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In the city of Bagac on Bataan peninsula in the Philippines stands a soaring edifice known as the Friendship Tower. At a height of 27 meters (89 feet), it consists of three pillars encircled by rings. It was dedicated on April 8, 1975 and today symbolizes the renewed amity between the Philippine and Japanese peoples.

The tower stands about 200 meters (660 feet) from the site known as the starting point of the World War II Bataan Death March. In 1942, the Japanese army forced some 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war to walk a distance of 88 kilometers (54.5 miles) from this point to internment camps. Nearly 10,000 of the prisoners, weakened by hunger and disease and unable to endure the tropical heat, expired along the way.

friendship_tower in the Phillipines

 

Friendship Tower in the Phillipines

Historical Record

In July 1973, Rissho Kosei-kai sent some 500 youth members to the Philippines on a visit of repentance following the adoption of a resolution at the first assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP I), held Kyoto in 1970.

Guided by local citizens, the group traveled to Muntinlupa, where a cemetery for war dead of the Philippines, the United States, and Japan is located. The youths were distressed to see that the section for Japanese graves was in a far worse condition than the others. The Rissho Kosei-kai youths determined to restore and improve the entire cemetery. Negotiations with the responsible parties in Muntinlupa took time, however, as anti-Japanese sentiment continued to run deep as a result of the three-year-long occupation of the Philippines by Japanese forces during World War II.

During the process of the negotiations, the project developed beyond restoring the cemetery for victims of the war into one expressing solidarity between the Filipinos and the Japanese in the hope for lasting world peace. At one of the negotiation meetings, the youths were introduced to the governor of Bataan.

From that meeting evolved the project to erect a tower symbolizing the hope for repose of the spirits of all war dead, as well as of restored friendship between the Philippines and Japan. With a member of the Bataan provincial government, the young Rissho Kosei-kai members toured the length of the peninsula by car. On their tour they were shown a spot in the city of Bagac where an old Japanese army rifle stood upside down with a soldier's helmet on it. It was the site of the starting point of the Bataan Death March.

The inauguration ceremony for the completed tower on April 8, 1975 coincidentally took place on the date on which Rissho Kosei-kai celebrates the birth of the Buddha Shakyamuni, founder of Buddhism. With Rev. Kinjiro Niwano, then the head of the Rissho Kosei-kai Youth Division, as their leader, 53 young members traveled to the Philippines for to the ceremony, at which they welcomed some 1,000 guests, including the citizens of Bagac and officials of Bataan province.

During the ceremony, the Rissho Kosei-kai youths, led by Rev. Niwano, recited the Lotus Sutra, the basic scripture of their faith, to pray for the repose of the spirits of all victims of war.

The following day a special ceremony was held to unveil the bell from Japan that hangs in the tower, at which Mayor Atilano Ricardo of Bagac and Rev. Niwano each struck the bell for peace.

Leading up to the inauguration of the tower, the young Rissho Kosei-kai members had many opportunities for friendly exchanges at the grass-roots level with the young people of Bataan. One group of these young people later became the Bataan Christian Youth Civic Circle (BCYCC), organized in October 1978. The founding members were 35 youths invited to Rissho Kosei-kai headquarters in Tokyo to reciprocate their warm welcome for Rissho Kosei-kai youths during a September 1976 visit.

From their stays in Filipino homes, the young members learned about the many cultural and historic differences between the Philippines and Japan, which encouraged the development of mutual understanding. These friendly relations continue today.

The Rissho Kosei-kai Donate-a-Meal Fund for Peace provided financial support for the construction of the Friendship Tower, the first such use of contributions from Rissho Kosei-kai members made through the Donate-a-Meal Movement. Since then, through cooperation with the Foundation of Bataan Christian Youth, donations from the fund have been used to provide financial assistance for students through scholarships and support for local vocational schools, to maintain the war dead cemetery in Muntinlupa, and for the construction of the Bataan Library and Museum in April 1985.

For the last occasion, the Bataan provincial assembly adopted a resolution initiating a Japan-Philippines Friendship Week between April 3--9. Rissho Kosei-kai has since sent groups of its young members to the Philippines many times to join the Friendship Week ceremonies.

In April 2000, under the leadership of Rev. Kinjiro Niwano, now the chairman of the Kosei School, 23 Rissho Kosei-kai members visited the Philippines to participate in the ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the erection of the Friendship Tower and the subsequent ceremony at the Bataan Library to unveil a memorial plaque for the late founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, which was placed in the building's courtyard.

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