by Katrena Porter
Human beings have been collecting things for as long as anyone can remember. While there is some disagreement as to whether this activity is purely psychological in basis, there are certainly a number of possible motives for why a person might collect things.
(continued) People may collect things because of some sentimental value or monetary value; they may also collect because it is fun, to preserve the past, or simply because they enjoy the hunt. Some people collect things that are unusual, such as swizzle sticks, outfits worn by celebrities, or even string. It only makes sense that at some point, somebody might end up collecting something that seems taboo or offensive to another person.
So, how does one determine when something is considered “offensive?” According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the legal definition of the term “offensive” is defined as: “causing displeasure or resentment; especially: contrary to a particular or prevailing sense of what is decent, proper, or moral.”
Using that definition, it is very easy to see how one might perceive collecting war-time memorabilia as offensive, especially if the items being collected are from “the bad guys.” For instance, some people collect Nazi and Japanese World War II memorabilia.
While many people almost immediately correlate Nazi symbolism as synonymous with torture and death camps and evil, people often do not have the same gut reaction to Japanese wartime items. It is very likely that this lack of reaction results from the intentional omission of war crimes and atrocities from many countries’ history books. However, this deliberate ignorance does not mean that Japanese wartime memorabilia is any less offensive than Nazi memorabilia.
One semi-anonymous collector began gathering Japanese items in a purely innocuous way. For example, Mike, who goes by the alias of stepback_antiques on Show & Tell (a page on the Collectors Weekly website), stated that his obsession began when he came across a Japanese helmet in an antiques shop. He further stated:
“‘The American pieces were pretty easy to obtain,’ he says. ‘Part of the attraction of collecting the German and Japanese pieces was the hunt—a lot of the Japanese equipment at the end of the war was melted down and destroyed. U.S. vets came back with pocketfuls of German badges, a helmet, a rifle, or a flag, but they were harder to find.’”
Unlike collectors like Mike, people whose relatives survived the Japanese Occupation often donate their collected wartime memorabilia to museums. In June of 2017, Takashi Yanagishita of Nagoya donated a number of items to the Material Pavilion of War and Peace Aichi. These items were obtained by his father after the war. Though he did not learn about his father’s wartime experiences before he passed away, he felt that the items could teach future generations about war. Yanagishita is not the only person who has donated such items to the museum. In fact, a spokesperson for the museum stated that it has collected over 2,600 items from 425 people. Similar to donating wartime items to a museum, there have been other initiatives to return this type of memorabilia to their owners. For instance, one website discusses a movement for the return of Japanese artifacts to their rightful owners. 
In contrast, some people call for the complete condemnation of the sale or trade of Japanese wartime memorabilia. One issue with this is the lack of regulation of online sales. At one time, Yahoo! Auctions even began posting government notices each time someone posted a Japanese wartime item for sale on its website, but it was difficult to regulate only online sales of the items. Overall, there is a perception that Japanese war memorabilia is not as sought after as Nazi memorabilia. Regardless, both types of memorabilia still sell online today.
While there are a number of options related to the collection or donation of Japanese war memorabilia, the bottom line is that each item paints a painful picture for many, many people in the Asian Pacific. Perhaps if there was more awareness of the wartime atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army and others, the few remainders of their presence might be less in demand. At the very least, informing the public of the types of war crimes that were committed might deter new collectors from the thrill of the chase or might cause others to donate their memorabilia to a museum’s collection.