I'd like to go to a museum, or possibly a memorial or similar, that is about Japan's World War II history.

Criteria for such sites:

  1. Historically accurate. I want it to be honest about what Japan did in World War II. I don't want it to whitewash Japan's history, but on the other hand I'd prefer it not to be a nationalistic anti-Japan thing either.
  2. Include Japan's treatment of asians. As an Australian, I've heard a bit about Japan's treatment of Allied POWs. However, I haven't learnt much about Japan's treatment of asians or its own citizens. Also, in my personal experience on a social networking site, Japanese people (some of them seemingly normal people, not just trolls who only talk about politics) seem to be more active in denying atrocities against asians than denying atrocities against westerners.
  3. In Asia or Australia. Preferably not in the People's Republic of China, and definitely not North Korea. Japan would be fine, but I've heard that although some Japanese people attempt to build museums that are honest about World War II, sometimes politics makes things difficult for such museums.

What museums or the like are available?


3 Answers 3


For a truly educational, fascinating, harrowing & overwhelming experience, Changi museum in Singapore is probably among the very best. Much more below, but first ...

I find I'm drifting towards crying as I write this - somewhat but not totally to my surprise.

I'll note up front, as it may otherwise not be obvious, that I try to consider all races as equals.
I understand that there is much that I do not understand.
I try to hate none.
Japan and the Japanese I enjoy and certainly do not hate - and certainly do not always "understand" :-). I've spent a few weeks in Japan long ago and would happily spend much more.
Based on what I hear them reported as saying, some of the modern Japanese ultra-nationalists I perceive as being too close to their long ago forbears. Hopefully they will never get a chance to prove me right.

Changi museum in Singapore probably goes a long way towards addressing your requirements for one area of Asia in detail and much of Asia in general. It covers Singapore and (then) Malaya, plus to a variably decreasing extent with distance, Indonesia and the various Pacific Islands. It still does quite a good job of providing material on those areas but for Singapore / Malaya it is just utterly overwhelming.

What is seen in Changi is unrelated to the lives of the very very major part of the Japanese people today. But, alas, not quite to all. On leaving Changi it may take a few minutes to restore ones normal perspectives. Brave the Japanese tourist who ventures there - AND deserving of great respect for doing so.

I do not think the museum is overly nationalistic or unfair. It is hard to give a historically accurate tale of unrelenting horror and evil without suggestions of bias and imbalance. When what is being described is so very imbalanced it's hard to be completely sure that strict impartiality has been observed. It's reasonable that accounts from the times concerned are one sided and a historical record of these simply allows them to tell their story.

If you want to hate Japanese people, don't go.
If you want to understand ultra Japanese nationalists, this will just show you it's impossible.
If you want an example of people behaving in manners which would be anathema to most current citizens of Japan, Australia and most other countries, and a sobering warning of how bad mankind can get, it's probably among the best examples you'll find.
In some respects it's not up to Nazi death-camp standard (I'm glad to say). But, in that it reflects the open and common practice of most japanese troops at the time, regardless of why, it's extremely harrowing.

Historically accurate? I think so.
Biased? It can't avoid being but it seems a very fair and open record of reality, regardless of why.

I'd forgotten how very very very impacting it was to look through it (and that was only about 6 months ago) but by now I am crying as I write this.

It gives a good account of the treatment of locals - and some stunningly positive stories of the personal sacrifices that some of the locals made on behalf of the allied prisoners to supply them with food and medicine when possible.

If you are serious about wanting to see an extensive record with much historical material I'd be surprised if there was anywhere that covered their part of the subject substantially 'better'.

The Canberra war memorial museum is utterly awesome (and they do after all have Baron von Richtofen's compass and joystick, an Me262, a Churchill tank, a can-opened Japanese mini-sub, an 80+ raid Lancaster and much much more) but for the specific subject I did not find anything that approached Changi. I could easily have missed it as you'd need far longer than I had available to do justice to the cWMM, but Changi would be 'hard to beat'.

For a reasonable idea of what you are liable to find read the early parts of Nevil Shute's "A town like Alice" - the part set in Malaya/Indonesia (book takes liberties in geographical location of a real life event). That's a glimpse. Then visit Changi. Take a handkerchief.

I have a number of photos of selected material. Not on a website. I could post some to a web page if of interest. But the Changi site may do better. I've not looked. Sniff ...


I've been to Nagasaki Peace Park, I must say that it was quite impressive. If you consider also showing the suffering of the japanese themselves "white washing their role", then that place wouldn't fit the bill. Personally I didn't have the feeling that they were downplaying the role of the japanese in WWII.

  • Does the park talk about Japan's actions in World War II? Sep 6, 2013 at 22:18
  • It is mainly about the bombing of nagasaki, but yes there is some context exhibited
    – user141
    Sep 7, 2013 at 4:58

I don't think the museum you want exists, especially considering the breadth and width of WWII. For Japan it started in 1937 and encompassed an area ranging from the US Aleutian Islands to Australia and from Hawaii to present day Myanmar.

I think a combination of museums would be required to satisfy the criteria.

I would recommend Hawaii as a possible location. In Hawaii you have:

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

This monument is a collection of museums, ships, and static displays. It has two museums discussing the war in the Pacific, including events prior to US involvement. It's heavy on the US and Japanese history, but you're looking for Japanese history. It does mention Japan's treatment of Asians, appears to be historically accurate (understanding there's compromise and bias in almost any historic work). This is also the gateway to the USS Arizona.

USS Arizona Memorial The start of WWII for the US and best represents a significant decision for Japan. You may have to get in line early to get your free tickets for the ferry to the Arizona Memorial, depending on the state of US sequestration cutbacks.

Pacific Aviation Museum

This is a building and a hanger on Ford Island about twenty minutes from the Valor in the Pacific Monument. The hanger was attacked by the Japanese and still bears some bullet holes. This covers Pacific aviation, not just World War II, but there is a dose of Japanese aviation including an diorama and pieces of a Japanese plane that crashed on a Hawaiian Island and the story behind the events.

USS Missouri

The location of Japan's surrender for WWII, you can stand on the exact location of the surrender. Still bears the scars of a kamikaze attack. Otherwise it is a battleship museum.

This comes close to satisfying all three criteria.

Historically accurate, although it has a US bent, I'm confident that most military museums emphasize their countries militaries; consider the target audience.

Includes Japan's treatment of Asians But not in great detail, more tangentially. I don't think it talks about Japan's treatment of it's own citizens very much nor does it address things like the Rape of Nanjing.

In Asia or Australia It takes about as long to fly from Australia to Hawaii as it does to fly from Australia to Korea, depending on where in Australia you depart from. Hawaii isn't Asia, but I think Hawaii fulfills the intent.

  • 1
    I went to one museum or memorial in Pearl Harbor (not sure which one), where I found out about suicide torpedoes, but didn't really learn an awful lot about Japan. Sep 6, 2013 at 23:40

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