Five years ago today, on the 70th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Nanjing, the museum commemorating those events reopened. These are some pictures I took on my visit that day. As I am told is the norm for the anniversary, air raid sirens broke the quiet that morning after I woke near the city center. Some other travelers also decided to make a visit to the newly refurbished museum, and we were far from alone. The crowds were large but quiet.
When I spotted a Japanese motorbike license plate from Tokyo and paused for a picture, a group also took notice. As contested as the history of this place is, no one seemed to doubt that many Japanese would recognize the awful things that happened at that time. But I was apparently not alone in my surprise that one would leave Japanese-licensed property in the open—something many would reconsider after isolated but well-publicized incidents vandalism and violence targeting Japanese-branded cars this year.
The lines were long, and visitors shuffled through the exhibits. I may or may not have taken pictures of the offerings inside, but they are not in my primary archive.
Today is the 75th anniversary of the invasion. In 2007, to some extent, Sino-Japanese relations had relaxed, and the History Problem had subsided. Today, well after Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō’s repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, tensions between Japan and China have reemerged over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, but explicit historical disputes have fallen out of view for the moment.
For me, this day is a reminder of the varieties of remembrance. I am confident many are mourning this day once again, but little is made of it politically—probably for the best. Anniversaries have long played a role in turns of history, and these pictures are a reminder that they can also manifest in physical space and common experience.