Japanese Veteran Returns to Erect Shrine for POWS
KANCHANABURI, Thailand (AP) _ A Japanese World War II veteran dedicated a Buddhist shrine near the River Kwai on Thursday, saying it should remind visitors of the thousands of Allied soldiers and others who died building a railway for their Japanese captors.
″Let me call this temple ’River Kwai Peace Temple,‴ said Takashi Nagase, a 68-year-old English teacher from Kurashiki City who had his head shaved the previous day to begin the three-day process of becoming a Buddhist monk.
Not far from Nagase’s temple, which he built himself, stands the infamous steel-and-concrete bridge over the River Kwai.
The bridge is the most famous section of the rail link that cost the lives of 16,000 Allied prisoners and up to 100,000 Asian forced laborers. They died of starvation, disease, beatings and executions.
″I hope that visitors will be reminded of the victims of the tragedy 40 years ago, and shed tears for them,″ said the white-robed Nagase.
Nine monks chanted Buddhist scriptures, marching music blared and about 200 Thais and Japanese prayed as Nagase opened the shrine. Also at the ceremony were 22 former Japanese soldiers.
Nagase first visited the railway as an interpreter for the Allied War Cemetery Commission, just after Japan’s surrender in 1945.
″When I stood in the jungles seeing all this misery, I told myself I must come back,″ he recalled Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Nagase has returned more than 30 times since then, and in l976 organized the first formal reunion on the bridge between former Allied prisoners and their Japanese captors.
He decided to erect a Buddhist shrine where he said visitors could mourn the dead and pray the tragedy would never recur.
Nagase’s friends and relatives and the 22 other Japanese veterans donated $4,400 toward the open-air, pagoda-like shrine and large bronze Buddha inside.
Nagase said he paid the rest of the $19,450 cost himself.
A Thai businesswoman, Thida Loha, donated the land.
The railway, which is still in use, is now straddled by restaurants and shops selling River Kwai hats, T-shirts and other souvenirs.
Nagase led a march to a nearby Japanese memorial to the war dead as the band played the theme of ″The Bridge over the River Kwai,″ the 1957 movie that made the bridge famous.
He said ″not many Japanese have reflected on what they have done here,″ and that he could not persuade many former Japanese soldiers to return to the River Kwai because they remained proud of what they did.
″Very few Japanese feel sorry or responsible for what happened,″ said Nagase.