Profiting from Imperial Japan’s ‘Death Railway’

22 December 2014
Profiting from Imperial Japan’s ‘Death Railway’
A locomotive sitting on the last remaining portion of the "Death Railway" at Thanbyuzayat in Myanmar's eastern Mon state. Weeds have swallowed much of the old railway track and a modest cemetery is a lonely testament to the thousands of prisoners of war and Asian workers forced to build the railway. But the local authorities plan to reinvigorate the railway site with the aim to transform the area. Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP

Thanbyuzayat provides dark memories for the few surviving slave labourers who worked on the last stretch of what became known as the Death Railway, the Japanese Imperial Army’s World War II drive to lay sleepers and rail line to link Myanmar with Thailand during its war campaign.

Now the Mon State government sees tourist potential in Thanbyuzayat, according to U Ye Aung Moe, the director of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism’s office in Mon State.
“It is a historical place and tourists will be interested in visiting,” U Ye Aung told Mizzima on December 16.
The Mon State government and a local company plan to work together to construct a museum, hotel, restaurant, gift shop, swimming pool and a bus station as a tourist hub in Thanbyuzayat Township in Mon State, close to the Thai border.
Construction of the tourist site on a seven acre site will start on the end of this month and take a year, so will be finished in 2016, said Dr Toe Toe Aung, Mon State Minister for Development Affairs.
He told Mizzima on December 17 that the local government will work with the Tala Mon Company and with the help of international aid. The aim is to develop the site so that it is similar to the popular attractions at the River Kwai bridge in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
Mon State hopes that as Myanmar opens up to more tourists, the Myanmar end of the Death Railway will attract visitors.
Currently, all that stands as a reminder of those dark days is the locomotive on a short section of track and an old museum that is reportedly seldom open to the public.
The Death Railway, immortalized in the Hollywood movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” and more recently in “The Railway Man,” was a 415 kilometre stretch of railway cut through the hills and jungle by the Japanese in 1943 to support their Burma Campaign against the British and Allied forces. The line was closed in 1947, but the section between Nong Pla Duk and Nam Tok in Thailand was reopened ten years later in 1957.
The construction of the railway depended on 180,000 Asian civilian labourers and 60,000 allied prisoners of war. About 90,000 Asian civilian labourers and close over 12,000 Allied POWs died as a direct result of the project. Many died due to sickness, malnutrition and exhaustion, or at the hands of the Japanese guards.
Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery, where thousands of bodies were laid to rest, was created by the Army Grave Service who transferred to it all the graves along the northern section of the railway, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.