Japanese war-time inscriptions must be protected, says historian

War expert calls on government to preserve 'precious' Japanese writings and war sites as important memories of the bloody battle for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 5:14am

A scrawled memento of one of the bloodiest periods in Hong Kong's history has been found on the wall of a ruined pillbox near Tai Po Road, leading to a call for better preservation of Japanese inscriptions that recall the Japanese army's 1941 invasion of Hong Kong.

The kanji - Chinese characters used in the Japanese way - express a soldier's prayer for luck in battle and are one of only two such inscriptions known in the city.

Historian Ko Tim-keung, who found the inscription, said it was "very precious", because before its discovery the only similar relic was a well-known one at the nearby Shing Mun Redoubt that had been vandalised over the years.

"These are some of the very few physical traces of Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in 1941," Ko, an expert on Hong Kong's military history, said. "They deserve better protection."

The pillbox, one of numerous second world war relics dotting the Kowloon Hills, is hidden in bushes beside the Piper's Hill section of Tai Po Road, near the redoubt that was built to guard the Kowloon peninsula.

Ko had to climb over a fence to enter the site of abandoned police officer's quarters before reaching the pillbox, which looked like the entrance to a drainage channel and had become home to bats. He said the Japanese advanced to the pillbox after seizing the Shing Mun Redoubt on December 10, 1941.

The characters read, "From Aichi-ken, 16.12.10. Praying for good luck at war". Aichi-ken was the prefecture where the Japanese 38th Division, the main invading force during the Battle of Hong Kong, was formed and the date, in the Japanese calendar, is December 1941.

"I don't think the inscriptions are fake or just some graffiti, because how would even the few who know this place be able to put these words which fit the date and the army unit, and how would they be able to correctly state the Japanese ways of expressing military luck?" Ko, who speaks fluent Japanese, said.

Elsewhere in the pillbox was another inscription: "The Imperial Army triumphs."

These are some of the very few physical traces of Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in 1941. They deserve better protection
Historian Ko Tim-keung

At the nearby redoubt the name of the famous company commander Wakabayashi Toichi is marked in a tunnel.

The commander was regarded as a national hero in Japan and his journal is displayed in the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, but he does not attract similar sentiments in Hong Kong.

"People have drawn graffiti in the tunnel and someone poured red paint over the inscriptions mentioning Wakabayashi. I washed the paint away," Ko said.

"The government should protect the inscriptions as well as the dozens of war sites in Hong Kong better. When you talk about national education, it is better for young people to explore these real places than learn history from books," Ko added.

A spokeswoman for the Antiquities and Monuments Office said it was conducting historical research into military structures in Hong Kong. The structures in the Shing Mun Redoubt and on Tai Po Road would be included as study sites and findings were expected to be available by the end of this year.

"The findings will assist the government in considering measures to be implemented to protect the military structures that are commensurate with their heritage values," she said.