This paper highlights the complex diversity of the interpretations of a site that has not been commemorated. The processes of commemoration of a site has been analyzed as the contestation over the dominant interpretation of the past of the site. However, little attention has been paid to sites that are not publicly commemorated.
Ofuna POW Camp is an example. Its function during WW2 was to provide a center on mainland Japan for the Imperial Japanese Navy to interrogate allied POWs. After the war, many staff members were indicted as “Class B/C” war criminals. At present, a proposal to build a monument to the camp has not progressed owing to disagreements about where it should be built, and what form the monument should take.
The crux of the issue is the camp’s contested legacy: the position of the Allied countries is that the camp should be censured for its inhumane treatment of prisoners, whereas Japan is critical of what it regards as the unjustness of the war crimes trials. However, on closer examination, a more complex picture emerges. This is demonstrated by classifying the respective parties as POWs, guards, interrogators, and neighbors. Each of their interpretations and experiences are then shown to contextualize their perceptions in particular ways—including some that deviate from antagonisms at the national level. These include the amicability between POWs and interrogators or neighbors, as well as conflicts arising over whether or not an individual was indicted for war crimes, along with their probable degree of awareness of what was going on in the camp. Other cases remain inconclusive because the individual’s interpretations of the camp were too ambivalent.
It is concluded that this uncommemorated site demonstrates the equivocal nature and conflict involved in the attempts to interpret the past of the site. This means there is some evidence that cannot be collected and interpreted to the point where it confirms the stark oppositions that conflict requires. Learning to become attentive to this transitional situation prior to commemoration is one means of ensuring the reinterpretation and verification of existing interpretations. Ofuna POW Camp is not an isolated case in this regard because there is considerable potential to unify the interpretations, so that the open validation by posterity of uncommemorated sites may eventually attain a general significance.