The Okunojima Poison Gas Museum (Japan)

(July 28, 2009)

by Mari Imaei, Health and Welfare Section, Public Welfare Division, Takehara City Hall

Okunojima Island, with a circumference of 4 kilometers, is located 3 kilometers off the coast of Tadanoumi-cho in Takehara City, Hiroshima Prefecture. In 1927 it was brought under the jurisdiction of the former Japanese Imperial Army and all the residents were relocated from the island. In 1929 a weapons factory was built--later renamed the Tadanoumi Factory of the Tokyo Second Army Arsenal--and produced poison gas weapons until the war ended in 1945.

As the use of poison gas weapons was prohibited by international treaty, the Japanese military erased the island from the Japanese map, and its existence was known only to those concerned. Workers were recruited mainly from the Takehara City area, as well as Hiroshima Prefecture. At its peak, about 6,000 people engaged in the dangerous work each day. It is said that about 1,200 tons of poison gases were produced there in a year. Post-war media reports gradually revealed that Okunojima had been a base of production for poison gas weapons.

With an eye toward telling future generations that people of the area were involved in the manufacture of poison gases and that many of them died due to this work, Hiroshima Prefecture, related towns and cities, and groups representing the affected people cooperated to open the museum in 1988.

Although most of the factory equipment and materials had been discarded, some significant items were donated by former workers, surviving family members, and others. Workers’ handbooks, poison gas bombs, poison gas production equipment, protective clothing, and other items are on display. In the study room, videos of scenes depicting the gas factory and testimonies of former workers are shown regularly. The museum receives about 27,000 visitors a year, and holds an annual memorial ceremony in October for the repose of the victims.

Now included in the Seto Inland Sea National Park, scenic Okunojima Island has been reborn as a pleasant “island of peace.” The museum hopes more people will visit this island.

Address: 5491 Tadanoumi-cho, Takehara City, Hiroshima Prefecture
Phone: +81-846-26-3036
Homepage: http://www.city.takehara.hiroshima.jp/machitukuri/dokugasusiryokan.jsp
Days closed: December 29-January 3
Admission: Age 19 and over: 100 yen; under 19: 50 yen; Group discounts available

(Originally published on July 20, 2009)

Click on the photos below to enlarge the images.

Equipment used on Okunojima to produce liquid gases. Ceramic containers were used for storing the products as they are heat-resistant and inactive to other chemicals.

Protective outfits of the Imperial Army, similar to gear worn on Okunojima. The actual outfits used at the factory were all disposed of.

A cooling device for the production of poison gases

The exterior of the Okunojima Poison Gas Museum