Editor’s Note: This post by Adam Tompkins is the fifth installment in the Parks and Profit series, which explores the complex relationship between profit and parks historically and in present-day. Highlighting the resiliency of local communities, Tompkins shows how governments can profit from wielding park-making as an instrument of historical and cultural erasure.
Showa Kinen Koen (Showa Memorial Park), the largest urban green space in Tokyo, covers over an important history of militarization and anti-base protest. The historical erasure is not an accident. Nearby, a much smaller and lesser-known community park with no official name better preserves the memory of the postwar past. The park, commonly referred to as Sunagawa Akimatsuri Hiroba (Sunagawa Autumn Festival Park/Square), is used by Sunagawa Heiwa Hiroba (Sunagawa Peace Square, hereafter SHH), an activist community organization, to connect local history to issues of concern within the contemporary Japanese peace movement. The lands upon which these two parks sit share an inharmonious historical linkage, rooted in an epic struggle over land rights and differing ideas about the meaning of citizenship and democracy in postwar Japan. The distinct difference in historical messaging conveyed by park programs effectively carries that argument forward into the present.
“The lands upon which these two parks sit share an inharmonious historical linkage, rooted in an epic struggle over land rights and differing ideas about the meaning of citizenship and democracy in postwar Japan.”
The land that Showa Kinen occupies used to be Tachikawa Air Base, a critically important military supply depot for U.S. Cold War efforts in Asia. A proposed base expansion in 1955 that would have destroyed the adjacent agricultural community of Sunagawa triggered a massive oppositional movement that drew nationwide attention. Public support for the Sunagawa Toso (Struggle) surged as police violently attacked peaceful demonstrators and trampled farmers’ crops. The movement successfully stopped the base expansion and influenced the decision to shutter the base and cede the land back to the Japanese government in 1977.1
This struggle, as historian Jennifer Miller contends, constituted more than a fight over land in western Tokyo; it embodied a clash of ideas about the meaning of democracy in postwar Japan. In the understanding advanced by the United States and the Japanese government, democracy demanded a vigilant defense of the free world against the forces of communism: hence the necessity of expanding Tachikawa Air Base. Economic growth increasingly factored into this view as Japan profited mightily from the U.S. alliance. Citizens in this model should, by and large, support the efforts of the state. Participants in the Sunagawa Toso, influenced in part by wartime suffering and in part by ideas communicated by the U.S. in the first years of the Occupation, understood democracy differently. A well-functioning democracy, for them, demanded a critical and actively engaged public that would willfully challenge state authority if it deviated from the goal of creating a more just and peaceful society.2
Showa Kinen Koen, which opened in 1983, subtly worked to repair the relationship between the government and the public after the turbulent 1960s. No evidence of the base or the Sunagawa Toso exists in the park. Instead, the Emperor Showa Memorial Museum, emphasizing Hirohito’s interest in biology, and Komorebi Village, a living agricultural history museum, indirectly encourage visitors to forget the years of war and occupation that defined the middle part of the emperor’s reign.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government predicted that parks, like Showa Kinen, could foster the growth of a more contented and cooperative citizenry where the activism of the past could be marshalled into volunteer programs.3 Locals assist in the upkeep of Showa Kinen—nurturing native plants, maintaining trails, and cultivating crops at Komorebi Village.4 The Komorebi no Sato volunteer group aims to “reproduce the mental landscape of the rural village of Musashino (the local area) in the 1955’s” so that visitors can connect the “good old things” of the past to the present.5 Creating a bucolic feel at Komorebi Village is made easier when no mention is made of the Sunagawa farmers who struggled to protect their agricultural lifeways from ruin by Tachikawa Air Base.
The land upon which Sunagawa Akimatsuri Hiroba now sits had long suffered neglect, an abandoned remnant of the unsuccessful base expansion effort. The owner sold his land to the state rather than join other residents in opposition, but the government forgot about the property after the success of the Sunagawa Toso. It became an overgrown illegal dumping ground, an eyesore in the community. Residents, around 1989, formed Ki wo Ueru Kai (Tree Planting Group), a volunteer association that removed all the garbage from the property and planted trees, creating a nice green space where local children could play.6 The park, like the form of democracy embraced in the Sunagawa Toso, is sustained through the commitment of local people.
“The park, like the form of democracy embraced in the Sunagawa Toso, is sustained through the commitment of local people.”
Events at the park sponsored by Sunagawa Heiwa Hiroba challenge the historical narrative put forth by Showa Kinen Koen. Fukushima Kyoko, daughter of one of the leaders of the Sunagawa Toso, established SHH in 2010 to preserve the memory of the struggle and bring that historical insight into conversation with issues addressed by the contemporary peace movement.7 In 2015, SHH brought together scholars, activists, musicians, and puppeteers to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Sunagawa Toso and to “say NO” to the Osprey aircraft, Henoko base construction, Yokota base, nuclear power plant reactivation, and the Self-Defense Force in Tachikawa.8 Attendees ate food from Sunagawa farms and suiton, a dumpling soup that sustained participants in the Sunagawa Toso. Fukushima Kyoko and SHH members also planted a Hibakujumoku (tree that survived the atomic bombing) seedling from Hiroshima in the park. Sunagawa Akimatsuri Hiroba continues to be utilized for commemorative events.
Sunagawa Heiwa Hiroba recently coordinated a walking history tour at Showa Kinen that introduced some of the erased history back into the place. Tours leaders spoke of the site’s military past, holding aloft photographs of base buildings where they once stood. It was a limited effort, unlikely to disrupt Showa Kinen’s idealized historical representation. But then again, it would not be the first time that Sunagawa residents improbably changed a narrative.
- See Adam Tompkins, “Un-Occupied Spaces: Demilitarization and Land Use in the Kanto Plain” in Perspectives on Environmental History in East Asia: Changes in the Land, Water, and Air, ed. Ts’ui-jung Liu and Micah Muscolino (London: Routledge, 2021); Jennifer M. Miller, “Bloody Sunagawa” in Cold War Democracy: The United States and Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019), Location 3438-4195, Kindle.
- Miller, Location 92-98,405-419, 533-483, Kindle.
- Protecting Tokyo’s Environment, translated by Simul International, Inc. (Tokyo: Tokyo Metropolitan Government, 1985), 17, 85, 90, 99; Simon Andrew Avenell, Making Japanese Citizens: Civil Society and the Mythology of the Shimin in Postwar Japan, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 151.
- Adam Tompkins and Charles Laurier, “When the Sky Opened: The Transformation of Tachikawa Air Base into Showa Kinen Park,” in The Nature of Hope: Grassroots Organizing, Environmental Justice, and Political Change, ed. Char Miller and Jeff Crane (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2019), 130.
- Showa Kinen Park Management Center, “About Komorebi no Sato,” Showa Kinen Park, https://www.showakinen-koen.jp/facility/facility_komorebi/facility_komorebi_tuite/.
- Inoue Mori (SHH member), email interview by author (translation assistance provided by Fukuoka Aiko), April 26, 2021.
- Fukushima Kyoko, email interview by author (translation assistance provided by Fukuoka Aiko), May 1, 2021; “23-yr-old Joins Group to Preserve Anti-US Base Local History, Promote Peace Movement,” The Mainichi, August 20, 2018.
- Sue Sayaka (SHH volunteer), email to author (translation of event flyer), September 11, 2015.