Remembering the Flight JL123 Crash (3): JAL Safety Promotion Center

Further to my posts about Osutaka-no-One and Irei-no-Sono, in this post I will write about the JAL Safety Promotion Center.

The JAL Safety Promotion Center (Anzen Keihatsu Sentā, 安全開発センター) is located in Tōkyō near Haneda Airport. Although it is possible for the public to visit, visitors have to contact the Center in advance. It is accessed via Shin-Seibijō station on the Tōkyō Monorail – not all trains stop at this station, so make sure you get the correct one. Web: https://www.jal.com/en/flight/safety/center/ – including details about how to arrange a visit. The Center is in the same building as the JAL Sky Museum.

I have been to the Safety Promotion Center about four times now. In that time it has undergone a number of changes. Although it is primarily a training centre about safety, it is also essentially a museum to the flight JL123 crash. Indeed, when I visited one time, the information about some other accidents was in a different room, across the corridor from the main Center. I last visited in 2019 and I found the displays to be much improved and the overall layout less dark and depressing than the previous version.

As photographs are not allowed, this post is not very visual, but you can find some pictures within my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash which JAL kindly allowed me to include. The picture below is taken from JAL’s website.

Source: https://www.jal.com/en/flight/safety/center/

I have five main memories related to the Safety Promotion Center.

The first relates to its creation. Back in the early 2000s my main research was about the shinkansen. As part of that research I had visited the JR East training centre in Shirakawa. I was struck by the first thing you see when entering is an accident museum. The director at that time was a wonderful man who showed me around with amazing enthusiasm and also explained about the reasoning for the museum area, which I discuss in my book Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan. Back in the UK, one day I met up for a drink with two friends who worked at the JAL London office and discussed the JR East training centre and whether they were aware of anything similar at JAL. At the time there wasn’t. The next time we met, I was given a copy of a press release about the establishment of the Safety Promotion Center. Amazingly, at this time I had no idea that one of the two men was connected to the JL123 crash or that it would become my main research area for over 10 years.

My second memory relates to my first visit to the Center. As with the JR East training centre, I was struck by the enthusiasm of the director, the time and care that he took in explaining things to me, and the passion there was in having such a training centre.

For my second visit, I was able to go with Kuniko Miyajima, the head of the 8/12 Renrakukai, and who’s 9-year-old son, Ken, died in the crash. Mrs Miyajima often visits the Center to speak to JAL employees and has also been involved in the discussions about the Center’s design. One of my main memories from the visit was when images of helicopters landing in Fujioka, bringing the remains from the crash site, came up on TVs in the Center, Mrs Miyajima veered away saying that she didn’t want to see it. Given everything else on display and all the horrors that she has seen and experienced, I found her reaction interesting. I have often thought about this moment when seeing the very detailed recreations in some of the dramatizations relating to JL123 (see Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different? as an example of where I discuss these).

My fourth memory is when I next visited the Center and went with a TV crew from NHK. I had only arrived in Japan earlier that day, so was a bit groggy. The camera and interviewer followed me around as I examined (sometimes, as requested, in an over-the-top way for the camera). But it was also my first time to go back to the Center since my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan had been published. In this book I had discussed the cause of the crash (not one of the things I had planned to research in anyway when I started the study as I thought the cause was clearly known, which turned out not to be the case) and came to my own conclusion about what may have been a key factor in the cause. This relates to the pressure relief door, which I’d forgotten was on display at the Safety Promotion Center. I remember stopping and, not only looking at it, but asking out loud, about what happened. Of course I knew it wouldn’t answer, but seeing it up close was hard. (For further discussion about the cause of the crash – read What Caused the JL123 Crash?)

My final memory related to the Center was that I visited again in 2019. This time I went with Susanne Yukawa-Bayly. Her partner, Aki, had died on JL123. This was a very difficult visit for Susanne, but I hope that my presence helped in some way. It was also good for me to go again by someone directly impacted by the crash. As I have discussed in other posts, it is important that we remember that such accidents are human tragedies and not about the machine. As well presented as the Safety Promotion Center is, there is a danger that we end up remembering the plane and thinking about what happened to it. Whilst this element is necessary, particularly when thinking about avoiding a similar accident, without the human element, the broader lessons (not just about aviation safety, but about life more generally) can be lost.

As I mention in my article Developing a Model to Explain Modifications to Public Transportation Accident Memorials, given that the Safety Promotion Center had been established and works as a JL123 museum, it is perhaps even more surprising that the memorial at Irei-no-Sono was subsequently updated. However, they perform different roles and to get a true understanding of the crash and its effect on people, you need to visit both. Having said that, there is still more that both can do. More voices (videos) of the victims families need to be recorded and included at both sites. I hope that this will be done and a better job will be done in incorporating them into the displays than has happened with the Peace Museum in Hiroshima in its recent update.

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