What do you see in the image below….? : The answer depends on whom we ask.
A Japanese person in the 21st century might tell you of emotional stories connected with Japan’s favorite and faithful pet Hachiko who waited for his owner everyday at the Shibuya Station not knowing that his owner Professor Ueno had passed away. Some might relate the story of the Ueno Daibutsu which survived many calamities. Ask a person from London and he will say that the Japanese copied the Trafalgar Lion and made a replica.
The old Japanese Imperial Army in the height of the Second World War saw this very differently. They saw “METAL“.
Japanese government passed the Ordinance for the Collection of Metals as a last desperate attempt to secure metal resources for the war in the 1940s. “Community First” Japanese society encouraged each other with the words “for the sake of our country” to offer up everything from religious ornaments to household items including window grids, iron fencing and all. The situation was so dire that metal buttons worn on middle school uniforms were also subject to emergency collection!!! Like other metal statues in public places Hachiko, Mitsukoshi Lions and Ueno Daibutsu became obvious targets.
HACHIKO MELTED IN 1945: As per a Japanese blog here (sorry only Japanese), there was some resistance to melting the Hachiko statue for the war effort. A compromise plan was proposed, a symbolic gesture whereby Hachiko would be removed form Shibuya Station and “mark” for military use, but in reality preserve it at a different location. Did not succeed. The statue was pulled down on October 12, 1944. He was melted down some say to make bullets while some say used as part of metal on the Tokaido Line. The irony is that Hachiko was melted on August 14, 1945, just a day before Japan announced surrender in the war. Ahhh ….. close huh? A new statue Hachiko ver 2.0 was installed in 1948.THE LUCKY LIONS : A story which I heard from the Mitsukoshi store staff at an event organized by the Nihonbashi local tourism promotion office. The staff informed me that the lions were acquired by the military to melt them down and use the metal for military purpose!! Mitsukoshi had apparently given up on the lions but in the post war days after being acquired by military for the metal, FORTUNATELY, the lions were discovered in an abandoned state in the compound of Yasukuni Shrine INTACT after the war ended! The Lion statues have earned a reputation for being LUCKY and that they will also bestow good LUCK on visitors who touch the lions feet. They are called as Hisshou-Kigan-Raion-Zou, guaranteed good LUCK lion statues.
SURVIVING ALL ODDS : UENO DAIBUTSU : The Ueno Daibutsu has faced an interesting history. The bronze statue was built in 1631. had to be restored due to structural damage just 9 years later after an earthquake in 1640. The temple surrounding it was destroyed after a fire in 1841. Heavily damaged during the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, the head was toppled. The Buddha always survived in the ordeal, but in the height of Second World War the remainder body was carried away for the war effort. What remains today is but the face and is installed at the Pagoda temple today in the middle of the Ueno Park. The statue is popular with students who come here to pray for success in their examinations with the “never give up” spirit of the Buddha Statue which has survived all odds and calamities.Students hang wood blocks called “ema” or “絵馬” with their handwritten prayers / requests at the Ueno Daibutsu Park.In an era of peace today in Japan, these stories inform us what life was like in the days of the war… People in that age stopped seeing these statues as ideas and thoughts communicated through forms(statues). Preserving the statues in times of peace is relatively easy. The idea of Hachiko as a symbol of a loyal pet and as a symbol of difficult decisions and trade offs in the times of extreme challenges is an important lesson from history which should be preserved.