Western accounts generally consider the war to have started with the Pearl Harbor attack of December 1941. Chinese accounts date it from Japan's invasion of central China in July 1937 (see World War II in China) or even their expansion into Manchuria in 1931. The war ended with Japanese surrender in August 1945; an important factor was that the first, and so far the only, atomic bombs used in warfare were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
|Theatres of World War II:|
Europe • Africa • China • Pacific
To a great extent the 1937-1945 Second Sino-Japanese War was part of the Pacific Theatre, the overall war of many nations against Imperial Japan. In some ways, though, it was unique; it started before the more general war, was a land and air war rather than largely naval and island-hopping, and was fought almost entirely by the Chinese themselves without much involvement of their allies. Also, all its battlegrounds and memorials are in China. Wikivoyage therefore has a separate World War II in China article.
- See also: Japanese colonial empire
Japan underwent major changes starting with the American Commodore Matthew Perry's "gunboat diplomacy" visit in 1853 which forced the government to sign a number of humiliating and disadvantageous treaties with Western powers. Japan reacted to this shock by quickly "modernizing" along Western lines, copying legal and institutional approaches and sending young Japanese to universities in Europe and the United States to bring home "Western knowledge". After that, Japan quickly became established as the first non-Western industrialized country and a major power in East Asia.
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 broke the power of the shoguns who had been the real rulers for centuries (albeit always acting in the Emperor's name) and restored the Emperor to a central role. However, while the Emperor did regain political power and prestige, a "Meiji oligarchy" around him ran most of the daily affairs of state.
Japan began to expand in the late 19th century, annexing Okinawa in 1879, then defeating China in the 1894-95 First Sino-Japanese War, annexing Taiwan and the Liaodong Peninsula, and forcing China to give up its influence over its vassal state Korea. In the same period, the US became more active in the Pacific, taking over the Philippines in 1898 after a war with Spain, and annexing Hawaii and Guam. Various European powers also expanded their holdings or influence in the region.
The British, aiming to counter Russian influence, helped both China and Japan to build modern navies in the late 19th century. The French sank most of the Chinese fleet at the battle of Fuzhou in 1884, but the Japanese fleet did considerably better. Japan won a war against the Russian Empire in 1905, the first time in centuries that an Asian nation had won a war against a country mostly considered "Western". Indeed Russian Tsar Nicholas II had emphasized his "defender of European Christendom" image in racist war propaganda.
Once the Russians were out of their way, Japan annexed Korea outright in 1910. Japan, with the largest navy in the Pacific, was part of the victorious Allies during World War I, and was able to conquer the German colonies in the area. It would thus gain more territory from the defeated Central Powers following the end of that war in 1918, including the former German concessions in Shandong, China. Such actions by Japan would later result in the May Fourth Movement, which is further described in our article on early 20th century Chinese history.
There was a faction fight among the Japanese high command in the late 30s; they all agreed that expanding the empire was a fine idea, but how? Should they:
- "Strike North", expand into Mongolia and Siberia and fight only the Soviets
- "Strike South" fighting the US, the British Empire, and other colonial powers — the French, Dutch and Portuguese?
The Imperial Way Faction (皇道派), which supported an invasion of Soviet Union, even tried a coup (the February 26 Incident) in 1936, but that failed. Striking north was tried, but in 1939 the Soviets gave Japanese forces a thorough thrashing at the Battle of Kalkhin Gol in Mongolia. After that, Japan concentrated on striking south; arguably, this was a catastrophic blunder. Among other effects, it allowed the Soviet Union to re-deploy their battle-hardened Siberian troops to the European front, eventually turning the tide of that war against the Germans and leading to the Allied victory in Europe.
- See also: World War II in China
Japan acquired Taiwan and some territory in Manchuria after winning the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895. They expanded their influence there when they defeated the Russians in 1905; in particular they took over administration of the profitable Russian-built railway. After World War I they got the former German concessions in Shanghai and Shandong. Then in 1931 they staged the Mukden Incident; Japanese troops bombed part of the railway, the attack was blamed on Chinese forces, and that gave Japan a pretext to occupy Manchuria, setting up a puppet state called Manchukuo.
Japan invaded central China in 1937 and soon managed to occupy much of eastern China, including the then-capital Nanjing. This led to eight years of continuous fighting, until the Japanese surrender in 1945; see World War II in China.
Roughly half of the total Japanese ground forces were tied down in China throughout the war, including troops they had planned to use elsewhere. All the Allied land victories in the Pacific War were partly due to Chinese tenacity.
American, British and Dutch sanctions were imposed on Japan after the invasion of China; those, in particular restrictions on oil imports, were the main reason Japan gave for going to war with those nations. The Western powers also sent supplies to China via the Burma Road. The Soviet Union and America also sent volunteer air force units to support China, with the American one based in Yunnan known as the "Flying Tigers". The Chinese resistance against Japanese rule was also financially supported by many overseas Chinese.
Japan joins the world warEdit
Meanwhile, World War II in Europe began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, and became more complex when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.
|“||Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.||”|
—US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941
The conflict became global in December 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, other US bases in the Pacific, the Philippines, and British possessions such as Hong Kong, Burma and Malaya. The United States and the entire British Empire immediately declared war on Japan, and Germany declared war on the US.
The Soviet Union did not declare war on Japan until after the end of the war in Europe, in May 1945. After the Japanese surrender, it reclaimed the territories that the Russian Empire had lost to Japan in the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War, and also occupied the Kuril Islands, which remain disputed between Russia and Japan to this day.
Early in the war, Japan invaded and occupied much of Southeast Asia and parts of Oceania; they even managed to bomb the city of Darwin in Australia. By the middle of 1943, virtually all of Southeast Asia had been conquered by Japan, with the colonial powers of the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United States all having suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the Japanese.
The Japanese took effective control of some areas without fighting. The Vichy government in France, essentially a German puppet regime, ordered French administrators in French Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) to co-operate with Japan, and most did. Thailand, the only country in Southeast Asia not colonized by Western powers, remained nominally independent but was forced to dance to the Japanese tune. Japan was able to establish military bases in these countries and to freely move troops and supplies through them.
Japanese propaganda claimed they were driving out Western imperialists, leading an "Asia for Asians" movement, and this got them some support; countries such as India had both pro-Japanese and pro-Allied movements. Subhas Chandra Bose, the leader of the pro-Japanese Indian National Army (INA), is still widely regarded as a national hero in India. In many areas, this was also divided along ethnic lines; in Malaya, at least initially, the Japanese were welcomed by many ethnic Malays and Indians, but opposed by most ethnic Chinese. In China both the Kuomintang and the Communists opposed Japan, but they were sometimes more interested in fighting each other. Everywhere, the local political movements were jockeying for control and trying to use the war to gain independence and/or domestic political influence for the time after the war.
Japanese rule in the occupied territories was brutal, and by the end of the war, the Japanese had lost the support of much of the local population who initially supported them (e.g. Burmese independence hero Aung San). In the occupied areas, Japanese troops engaged in mass rapes, massacres and pillaging, with the Nanjing Massacre of 1937-38 being the most notorious. Many women from China, Korea and other occupied areas were forced to serve as "comfort women", sex slaves in Japanese military brothels. The Japanese also performed inhumane experiments on captive locals from the occupied territories, the most famous being Unit 731 in Manchuria (listed below), though other similar units existed throughout the occupied territories. They also treated prisoners of war very badly; perhaps the most famous incidents were the "Bataan death march" and the Bridge on the River Kwai, but there were many others.
As retribution for their role in resisting Japanese rule in China, the ethnic Chinese — both in China and in Southeast Asia — were singled out for the harshest treatment; in all the occupied territories, they were rounded up for "screening" by the Japanese, and the unfortunate ones who were identified (often arbitrarily) as anti-Japanese were brought to remote locations and shot.
The tide turnsEdit
The Japanese suffered two important naval defeats at the hands of the Americans in mid-1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea (northeast of Australia) in May and the Battle of Midway (northwest of Hawaii) in June. These were the first naval battles in history fought mainly by aircraft carriers which never came within sight of each other. The Americans were intercepting Japanese communication, and had broken many Japanese codes, which was an advantage in both battles. At Midway they surprised the Japanese by destroying their aircraft carriers when the planes were away on a bombing raid. The battle not only destroyed most regular aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy, but also killed a number of elite Japanese naval aviators, a catastrophe for Japanese forces.
Two land campaigns, both starting in mid-1942 and lasting until early 1943, also went badly for Japan. In what is now Papua New Guinea, a mainly Australian force gave them their first defeat on land at Milne Bay then, in a hard-fought campaign, drove them back along the Kokoda Track. Meanwhile the Americans took the island of Guadalcanal after a prolonged and intense fight, allowing them to defend their supply and communication lines to Australia and New Zealand, and to create a forward base for island-hopping toward Japan.
These Allied victories marked the turning point in the Pacific War.
After that the ANZACs (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) continued the New Guinea campaign and invaded the Solomon Islands, while the British re-took Burma with the help of the Chinese, and reopened the Burma Road to supply Chinese forces. The Japanese had spread their forces too thinly in China, and the Chinese were able to counterattack and reclaim some of the occupied territories. The Americans re-took the Philippines and captured a series of islands across the Pacific, including some like Guam and Wake Island that Japan had taken from them in the first months of the war.
At sea, Japan was defeated repeatedly by the Americans, with some Commonwealth help. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle of the war; it took place during the invasion of the Philippines, and was a major Allied victory. When they took the Mariana Islands, the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" saw over 550 Japanese aircraft destroyed, while America only lost about 120 aircraft.
End of the warEdit
In early 1945 the US won fierce battles in Okinawa and Iwo Jima and occupied those islands, putting them in position to bomb or invade the Japanese home islands. Having by then won the naval part of the war, they also bombarded Japanese cities with their ships. Japan tried desperation tactics such as sending kamikaze (named after a series of two typhoons that sank the invading Mongol fleet in the 13th century) pilots on suicide missions to crash planes full of explosives into American ships, but even that did not make a large difference.
The invasion never took place. The Americans dropped the first (and to date only) atomic bombs to be used in actual combat on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, followed by Nagasaki on 9 August 1945; on the same day the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria. Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on 15 August 1945, bringing World War II to an end.
Following the surrender, Japan was occupied by the Americans and forced to give up all its colonies. While the Emperor remained on his throne, many political and military leaders were indicted in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and many were sentenced to death. The Americans also imposed a new pacifist constitution on Japan, forbidding it from establishing a military, and turning it into a democratic constitutional monarchy. However, when the Cold War began, the American occupiers established the National Police Reserve, a paramilitary organization that would later develop into the Japan Self-Defense Forces, the de facto military of the country.
Taiwan and Manchuria were returned to China, though the Chinese Civil War would resume following the Japanese surrender, eventually resulting in victory for the Communists in the mainland, and the Nationalists being forced to retreat to Taiwan, which continues to be governed separately to this day. Korea regained its independence, but would be split into communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea, leading up to the Korean War. The Americans would eventually leave mainland Japan in 1952, though the American military continues to maintain several bases in different parts of the country. Okinawa was only returned to Japan in 1972, though the United States continues to maintain a strong military presence there.
The Western colonial powers also got their colonies back, but the war had galvanised many nationalist movements, which were to come of age in the years to come and eventually lead to the independence of the colonies. The first was the Philippines, where American rule ended in 1946; the largest was the end of the British Raj in 1947, which became the modern countries of India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh. The Indochina Wars were a brutal example of lingering national and ideological conflict in Asia. Hong Kong and Macau would eventually be given back to China in the 1990s but part of the agreement between China and the former colonial powers stipulates a "one country two systems" arrangement that makes both act like independent countries in some regards.
A few Japanese soldiers, isolated in various jungles, did not know the war had ended and fought on. The last two surrendered in 1974, one on the Philippine island of Lubang and the other on Indonesia's Morotai Island. Two Japanese soldiers would join communist guerrillas in Malaya and Thailand after the end of the war, and only surrendered in 1989 after the end of the communist insurgency.
Many places that were sites of battles, atrocities or other wartime activities can be visited. There are also many museums with exhibits wholly or partly related to this war.
- See also: Military museums and sites in Australia
Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany in 1939 shortly after the UK did, and fought for the Allies in Europe and North Africa. As the Japanese attacked American and British territory in the Pacific, most of these troops were relocated to the Pacific theatre.
- 1 Adelaide River War Cemetery (Adelaide River). The main cemetery for military personnel and civilians killed in northern Australia during the Second World War, including as a result of the dozens of Japanese air raids on Darwin and nearby airfields as well as the little known bombings in Coomalie Creek, Adelaide River and Litchfield National Park.
- 2 Australian War Memorial. Located in Canberra, the memorial also includes a military museum dedicated to the memory of Australian soldiers who fought in various wars including both world wars.
- 3 Darwin Military Museum (Darwin). Darwin was an important staging point for Australian and American forces during the war, and would be the only Australian city that was subject to Japanese bombing raids. The bombings of Darwin are the only post-colonial acts of war against Australia. The museum houses exhibits about the bombing of Darwin.
- 4 MacArthur Museum (Brisbane). This museum covers the career of American General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded the Allied forces in the South West Pacific from Brisbane between 1942 and 1944 from what are now the Museum's premises, as well as Brisbane's experiences in World War II.
- 5 Broome. Broome was attacked by the Japanese on 3 March 1942 by fighter planes. Although Broome was no more than an insignificant tiny pearling port, it was a major stopover point for refuelling when going from modern day Indonesia to the other cities of Australia. Learn more about the attack at the Broome Historical Museum.
- 6 Wagga Wagga War Cemetery (Wagga Wagga). Perhaps Australia's most famous war cemetery, home to the graves of several Australian soldiers who died fighting in World War II.
Canadian troops were mostly active in the European theatre, though they also fought in the Battle of Hong Kong as part of the British forces.
- 7 Canadian War Museum, Ottawa. Canada's main military history museum, with displays commemorating the efforts of Canadian troops in various wars and peacekeeping missions, including both world wars.
For sites in Mainland China, see World War II in China.
For historical reasons, sites in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are listed separately on this page. This does not represent an endorsement of any political position.
- 8 Sai Wan War Cemetery (Chai Wan). Home to the graves of numerous British, Canadian, Indian and local Chinese soldiers who died in the Battle of Hong Kong.
- 9 Sha Tau Kok Anti-Japanese War Memorial Hall (沙頭角抗戰紀念館) (Sha Tau Kok). Opened in September 2022, this is the first comprehensive museum about the Second World War in Hong Kong. The museum is at the former home of the Luo Family, which was the first base of operations for Communist-led guerrilla fighters from the Mainland who came across the border to help resist the Japanese.
India was for the most part spared the horrors of World War II, though Indian troops were used by the British military for their war efforts elsewhere, and eastern India was used as a staging point for Allied troops fighting in Burma. The Japanese had attempted to invade India through Imphal and Kohima in 1944 from then Japanese-occupied Burma, with help from the Indian National Army (INA), a pro-Japanese Indian independence movement. However, the combined British and Indian forces were successful in repelling the Japanese attacks, forcing the Japanese into a retreat by July 1944. World War II would also be a major cause of the Bengal Famine in 1943, as the British diverted nearly all the food to support their war effort in Europe and left next to nothing for the Bengalis.
- 10 Imphal War Cemetery (Imphal). Commonwealth war cemetery with the graves of British and Indian soldiers who died in the Battle of Imphal.
- 11 Kohima War Cemetery (Kohima). Commonwealth war cemetery with the graves of British and Indian soldiers who died in the Battle of Kohima.
- 12 Chinese Cemetery, Ramgarh (Jharkhand). Chinese war cemetery built by the Nationalists, with the graves of hundreds of Chinese soldiers who died fighting in the Burma Campaign, most of them unidentified.
- 13 Okinawa Peace Park and Himeyuri Monument. The site of one of the most brutal and bloody battles of the war, Okinawa island has many war remnants and memorials. Outside of Japan, Okinawa is often viewed as the first battle on Japanese soil. However, like the other Pacific Islands, Okinawa was also colonized territory so the local population was not fully trusted by the Japanese and often treated as expendable. With the Americans being obvious enemies and the Japanese not being complete allies, the question on many Okinawans' minds was not "How am I going to survive?" but "How do I want to die?". The museums here show the war from a uniquely Okinawan perspective, including life for citizens, students and military. It also depicts well how they were mistreated by both the Japanese and the Americans during and after the war. The Peace Park and the Himeyuri Monument in Itoman are the best places to learn about the battle, but remnants and reminders of the war can be found throughout the island.
- 14 Iwo Jima. Another group of islands close to Japan, scene of some extremely fierce fighting. An image of victorious US Marines raising the Stars and Stripes there is quite famous. US Military Tours has exclusive rights to the island and only US citizens who are members of the Iwo Jima Association of America, WWII veterans, or WWII prisoners of war are eligible to join the tours.
- 15 Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots. As the war approached the home islands, the desperate Japanese began sending out young men to fly aircraft packed with explosives into American ships. The museum is located in Chiran over the former spot where the tokko pilots (known abroad as kamikaze pilots) were trained and flew from. The museum contains information about the pilots, artifacts and letters from them, and recovered kamikaze planes.
- 16 Hiroshima Peace Park and Memorial Museum. Hiroshima was the first place in the world to be attacked with an atomic bomb. The museum shows how devastating the bomb was to the city and the effects it had on the people from the immediate aftermath to the present day.
- 17 [dead link] Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and Peace Memorial Hall (Nagasaki). Museums that are on the site where the atomic bomb was dropped on August 9, 1945. The Nagasaki bombing led to Japanese surrender and is also noted as the last place to have an atomic bomb dropped on it.
- 18 Oka Masaharu Memorial Nagasaki Peace Museum (岡まさはる記念長崎平和資料館) (Nagasaki). One of the very few places in Japan where the war crimes of the Japanese army during the Second World War are documented. Another focus of the exhibition lies on the foreign victims of the atomic bomb and their struggle for recognition and compensation.
- 19 Peace Osaka (大阪国際平和センター) (Osaka Castle area, Osaka). A museum dedicated to the promotion of peace through displays of war. Because it is an Osaka museum, it largely focuses on the effects of American aerial bombings on Osaka between December 1944 and August 1945. In the past, the museum also had exhibitions depicting the atrocities committed by Japan against China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Sadly, however, those exhibitions were permanently removed in 2015 in response to pressure from conservative political groups.
- 20 Yasukuni Shrine (靖國神社 Yasukuni-jinja) (Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo). A controversial shrine to Japan's war dead, housing the souls of some 2.5 million people killed in Japan's wars — including numerous Taiwanese and Koreans, and controversially, convicted war criminals executed by the Allies. Often visited by Japanese and Taiwanese politicians, drawing sharp criticisms from neighbours China and South Korea in the process. If you choose to visit, consider keeping it a secret from your Chinese or Korean friends. Also on the grounds of the shrine is the Yūshūkan War Memorial Museum, which displays a numerous World War II paraphernalia and presents a rather one-sided (and allegedly revisionist) account of World War II.
- 21 Khalkhin Gol. Site of a battle in 1939 in which the Soviets demolished a large Japanese force. This turned Japanese thinking away from expansion into Mongolia and Siberia; instead they adopted a "strike south" strategy which led directly to Pearl Harbor and their attacks in Southeast Asia.
- 22 Brunei-Australia Memorial, Bandar Seri Begawan. Memorial on Muara Beach commemorating the landing site of the Australian soldiers who fought in the Battle of North Borneo to liberate Brunei from Japanese occupation.
- 23 Labuan War Cemetery (Labuan). Home to the graves of numerous British, Australian and Indian soldiers who died in the Borneo campaign.
- 24 Sandakan Memorial Park. This memorial in the Malaysian city of Sandakan was built at the site of a former Japanese POW prison camp with funding from the Australian government to commemorate the Allied POWs who lost their lives during the Sandakan Death Marches. Only 6 people out of several thousand survived the march, and only because those 6 managed to escape. Incidentally, all 6 survivors were Australian.
- 25 Taiping War Cemetery (Taiping). Home to the graves of numerous British, Australian, Indian and Malayan soldiers who died in the Malaya Campaign.
- 26 Bank Kerapu. There is a small war memorial and museum in the former Bank Kerapu building in Kota Bharu, Malaysia, which served as a secret police station during the Japanese occupation; it might not merit a special trip but is worth visiting if you are in Kota Bharu.
- 27 Burma Road. This road ran from Western China into Burma (now Myanmar) and connected to Assam in Eastern India as well. It was built by the Chinese in the late 1930s, upgraded by the Americans later, and used throughout the war.
- 28 Taukkyan War Cemetery (Taukkyan). Home to the graves of numerous British, Indian and African soldiers who died in the Burma Campaign.
- 29 Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery (Thanbyuzayat). Home to the graves of numerous British, Australian, Indian, New Zealander, Canadian and Dutch POWs who died while building the Death Railway in Burma.
- 30 Corregidor Island. Established as an American fort to defend Manila from naval attacks, it fell to the Japanese in 1942, and was liberated in 1945. This is where General MacArthur left and uttered his most famous line "I shall return", a promise he fulfilled in 1944.
- 31 Capas. A largely rural municipality housing Camp O'Donnell, an American military camp turned into a POW camp where the infamous Bataan Death March in 1942 ended. Two memorial shrines dedicated to the American and Filipino prisoners of war who suffered and died under the hands of the Japanese are erected here, and two abandoned railroad stations where the prisoners were unloaded have been turned into museums and memorials. The exact number of prisoners on the march is unknown; estimates range from 6,000 to 18,000.
- 32 Coron. This town in Palawan Province has excellent wreck diving; the US Navy sank about a dozen Japanese ships in shallow water nearby in 1944.
- 33 MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park. This is where General McArthur landed on his return to the country in 1944; it is in Palo municipality on Leyte Island, near Tacloban.
- 34 Camp Pangatian. A former American military camp turned into a POW camp by the Japanese, it is the site of the raid at Cabanatuan, a major engagement of the liberation of the Philippines in 1945. The camp, now a shrine, is northeast of Cabanatuan city (then a rural area) in Nueva Ecija province.
- 35 Manila American Cemetery (Manila). Cemetery where numerous American and Filipino soldiers who were killed during World War II were buried
As the headquarters of the British forces in Malaya, there are numerous World War II sites scattered throughout Singapore, including several abandoned pillboxes and coastal gun batteries, as well as numerous beaches where the ethnic Chinese were brought to be shot by the Japanese in the Sook Ching Massacre. We cover a selection of some of the more important sites here.
- 36 Alexandra Hospital, 378 Alexandra Road. A former British military hospital, and the site of the Alexandra Hospital Massacre on 14-15 February 1942, in which Japanese soldiers massacred the staff and patients despite them having already surrendered. Today, it remains in use as a public hospital, and the original colonial-era hospital building has been preserved and remains in active use. There is also a plaque on the hospital grounds commemorating the victims of the massacre.
- 37 The Battlebox, 2 Cox Terrace. A former British military bunker and command centre which served as the headquarters for the British forces in Malaya during the Malayan Campaign. It was here that Lieutenant-General Arthur E. Percival met with his senior officers and made the decision to surrender to the Japanese. It has been converted to a museum dedicated to the Malayan Campaign, with a re-enactment of how it functioned during the war.
- 38 Changi Museum. A former POW camp-turned-museum has information about the Japanese occupation of Singapore and what life was like in the POW camp. It focuses on the general history and conditions as well as containing personal accounts and artifacts donated by former prisoners. It has a replica of the Changi Chapel that was built by Australian POWs in captivity; the original was dismantled and moved to Canberra after the war, where it now stands in the Royal Military College, Duntroon. You can also see replicas of the Changi murals, Christian murals that were painted by British POW Stanley Warren while in capitvity; the original murals are located in a military airbase and off limits to the general public.
- 39 Civilian War Memorial. Monument commemorating the local civilians who lost their lives during the Japanese occupation. The remains of many unidentified victims are buried under the memorial.
- 40 Ford Motor Factory, 351 Upper Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 588192. A former factory of American automobile manufacturer Ford, and the first motor vehicle factory to be opened in Southeast Asia. This is also the site where the British lieutenant-general Arthur E. Percival surrendered unconditionally to Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita on 15 February 1942, thus ending the Malayan Campaign. It was also used by the Japanese to produce military vehicles during the occupation. It has now been converted to a museum dedicated to life in Singapore during the Japanese occupation. The boardroom in which the surrender took place has also been reconstructed for viewing.
- 41 Fort Siloso. One of four British forts on what was then the island of Pulau Blakang Mati, today known as Sentosa. It is the only one of the four to have been restored as a tourist attraction, and contains the remnants of some British artillery guns, as well as interactive displays and a re-enactment of the unconditional surrender of the British forces to the Japanese.
- 42 Kranji War Cemetery. Home to the graves of numerous British, Australian, Indian and Malayan soldiers who died in the Malayan Campaign.
- 43 Labrador Nature Reserve. The site of numerous British artillery gun emplacements during World War II. Today, you can see the remains of those gun emplacements, numerous pillboxes, and a network of underground tunnels that were used to store ammunition and move them to the gun emplacements. free.
- 44 Lim Bo Seng Memorial. Memorial dedicated to local war hero Lim Bo Seng, who participated in covert operations against the Japanese as part of Force 136, a branch of the British World War II intelligence agency. After being captured by the Japanese, he refused to divulge any information about his comrades despite being tortured, and eventually died of dysentery in prison in June 1944 at the age of 35. free.
- 45 Reflections at Bukit Chandu, 31K Pepys Road, Singapore 118458, RBC@nhb.gov.sg. An interpretive centre of the Battle of Pasir Panjang, one of the fiercest battles in the Malayan Campaign that pitted the Malay Regiment (today the Royal Malay Regiment, the most decorated regiment in the Malaysian Army) against the Japanese.
- 46 Sook Ching Inspection Centre. The site where the occupying Japanese conducted their "screening" of the ethnic Chinese in Malaya after rounding them up. The unlucky ones who were identified as anti-Japanese were brought to the beaches and shot. Today, a plaque stands on the site to commemorate the victims of the massacre.
- 47 Syonan Jinja. A Shinto shrine built by the occupying Japanese in Singapore (which they re-named Syonan-to) in 1942, located at MacRitchie Reservoir, and destroyed after the Japanese surrender on 15th August 1945. The ruins of the shrine still exist, but are now in the middle of the jungle with no footpaths leading there, making it very hard to find.
- 48 Syonan Chureito. A memorial built by Australian POWs to honour the Japanese war dead during World War II, with a smaller memorial behind that to commemorate the Allied war dead. Both memorials were torn down following the Japanese surrender, and today, only the road and stairs leading up to the memorial, as well as two pedestals at the bottom of the stairs, survive. A television transmission tower now occupies the former memorial site.
- Death Railway (ทางรถไฟสายมรณะ). The strategic railway tracks began from Nong Pla Duk Station in Amphoe Ban Pong, Ratchaburi, and ran via Kanchanaburi across the Khwae Yai River, westbound to the Three Pagodas Pass, to end at Thanbuyuzayat in Burma. Total length in Thai territory was 300 km. The railway took only one year to complete, from October 1942–October 1943. After the war, some lengths of track were demolished and some submerged under the lake of Khao Laem Dam.
- 49 Bridge over the River Kwai (Saphan Mae Nam Kwae) (Kanchanaburi). This iron bridge across the Kwai Yai River is the main attraction for many visitors. Immortalized in the famous movie and novel, it was a part of the infamous Death Railway to Burma, constructed by POWs working for the Japanese in hellish conditions during WWII. Some 16,000 POWs and 90,000 Asian workers (most of them enslaved) died during railway construction. The present iron bridge is the second wartime incarnation (a part of the original can be found in the War Museum), but two central box spans were rebuilt after the war to replace three sections destroyed by Allied bombing.
- Hellfire Pass (80 km northwest of Kanchanaburi). Only relocated in the 1980s, Konyu Cutting (known as Hellfire Pass by POWs and Asian labourers who cut and blasted through rock by hand to clear this pass for the Death Railway) has been reclaimed from the jungle as a profound war memorial funded by the Australian government. Excellent museum and self-guided walking tour facilities are available. The descent through the jungle down to the pass (listening to oral histories through audio headsets) is a moving experience. Annual Anzac Day Dawn Service are held here.
- 50 Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (สุสานทหารสัมพันธมิตรดอนรัก) (Kanchanaburi). This is the final resting place of 6,982 POWs who gave their lives for the construction of the Death Railway to Burma. All POWs at this site are from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Australia. After WWII, the Allies moved all the buried POWs along the railway line to two war cemeteries in Kanchanaburi so as to be easier to maintain. The graves are set in straight lines with neatly mown lawns, and some have moving personal inscriptions. Exceptionally well maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, it is a sombre yet peaceful reminder of what happened.
- 51 Thailand-Burma Railway Centre (Kanchanaburi). Generally considered to be the best source of information regarding World War II in Thailand, railway construction and route, and the conditions endured by POWs and Asian labourers. Very moving exhibits, including video and interactive displays.
- 52 Wake Island. This US-controlled island was taken by Japan shortly after Pearl Harbor and held by them throughout the war. There are ruins of Japanese fortifications, a monument for the American defenders who put up a stiff fight despite being badly outnumbered and outgunned, and a monument for a group of 98 POWs executed by the Japanese. Today the island is a US military base, off limits for most visitors except through the occasional guided tour.
- 53Midway Islands. The site of the Battle of Midway, one of the major turning points in the Pacific War. The atoll is today home to memorials commemorating the battle. It is only populated by U.S. government personnel, and access is highly restricted; visits by the general public are generally only possible through a guided tour.
- 54 Henderson Airfield (HIR IATA). The Japanese began constructing an airfield in May 1942 in Honiara on Guadalcanal. Knowing that if they completed it, they'd be able to both isolate Australia from its allies and launch potentially devastating attacks, America quickly moved to take control of the airfield. It took six months to secure the airfield, after which the Americans finished construction on it and used it to launch attacks on other islands.
Henderson Airfield was later expanded to become the international airport of the Solomon Islands, so of course it can be visited. Other sites around the airport include Bloody Ridge (where America defended against the Japanese), the Gifu (named after the city by the same name, it was a Japanese post attacked by the US), Mount Austin (used by the Japanese to get a full view of the airfield in their plan to retake it), as well as memorials for both the Americans and Japanese that fought here.
- 55 Betio Island. Within a few days of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese took the Gilbert Islands, then a British colony, now part of the independent nation Kiribati. America's first attack on Japanese forces occurred in Butaritari, in the Gilberts, shortly after that.
In late 1943, the Allies came to oust Japan from the islands, which by then had been heavily fortified. Betio Island in Tarawa was the site of the Battle of Tarawa, considered to be one of the bloodiest battles of the war. While war relics can be found on multiple islands throughout Kiribati, Betio Island is where the main battle took place and also where the most remains. Visitors can see tanks, bunkers, shipwrecks, guns, and memorials built by the Japanese, Americans, and Australians and New Zealanders.
- 56 Kokoda Track. An important battle line in Papua New Guinea, between Australia and Japan, it is now a trekking destination, especially for Australians.
- 57 Command Ridge (Nauru). During World War II, Nauru was occupied by the Japanese from August 1942 until their surrender at the tail end of the war in the wake of three years of near-continuous Allied air raids. Today, rusting relics from this era are scattered throughout the island — disused Japanese pillboxes line the shore every couple of kilometres, and old cannons can be seen along roadsides barely hidden by forest or even in plain sight between homes.
However, for those who want a firsthand look at Nauru's WWII history, Command Ridge (Nauruan: Janor) is the place to go. As the island's highest point, rising to an elevation of 63 m above sea level, it was a natural lookout point for the occupiers. Today you'll find a bevy of old artillery emplacements (including a pair of six-barrel antiaircraft guns still pointed skyward), the ruins of a prison complex used to hold interned Nauruan natives (who were treated brutally by the Japanese) as well as five members of the Australian military captured during the invasion, and — most impressive of all — the former communications center, now open for any visitors to enter. The interior is not well lit, but bring in a lantern or torch and you'll still be able to make out faded Japanese writing on the walls.
- 58 War in the Pacific National Historical Park. On Guam, but part of the US national park system since Guam is an American territory. The park honors all those who fought in the Pacific, not just on Guam and not just Americans. Guam was taken by the Japanese early in the war and retaken by the US in 1944.
- 59 Gizo (Solomon Islands). Located on Ghizo Island, Gizo evokes the memories of vivid fighting in WWII. It is nowadays a tourist centre and some wrecks can be found underwater, including the Toa Maru.
- 60 Peleliu (Palau). Once a heavily fortified Japanese stronghold, Peleliu was the scene of a particularly brutal battle when U.S. Marines made an amphibious assault on the beaches to liberate the island from Imperial Japanese forces, who evolved tactics in a network of rocky caves in the surface of Umurbrogol Mountain (Bloody Nose Ridge). Today, the island is filled with relics, with intact military installations and an airstrip. It also has memorials honoring sacrifice to those who died in the fighting.
- 61 Angaur (Palau). This coraline island was once a Imperial Japanese command post until it became the site of the battle in 1944 as part of Operation Forager, when the 81st Infantry Division gained complete control of the island. Many of its American and Japanese battle relics remain scattered across the island. Often known as Monkey Island, Angaur is the only place in Micronesia inhabited by feral monkeys, descended by macaques that escaped during German occupation.
- 62 Enewetak Atoll (Marshall Islands). Formerly known as Eniwetok, the island was the site of Operation Catchpole, when the marines fought a five-day amphibious assault on the island to gain control of a Japanese-owned airfield. Since 1980, Enewetak has been a habitable island.
- 63 Kuop (Federated States of Micronesia). An atoll just southeast of the Chuuk Lagoon and known as Neoch. On February 4th, 1944, the Japanese destroyer Tachikaze ran aground on a reef and was later sunk in Operation Hailstone. Nowadays it is officially the largest marine protected area in Micronesia.
Korea was a Japanese colony at the outbreak of World War II, and many Korean men were drafted into the Japanese military. The Japanese had subjected Korea to a brutal occupation, in which the Korean language and culture were vigorously suppressed, and numerous Koreans were subject to live human experimentations without anaesthetic. Perhaps most notoriously, many Korean women forced to become "comfort women"; sex slaves in Japanese military brothels.
- 64 War & Women's Human Rights Museum. South Korea's main museum dedicated to the memory of the "comfort women".
Taiwan was a Japanese colony during the war, and many Taiwanese were enlisted into the Japanese military. Unlike in other Asian countries, the Taiwanese generally have positive views of Japanese colonial rule, and regard its legacy as an integral part of their national and cultural identity, though there are exceptions. Nevertheless, massacres of both ethnic Chinese and Aboriginal people had occurred throughout the occupation. Although not as well-known as their Korean counterparts, numerous Taiwanese women were also forced to serve as "comfort women". The last Japanese holdout to be found alive was in fact Attun Palalin, better known by his Japanese name Teruo Nakamura, an indigenous Taiwanese of Amis ethnicity who was enlisted as a private into one of the Japanese military's colonial units. He was repatriated to Taiwan following his discovery in 1974 on the island of Morotai, Indonesia, and died of lung cancer in 1979.
- 65 Ama Museum (阿嬤家-和平與女性人權館) (Old Taipei). Museum dedicated to the memory of the Taiwanese women who were forced to serve as "comfort women" in Japanese military brothels.
- 66 Jinguashi (金瓜石) (Ruifang, New Taipei). A small village which is near the Gold Ecological Park and the Jinguashi Mine, which is one of the largest gold mines in the world. From 1942 to 1945, the area was the location of the Kinkaseki POW Camp, where over 1,100 Allied prisoners of war were held captive and forced to work in the mines. There is a small memorial at the site of the POW camp. In the area is also the ruins of a Shinto shrine that was built by the Japanese.
- 67 National Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine (國民革命忠烈祠) (Zhongshan District, Taipei). Temple memorializing those who gave their lives for the Republic of China (ROC) during its tenure on mainland China including during the Second Sino-Japanese War. There is a changing of the guard ceremony every hour, on the hour from 09:00 to 17:00, which involves an impressive and highly synchronized rifle-twirling display by soldiers from the Taiwanese military.
- 68 Pearl Harbor. Site of the bombing in Western Honolulu that caused the United States to enter the war.
- 69 The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, ☏ . Museum commemorating the American war effort in both theatres of World War II, with interactive displays that aim to re-create the battlefield experience for visitors.
- 70 MacArthur Memorial, 198 Bank St; Norfolk, Virginia, ☏ , fax: . Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM; Su 11AM-5PM. Museum dedicated to the life of Douglas MacArthur, the general who led U.S. forces to victory over the Japanese in the Philippines, and was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. His grave is located within the museum. MacArthur is one of the few non-presidents to have been granted a U.S. state funeral. Free.
- 71 , ☏ (reservations). Tours available Th-Sa at 12:45PM (allow 1½ hours). Not all dates and times may be available. No public access Su-We. This memorial honors 320 individuals (including 200 young African American men) who were killed in a munitions accident during World War II while loading munitions and bombs onto ships bound for the Pacific Rim. Following the explosion many of the enlisted men refused to work, resulting in the Navy's largest mutiny trial and eventually helping to push the US Armed Forces to desegregate. The memorial is located on an active military base and as a result reservations must be made at least two weeks in advance and all visitors must be US citizens or permanent residents. Reservations can be made by calling or via an online reservation form. All visitors are shuttled to the memorial from John Muir National Historic Site in nearby Martinez.
- 72 Aleutian World War II National Historic Area (Visitor Center located on the apron of the Dutch Harbor airport), ☏ . Year round, but May-October offer the best access. This site is the remains of one of four WWII era forts constructed to defend Dutch Harbor against a potential Japanese attack. The visitor center is free, however, a Land Use Permit must be obtained to visit the historic site on Mount Ballyhoo. Free.
- The 73 US Marine Corps Memorial at Arlington, Virginia, depicts the famous scene of the raising of the (American) flag on Iwo Jima, whose history is told by the movie Flags of our Fathers directed by Clint Eastwood. One of the soldiers involved, Ira Hayes, is commemorated in a fine song by Johnny Cash.
- 74 US National Museum of the Pacific War. In Fredericksburg (Texas), home town of Admiral Chester Nimitz who commanded US forces in part of the Pacific, this is a large museum complex with many exhibits.
- 75 Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Theater District, New York City, ☏ . Apr-Sep: M-F 10AM-5PM, Sa Su 10AM-6PM; Oct-Mar: Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. The aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (CV-11), which had participated in World War II, is docked here and has been converted to a museum ship. The carrier was hit by numerous kamikaze attacks in the latter stages of the war, and there are now several interactive displays commemorating the casualties of the kamikaze attacks. $16.50 adult.
- 76 Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. The main military cemetery of the United States, home to the graves of numerous soldiers who died fighting in various wars including both world wars.
A number of sites in the US commemorate the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war.
- 77 Manzanar Internment Camp, Independence, California. The largest internment camp in the United States where approximately 110,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals living in the United States during the war were forced to live after being ordered to leave their homes. This museum contains information about the camp, the experiences of those who were forced to live here, and life after the war.
- 78 WWII Japanese American Internment Museum, McGehee, Arkansas (near Lake Village). A former internment camp turned into a museum to educate people about the lives of Japanese-Americans at the Rohwer Relocation Center.
- 79 Topaz Museum. The Topaz Relocation Center (internment camp) housed over 11,000 Japanese-Americans. Because people were moved here before it was finished, internees were actually hired to build the wire fences to pen themselves in.
- 80 Tule Lake Segregation Center. Tule Lake was another internment camp, and the one to house Japanese-Americans that the American government regarded as particularly "dangerous" to segregate them from American society and eventually deport some of them.
- 81 Minidoka National Historic Site, near Twin Falls, Idaho. Most of the camp's buildings were removed after the war and can be found throughout the Magic Valley region. However, the site has remains of the guard entry station, waiting room, and rock gardens as well as a reconstructed guard tower.
- 82 Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, Bainbridge Island, Washington.
While few living people remember the war, the countries involved have not always found reconciliation. In particular, the relationships between Japan and its neighbors China and South Korea are still tense today.
A Chinese law enacted in 2019 criminalizes the denial of or insult to officially-endorsed heroes and martyrs, in addition to defamation lawsuits. Specifically for war memorials, any act that is considered to be disrespectful can be criminalized.
- World War II in China
- World War II in Europe
- World War II in Africa
- Japanese colonial empire
- World War I
- Holocaust remembrance
- Industrialization of the United States for non-military US history of the 1930s and 40s
- Long March
- Nuclear tourism