A renowned scholar from Japan has apologized to the Naga people for war crimes committed by Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. Described by historians as “one of the most bitterly fought battles of the Second World War” and a “battle of attrition” involving “fierce hand-to-hand combat”, the battle of Kohima saw the Nagas fighting alongside the Allied Powers (Britain and India) against the invading Japanese troops.
Dr Mikio Miyagi speaking during the Church and Society Annual Lecture of the Oriental Theological Seminary (OTS) in Dimapur on December 12
Speaking during the Church and Society Annual Lecture of the Oriental Theological Seminary (OTS) in Dimapur on December 12, Dr Mikio Miyagi apologized to the Naga people, India and Britain for the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers during the war. “As a Japanese and Christian, I have to say sorry for the atrocities committed against your people even though I may not have been directly involved”.
Dr Mikio Miyagi, a Research Fellow at the International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan was speaking on the theme ‘Christians and Reconciliation: Okinawa Experience’ as part of the OTS Church and Society Annual Lecture.
In an emotional response, Rev Dr Wati Aier, Convenor of Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR), who was present during the programme, took time to reciprocate this offer of apology by seeking forgiveness for the similar hurt or wrong committed by the Naga people against Japanese soldiers during the war.
According to eye-witness account of survivors, as told over the years by Naga elders, many Nagas were killed by the Japanese soldiers during the war and likewise, Nagas had also killed Japanese soldiers. There are also reports that as the war got harder, the Japanese indiscriminately entered Naga villages forcefully searching for food and using Nagas as forced labours.
It is recorded that when the Japanese forces invaded the Naga Hills in April 1944, Kohima became the chief battlefield of the most ferocious battle fought between the Japanese and the Allied Forces. Both sides suffered heavy losses. According to Kase Toshikazu, a Japanese writer, the Kohima battle was the worst of its kind yet chronicled in the annals of war.
“The Japanese and Naga people were both victims of World War II. We are truly touched by your offer of apology to the Naga people. Reconciliation starts by saying sorry”, Dr Wati said in his response to the Japanese scholar.
However this is not the first time that the Japanese and Naga people have offered apologies for past wrongs. It may be mentioned that in 2015, Church leaders from Japan and Nagaland held a Japan- Naga Christian Reconciliation and Revival Summit at Khedi Baptist Church Kohima. The event was held to seek forgiveness in order to heal the hurts, hatreds, anxieties and humiliation spanning 70 years between the Japanese and Nagas during the 2nd World War.
Representatives from both sides had confessed to the wrongs and sought forgiveness from each other.
Earlier as well in 2002, Church leaders belonging to the Agape group from Japan had visited Kohima for a reconciliation service where they sought forgiveness for brutality committed by Japanese soldiers during World War II. According to old media files unearthed by The Naga Republic, during the reconciliation service, following the Japanese custom for seeking forgiveness, they knelt down and prostrated themselves before the 800 people who attended the service at the World War II Cemetery in the state capital.
A news headline in a British newspaper announcing the invasion of British India by Japanese forces in early 1944
In March 1944, the Japanese army had marched into the Naga territory, then part of British India, from what is now Myanmar. They swept through the bordering Naga hills with a plan to invade the plains of India.
Historians say the consequences for the Allied forces could have been serious if the Japanese were not stopped at Kohima, where some 2,500 British Empire troops, mainly tribal Naga, fought some 15,000 Japanese soldiers. The most intense fighting took place in mid-May 1944, when close-range combat with bayonets around the British deputy commissioner´s bungalow left hundreds dead on both sides. Japanese forces also destroyed several villages.
Mention may also be made here that as part of post-war reconciliation efforts, Japanese survivors of the Battle of Kohima and the families of those who died contributed towards construction of the Kohima Cathedral.
Besides Church leaders and civil society from Japan, their government has also taken efforts to reach out to the people in the Northeast region. Japan has undertaken work on road connectivity, energy projects, water supply and sanitation, forest resources management, Japanese language education and post-war reconciliation, which aimed to build a deeper understanding of the actions of Japanese forces in the region during the Second World War.
At the fourth Northeast Connectivity Summit in Kohima earlier this year, a representative of the Embassy of Japan said Tokyo would invest in the region’s infrastructure, education and people-to-people sectors.
Significantly, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed an agreement with the Government of India to provide Official Development Assistance (ODA) Loan of 6,224 million Japanese Yen (approximately INR 400 crore) for “Nagaland Forest Management Project”.
North East India, especially Manipur and Nagaland, is seen as an important part of the reconciliation process between Japan and Britain in the one hand and also the people affected by the war including the Nagas. The outreach towards the Northeast India and Nagaland appears to be a conscious effort of Japan.
From the horrors of the Second World War to peace and reconciliation, this is indeed a story of hope.
The Naga Republic News