(May 22, 2009)
by Kazumi Yamada, Local Industry Section, Yaotsu Town Hall
Former Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986), called “Mr. Sugihara” and revered by the Jews, was born and raised in Yaotsu-cho, Gifu Prefecture, a town in the middle reaches of the Kiso River. In the summer of 1940 during World War II, Mr. Sugihara, then Deputy Consul to Lithuania, issued transit visas to go through Japan for Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazi Germany’s repression. Thus he saved about 6,000 lives.
Those days, Japan and Germany were allies, so supporting the Jews would have constituted a betrayal. Against the instructions from the Japanese government, however, Mr. Sugihara was determined: “I will save them on my own accord. I will live with the punishment. I need to believe in humanity.” He continued signing the visas although his arms had swollen, and his fountain pens had broken.
In 1990, in honor of his courageous decision and deeds, Yaotsu Town declared itself a Peace City. In 1994 it built “The Hill of Humanity,” park and in 2000 opened the Sugihara Chiune Memorial Hall. Inside the museum built with Japanese cypress, a replica of the consulate office in Lithuania where he signed the visas is known as “The Office of Decision.” Replicas of “Visas for Life” and other articles related to him are displayed, and the life of Mr. Sugihara is shown in a video. The museum has 20,000 visitors annually.
Visitors learn through Mr. Sugihara about the protection of human rights and the importance of peace, and then realize that even small human rights infringements or misunderstandings can lead to war or serious events, and that under any circumstance they can contribute to society if they speak out and act using a flexible mind and courage. The museum is intended to have visitors reflect on this.
Address: 1071 Yaotsu, Yaotsu-cho, Kamo-gun, Gifu Prefecture
Homepage: www.town.yaotsu.gifu.jp/sugiharatiune/ (Japanese only)
Days closed: Mondays (If the day falls on a national holiday, the museum is closed the next day), Year End/New Year days
Admissions: Students of senior high school and over: 300 yen; Students of elementary and junior high school: 100 yen; Group discounts available
(Originally published on May 18, 2009)
The replicas of “Visas for Life.” The originals are safeguarded in the mayor’s office at the town hall.
The exterior of the Sugihara Chiune Memorial Hall, which is built with cypress wood produced in Gifu Prefecture. The second-floor lookout commands a view of Yaotsu Town.
The Symbol Monument on “the Hill of Humanity.” The computer-controlled ceramic instrument plays “A Tune Wishing for Peace.”
The entrance to the reproduced office “The Room of Decision,” where Mr. Sugihara signed the visas at the Japanese Consulate in Lithuania.