visitors in the museum at any one time it is surprising that there are two receptionists!
The museum also possesses a video theatre, library, audio visual corner and a hands-on section which allows you to try on a couple of jackets and hats if you so wish. Never one to pass up such an opportunity I put them on and boy were those jackets heavy!
This museum can be found on the 48th floor of Shinjuku Sumitomo Building, 2-6-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Entrance is absolutely free and it’s open every day from 09:30 till 17:30
There was a brief time when I was mildly interested in riding the Trans-Siberian Railway to basically get back home to Britain overland. However, time is of the essence and I eventually thought that it may not actually be that interesting. Watching Karl Pilkington (below) travel the length of it in season 2 (episode 2) of ‘An Idiot Abroad‘ (2012) didn’t exactly sell it and prove otherwise!
His words of wisdom were that “they’ve sold something on the worst thing about it” and that if you’re going that distance then just get a plane as things have moved on! His taxi driver on arrival in Moscow was from being in favour of it. He pondered on why anyone would want to do something so totally predictable and that the idea of being packed in a smelly carriage with drunk soap-dodging Russians was not appealing at all. He added that Siberia was nothing but a huge field!!
Just south of Tokyo Sky Tree in Sumida ward, there is a Russian restaurant called ‘Siberia‘ (Minato Building, 4-18-1 Kotobashi, Sumida-ku) which is five minutes on foot from JR Kinshicho station. My only previous Russian cuisine experience was back in 2013 and featured belatedly in a post titled ‘From Russia With Love‘ which also included visiting the Russian Cathedral in Ochanomizu. With a name like ‘Siberia’ I wanted to try out this restaurant but sadly I’ve just not been able to find the time to get over that way to dine out there.
Continuing the Siberian theme, I recently re-watched ‘Dersu Uzala‘ (1975) which was legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s first movie to be shot outside Japan. It tells the incredible story of a wise hunter with a deep knowledge of the Russian Far East wilderness, born of a lifetime spent in the wild. Dersu is a kind and generous natured guy who knows everything about the landscape that surrounds him and the soldiers and he is able to anticipate danger via these natural senses. The movie was almost entirely filmed outdoors with Primorsky Kray and Siberia itself the locales used as Kurosawa believed the story had to be filmed in the real locations of the book.
That movie reminded me quite a bit of ‘Man vs. Wild‘ with Bear Grylls due to the survivalist nature. There were two episodes in season 2 (episodes 12 and 13) where Grylls was in Siberia showing viewers how to get out alive from certain situations presented to him including escaping from being in a frozen lake before hypothermia sets in.
With temperatures dipping to -50°C, one really can’t imagine how cold such a lake is! Grylls also uses snares to catch his food and learns survival techniques from the Tuvans and as ever with any of his shows he has to devour some squeamish delicacies such as the liver (raw) and the blood of a yak. Yuk!
Click here to read ‘From Russia With Love’