Sunday, April 19, 2015

World Heritage Day: Nuchi du Takara (Life—including the life of nature—is the Greatest Treasure)

Nuchi du Takara (Life—including the life of nature—is the Greatest Treasure). 
(Photo: K.M.)

Today is World Heritage Day, a day launched by UNESCO in 2005, to heighten the global public's awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage & the efforts required to conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability.

Yanbaru subtropical rainforest. (Photo: Yoshio Shimoji)

Yanbaru, the magnificent ecoregion of northern Okinawamountains, subtropical rainforest, rivers, wetlands, and Henoko's dugong and coral reef ecosystemis a world natural heritage site. Henoko is one of the most biodiverse and beautiful coastal areas in all Japan and the Asia-Pacific. It is home to almost 400 types of healthy coral (including the rare, mysterious blue coral); over 1,000 species of marine life  (including the beloved dugong, an indigenous sacred icon and natural monument); hawksbill, loggerhead, and green sea turtles;  crustaceans; anemone; reef fish; and sea grass.  With the support of Japan's Environmental Ministry, Okinawa Prefecture nominated the ecoregion for official recognition on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2012.

Henoko's magnificent dugong and coral reef habitat.

Okinawan traditional heritage is inseparable from the natural world: the Okinawa dugong is an indigenous sacred icon. The shell middens on Cape Henoko go back thousands of years and people still observe traditional shrine rites preserved in this district from ancient times. Therefore, Yanbaru meets multiple requirements for UNESCO World Heritage status. It "bears a unique testimony to a cultural tradition which is living." The area is an "outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change."

Sea Turtle and Okinawa Dugong, a  sacred cultural icon and protected natural monument. 
Photo courtesy: Takuma Higashionna

The international community, from marine scientists to environmentalists to indigenous cultural and historic preservation advocates, have supported locals and Okinawans for 20 years in efforts to protecting this invaluable world natural cultural heritage because the world recognizes its universal value and importance.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Okinawa International Peace Research Institute: Ie Island, April 16, 1945

Photograph of the US invasion of Ie Island (Iejima) on April 16, 1945, via Okinawa International Peace Research Institute.

The US training bases on the island date back to airstrips built in April 1945 to firebomb Japanese cities during the last months of WWII. US soldiers burned down Ie islander houses, and relocated the Ie islanders, housing them in camps in the northern part of Okinawa's main island. The islanders were not allowed to return until  two years later, even though the Japanese government surrendered 4 months after the US invasion. When they returned many residents found their farms and homes transformed into a US military base, not for the invasion of Japan, of course, but for weapons testing and war training.

The Okinawan nonviolent struggle for return of seized lands, justice, and peace began at Ie Island, under Shoko Ahagon, founder of the Okinawan civil rights movement, after the US military invaded again in 1955 to violently seize even more farmland for a bomb testing range.

More on Iejima:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hibakusha stands with Okinawans in call to save dugong & coral reef natural cultural heritage site

Sign: The Sea is the Mother of our Heart. 
Photo of Mr. Yonezawa at Henoko via Sunshine Miyagi on Twitter.

Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivor, Mr. Tetsushi Yonezawa, stands with Okinawans, in call to save the coral reef and dugong habitat at Henoko, Okinawa's most important natural cultural heritage site, from US-Japanese government  destruction. The ecoregion is home to the critically endangered Okinawa dugong, a natural monument and beloved cultural icon, and Okinawa's only fully intact and best coral reef.  The area is a living manifestation of the most important Okinawan values: Nuchi du Takara, the right to life, including the right to life of nature.

Mr. Yonezawa witnessed the nuclear bomb hitting Hiroshima from a streetcar when he was 11-years-old.  He wrote a book about his experience after the Fukushima multiple meltdowns spoke to his conscience about the need to publicly witness for a peaceful, nuclear-free world.

The Asahi published a short account of Mr. Yonezawa's memories last year:
"Something flashed somewhere with a strong blinding light. Spontaneously, I closed my eyes. Then, I heard a tremendous sound that was the most terrible sound I have ever heard. It was like a hundred thunderclaps crashing all at once just a short distance away."

...As the streetcar approached the front of the Fukuya department store at the center of downtown, the A-bomb exploded. They were then about 750 meters (0.5 mile) from the hypocenter. It is said that the bomb blast that hit them had a wind velocity of some 220 meters (720 feet) per second. The windows of the streetcar all broke at once and the streetcar filled with screams.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Japanese American History: NOT for sale — Call for cancellation of online auction of crafts & art created during WWII incarceration

4.15.15 UPDATE: JAPANESE AMERICAN OBJECTS IN LOTS 1232-1255, made in WW2 concentration camps, will be removed from the Rago auction on Friday, a company spokesman said in Lambertville, NJ, tonight. George Takei will act as an intermediary between the Rago auction house and Japanese American community institutions. The auction house agreed to a respectful sale of the artifacts after the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation sent a notice of intent to file a lawsuit against the consignor. 

Survivors and descendants of wartime Japanese-American relocation and incarceration are calling for the cancellation of a April 17 online auction of personal objects, crafts, and prisoner artwork created by Americans of Japanese descent while incarcerated by the U.S. government during the Second World War.

Rago, an online auction house based in Lambertville, New Jersey, wants to auction  hundreds of artworks and crafts that Japanese American detainees gave to art historian Allen Hendershott Eaton during his research for Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps, a book published in 1952. After Eaton, a humanitarian, champion of American folk art and opponent of the mass incarceration, died in 1962, his estate fell into private hands.

The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation asked  the consignors to consider a private, negotiated sale with community-supported non-profit institutions.  After the consignor refused this suggestion, the HWMF secured pledges from board members and friends to make a substantial cash offer—one that exceeded the estimated auction value. However, this offer was refused, for inexplicable reasons.

Japanese Americans have started an online Facebook page: Japanese American History: Not for Sale to call for a cancellation of the online auction.  They are asking for Rago to allow them reasonable period of time to arrange a respectful and mutually acceptable sale of the collection to an institution.

Today the group released a community letter:
April 13, 2015

Dear David Rago, Suzanne Perrault and Miriam Tucker:

We have learned that Rago Arts and  Auction will put up for sale 450 prisoner craft objects, personal items, artworks and heritage artifacts from the Japanese American concentration camps of WW II in Lots 1232-1255 on April 17. These items were given -- not sold -- to the original collector, Allen H. Eaton, under the assumption that they would be shown in an exhibition to tell the story of the mass, illegal incarceration.

“They offered to give me things to the point of embarrassment, but not to sell them,” Eaton wrote in his 1952 book, “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese In Our War Relocation Camps.” Eaton was opposed to the mass incarceration and devoted himself to gathering examples of the creations that emerged from the camps, planning for a future exhibition and photographic display. He received official support toward what was meant to be a public project, not the creation of a private collection. Selling these treasures of Japanese American heritage would contravene Eaton’s original intent.

The auctioning of our cultural property -- handmade and donated by men, women and children whom their own government held against their will -- is wrong. There is no time before the auction to properly examine issues including provenance, ethics, and the propriety of disposing of our cultural patrimony by selling it off to the highest bidder.

We request that you pull these lots from the auction and delay the sale until a proper examination can be undertaken.

Auctioning these cultural products of the forced removal and incarceration is akin to auctioning Holocaust property, slave shackles, and Native American spiritual artifacts. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Locke, California, “right of first refusal,” enacted against California’s alien land laws, sought to rectify similar abuses.

Placing this historical heritage on the auction block sullies the reputations of both Eaton’s descendants and Rago Arts. The pending sale of these donated objects has caused anguish and outrage in our community, which is being expressed in letters, petitions, news coverage and a Facebook page, "Japanese American History: NOT for Sale”:

Our community’s goal is to educate and correct, not to vilify or cast blame. We urge you to pause the rush to auction, in the spirit of making this right for everyone.

Ad Hoc Committee to Oppose the Sale of Japanese American Historical Artifacts

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What was the truth of the hidden US-Japan ground war in Okinawa?

A US Army cameraman filming the fierce US-Japan ground war in Okinawa did his job "filming US soldiers fighting bravely" at first. But after he witnessed the terrible suffering of Okinawans, he couldn't stand it. The cameraman started to photograph the entire war, but his film was censored by the U.S. military. NHK produced a documentary on his experience in 2011 and it will be rebroadcast tomorrow.

The U.S. military recorded the Battle of Okinawa on film in detail; however Okinawan civilian noncombatants and locations were not identified. Over 140,000 Okinawan civilians were killed. Combatant deaths were significantly lower: around 12,000 US soldiers and 70,000 Japanese soldiers.

The "One-foot Film Movement", an Okinawan postwar grassroots organization bought documentary film (one foot at a time) from U.S. government archives  — to preserve the memory of these people, their families, their wartime history and to show why the Okinawan people desire peace.  The nonprofit started in 1983 as the Civil Movement to Provide Children With Lessons of the Battle of Okinawa and closed its 30-year operations in 2013 at a ceremony held at the Yashio Rest House in Naha. The organization had collected 50 hours of film.

Since February,  NHK has been rebroadcasting documentary films of this wartime history including Okinawan "One Foot Movement" documentary films.

In a 2005 documentary , a NHK director searched for the real people and places in these films, the visible memory of their wartime experience. Over 240,000 people were killed during the fierce US-Japanese ground war in Okinawa. What was the truth of this war? 

These and other archival NHK documentaries, especially the films and footage collected by the Okinawan One-Foot Film Movement, explore this history in a search for the memories of Okinawans who were killed during or somehow survived the worst ground battle of the Pacific War.

The NHK documentaries will be rebroadcast through July 5.


Info on broadcast and more on the ground war between the US and Japan in Okinawa via Okinawa Prefectural Peace Center (沖縄国際平和研究所):

『戦後70年企画 NHKが見つめた沖縄戦』
「カメラマンが見た沖縄戦 隠された戦場の事実」


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Okinawa Gov. Onaga: "Okinawa has never voluntarily provided bases. Futenma, & all other bases, were taken with 'Bayonets and Bulldozers' while Okinawans were in concentration camps during & after the war."

On March 23, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga demands that the Japanese government
 stop landfill preparation at the natural cultural heritage site at Henoko 
so that the prefectural government can assess damage to Okinawa's only fully intact coral reef, 
and habitat of the critically endangered Okinawa dugong, a protected natural monument.
(Photo: Japan Times via Kyodo)

Unofficial summary/translation of Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga's response to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at their April 5, 2015 meeting:
As you [Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga] said, Okinawa, which comprises 0.6% of Japanese terrirtory, has been burdened with 74% of US bases in Jp. Okinawa has supported the Ampo(US-Jp Security Treaty) system for 70 years after the war, with mixed emotions, both pride and pain at the same time.

With my political background, I fully understand the importance of Japan-US Ampo. You talk about the Senkakus, but unless the whole nation is ready to take the burden of Ampo, what would this kind of national defense (one in which Okinawa is overburdened) look like from the eyes of other nations? Japan's security, Ampo, & the Jp-US military alliance must be done as the people of Japan as a whole (not just Okinawa).

You said you might move [V-22 transport aircraft] Osprey to the mainland, but without any of the major bases relocating to the mainland, our overburden may not change. That's been the case in the last 70 years.

And no matter how much we express what we need, Okinawa's concerns won't be taken care of within the existing SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).  SOFA must be fundamentally revised.

I want to stress that Okinawa has never voluntarily provided bases. Futenma, and all other bases, were taken with "Bayonets and Bulldozers" while Okinawans were in concentration camps during and after the war.

You took land from us, you made us suffer until today, and now you think it [Futenma] is dangerous and has to be removed. Then you ask us to take the burden of replacement. You ask us whether we have an alternative plan. You ask us to think about the security of Japan. (Why do we have to think about these?) It just shows deterioration (daraku) of Japanese politics.

.... two years ago, the day when the [1952] San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect was celebrated. It was a celebration of Japan's regaining independence. But it was the day when Okinawa was detached from Japan. It was a sad day for us. When we heard "Banzai!" at the ceremony, I thought, "Are they even thinking about Okinawa?"

During those 27 years under US military occupation, when Japan enjoyed economic prosperity, we were struggling to gain autonomous rights during. The hardship was beyond anyone's imagination.

You and I both went to Hosei University. But until I was 22-years-old, I used my [USCAR (US Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands) "Resident of the Ryukyus"] passport, and had money sent in US dollars. When I look back, I wonder, "What was Okinawa really supporting during those 27 years?

You always use the word "shukushuku." It means you are just going ahead with the Henoko base construction and we have no say. Such attitude reminds me of Lt. Gen Paul W. Caraway, US High Commissioner in the old time. He said there was no such thing as autonomy for Okinawa. Whenever you use the word "shukushuku', it reminds me of Caraway, and makes me wonder what did those 70 years (after the war) mean for us?

Then the guy called Price came, and with what was called "Price Recommendation," US tried to buy out land from Okinawans [with one-time] lump sum payments [for tens of thousands of acres private property the US military forcibly seized from 230,000 Okinawans from WWII through the 1950's]. We were all poor then, and desperately wanted the money, but rejected the offer.

Now, the land [albeit leased to the Jp and US govts] is ours. In light of such history of our struggle, no such word as "shukushuku" can threaten us. The more you use such condescending words, the more the minds of Okinawan people are turned away, and the angrier they become. I absolutely believe that it is impossible to build the Henoko base.

It is the power of the Okinawan people... our pride, our confidence, and our thoughts for our children and grandchildren, coming together. It is impossible to build the base. And the Japanese government bears the entire responsibility for any costs associated with cancellation of this base. The world is watching this test of Japanese democracy.

Let me ask you. Both you and Rumsfeld think Futenma was the "most dangerous base in the world." You try to brainwash Okinawans and the people of all of Japan, telling them that "in order to remove Futenma's danger, Henoko is the only way." Is it? Will Futenma stay permanently if the Henoko plan falters?

You talk about the base reduction, but after all these bases are returned, what will be the base burden ratio for Okinawa? It will only reduce from 73.8% to 73.1%. Why? Because all these bases will be relocated WITHIN the prefecture, including Naha military port and Camp Kinser. Your talk of base reduction may sound convincing, but if you really look at the numbers, this is what it is about (from 73.8% to 73.1% only).

And you say you will return Naha military port by 2025, and Camp Kinser by 2028. Then what? It (the agreement) says the rest will be returned "later." What kind of Japanese language is that? You give a sweet talk to get through the day, but then quickly you forget about it. It has been our experience of the past 70 years. This is why, even when you talk about moving Osprey to this place and that place, we are in doubt, thinking that maybe it will take another 50 years.

Prime Minister Abe keeps saying he will, "take Japan back." Does that "Japan" include Okinawa?

.. the only difference between me and Mr. Nakaima is Henoko. There was a difference of 100,000 votes between me and him. Understand that I won on the Henoko issue, not other issues.

Now, the economy. When 9/11 happened, Okinawa lost 40% of its tourists. The damage was significant. Senkaku, I understand them as Japan's inherent territory. Once something happens there, I can see the million tourists to Ishigaki going down to 10% of the current number.

Okinawa's soft-power can be utilized when its peace is secured. With US bases, considering the advancement of the missile technology, one or two misses will destroy Okinawa. I suspect US and its military want to withdraw from Okinawa, and only Japan wants to keep them there for "deterrence."

I would like to meet with Prime Minister Abe too. You are a minister in charge of reducing Okinawa's base burden. I want you to cancel the Henoko plan, have proper dialogues, and resolve the base issue.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Urgent Appeal by Nobel Prize Laureate OE Kenzaburo and 20 other leading Japanese intellectuals calling for the immediate suspension of construction of the US military base at Henoko, Okinawa.

Urgent Appeal by Nobel Prize Laureate OE Kenzaburo and 20 other leading Japanese intellectuals calling for the immediate suspension of construction of the US military base at Henoko, Okinawa.

We are deeply concerned about issues surrounding the construction of an American military base in Henoko, Okinawa. The will of the people of Okinawa prefecture is beyond doubt. INAMINE Susumu, who opposed construction of the military base in his election manifesto, was reelected mayor of Nago City in an election held in January 2014. In the November election of the prefectural governor, ONAGA Takeshi, who also opposed construction, defeated the incumbent NAKAIMA Hirokazu by an overwhelming 100,000 votes; and in the general election held in December, anti-construction candidates won every seat. The fierce determination of the people of Okinawa prefecture to oppose construction of the American military base at Henoko has been demonstrated by “all Okinawa” in a way that transcends ideology and creed, politics and party affiliation.

The Abe government, nevertheless, is aggressively pressing ahead with land reclamation, using as justification the Public Waters Reclamation Accord signed by the previous governor Nakaima, who late in 2013 reneged on his election manifesto. The outrageous conduct of the national government is an act of violence that insults the will of the Okinawan people and destroys the foundation of democracy and regional autonomy in Japan.

The new governor has decided to establish an “Independent Committee on Procedures Involved in the Public Waters Reclamation Accord with Regard to the Construction of a Replacement Facility for the Futenma Airfield” (henceforth “Independent Committee”) to begin investigating whether there were any legal irregularities in the procedures undertaken by the previous governor NAKAIMA Hirokazu in concluding the Public Waters Reclamation Accord. In other words, there is a real possibility that the legitimacy of the reclamation accord, or the environmental assessment upon which it rests, may be stripped away. For the government of a purportedly democratic nation, the obvious course of action should be to suspend landfill operations at least during the period of investigation.

Governor Onaga announced a new decision on March 23. He ordered the Okinawa Defense Bureau to halt all operations, including boring exploration. In the event that his order is not carried out, he is considering rescinding the permit allowing coral reef shattering along the Henoko coast. If the government continues to insist on aggressively pushing ahead with construction, we fear not only a serious confrontation with the people of Okinawa prefecture and the fomenting of mistrust toward the mainland, but also the collapse of trust toward the nation of Japan inside the country and abroad.

We hereby declare our support for Governor Onaga’s position rejecting base relocation and our full support for his decisions pertaining to the order to suspend operations and to rescind the permit allowing reef shattering. We urgently call upon the government to heed the following requests:

The Japanese government should immediately suspend all operations relating to Henoko land reclamation [landfill], including boring exploration of the sea floor. The “Land Reclamation Accord” concluded by former Governor Nakaima, which the government uses as the basis for such operations, has been repudiated by the people of Okinawa prefecture.

Recently, the Japanese government has refused even to meet with Governor Onaga who represents the collective will of Okinawa. Such refusal repudiates regional autonomy guaranteed under the Japanese constitution and violates the spirit of democracy. Respect for the will of the people forms the basis of democracy. The government should accede in good faith to Governor Onaga’s request for a meeting and participate in serious talks about the issues at hand.

We call upon the Japanese government to put into practice its own slogan of “Regional Creation” by transferring to Okinawa Prefecture the actual authority to resolve issues connected to military bases and the construction of an autonomous economy.

The Minister for the Environment has a responsibility to provide appropriate commentary from a standpoint of environmental conservation with regard to the contents of the Environmental Impact Evaluation Report on reclamation operations for the construction of the American military base at Henoko. According to the Environmental Conservation Guidelines for the Island of Okinawa, Henoko and surrounding coastal regions in particular, designated as “zones for evaluating the strict preservation of the natural environment” (Rank 1), are precious bodies of water inhabited by numerous endangered species, not least of which is the Dugong. There is an extremely high risk that the artificial destruction and modification of natural formations will bring about absolute irreversible damage from which the island cannot recover. We urgently call upon the Minister for the Environment to carry out the solemn duty of preserving the beautiful Okinawan sea, a candidate for selection as a World Heritage Site.

Frustration and anger at a situation in which 74% of US military bases are forced onto Okinawa, which comprises only 0.6% of Japanese territory, underlie the determination of the people of Okinawa prefecture to oppose the construction of a new base at Henoko. We call upon Japanese citizens to squarely face this situation, which may be said to be a form of structural discrimination; and urge that all Japan should include this burden in considering issues of Japanese security.

April 1, 2015
(Translated by Charles Cabell. List of petitioners omitted.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Targeted Village, A Documentary by Chie Mikami April 4 @ 1:30 pm - 4:30 pm, Santa Cruz, CA

In Okinawa, the people of Takae village are convicted by the Japanese government for obstructing traffic in the struggle for the recognition of their human rights, property rights, dignity, and desire for the preservation of Yanbaru, the subtropical rainforest in northern Okinawa.

The obstruction was part of their struggle against the construction of new helipads for low-level flight training of MV-Osprey transport aircraft in the rainforest, a World Natural Heritage site candidate. The story of the people of Takae embodies U.S. military seizures of private and public property dating back to the 1950s; use of villagers for mock target practice during the Vietnam War; and the blocking of gates to the Futenma base during a historic protest in the fall of 2012, against hazardous V-22 Osprey low-level flight training in Okinawa.

The film will be followed by a Q and A and Discussion with UCSC Professor Alan Christy and Doctoral Student Yoko Fukumura.

Suggested Donation: $5-$10, no one is turned away.

Sponsors: The Targeted Village Showing Steering Committee in California, the Resource Center for Nonviolence, and the UCSC Department of History


Thursday, March 26, 2015

70th Anniversary of the U.S. assault on the Kerama Islands • Remembering the Kerama victims of Japanese military forced group suicide

Memorial service at Zemami this morning. (Photo: Ryukyu Shimpo)

Today is the 70th anniversary of the U.S. assault on the Kerama Islands, the first invasion of "Operation Iceberg", the last US land campaign of the Pacific War.  The Battle of Okinawa was not really a battle; it was an annihilation.  An armada of 1,500 US ships, carrying 548,000 Americans, faced the last dregs of the Japanese Army and gentle Okinawans who had no chance to resist the war into which Imperial Japan forced them. Poorly trained student Corp child soldiers, "Home Guard" militia, and student nurses made up the local conscripts in the Japanese 32nd Army's 110,000 members in Okinawa. The 32nd Army had no naval support: the Japanese Imperial super battleship Yamato, and five of nine small ships capsized after exploding from nonstop bombing by 300 U.S. planes before the Japanese fleet reached Okinawa, their one-way suicide destination. The four surviving ships retreated to the Japanese mainland.

"Mobilized" only a few weeks before the U.S. invasion, the conscripted Okinawan children and teenagers received no weapons training, only short-pants uniforms. The student soldiers and student nurses were told Japan would win the battle in a few days; so the girls and their teachers brought their books with them to keep up their studies. They had no idea that, in months, they would receive orders to give cyanide to wounded Japanese soldiers covered with maggots in the dark, hot cave battlefield hospitals, and, that, at the end of the Battle of Okinawa in three months, they would be pushed into the battlefield to fend for themselves.

Okinawans were not protected by the Japanese military during the Battle of Okinawa. 
They were used as laborers, conscripts, nurses,"comfort women," and human shields.

Caught in between the US forces and the pathetic, ragtag army: 450,000 Okinawan civilians whom the Japanese government did not evacuate or protect.  100,000 had been evacuated earlier, not to protect them, but to ensure a food supply for the 32nd Army which also numbered around 100,000. Many of the Okinawan civilian evacuees, including children, were killed en route to Japan when US warships torpedoed cargo ships carrying these civilian passengers.  The three-month battle sacrificed 150,000 Okinawan civilians, 77,166 of the Japanese soldiers and military conscripts, many whom were murdered by their compatriots upon being wounded or committed suicide, and 14,009 Americans.

70th Anniversary of the March 26, 1945 U.S. assault on the Kerama Islands.

The U.S. bombed the tiny islands southwest of the Okinawan mainland for several days before the March 26 and March 27 invasions.  The 300 Japanese "Sea Raiding" suicide torpedo boat pilots stationed at the Keramas were supposed to slow the U.S. "typhoon of steel and bombs", but they failed to carry out a single suicide attack on the American battleships bombarding the shore.  Instead, the soldiers joined civilians in hiding, where Japanese officers began implementing their only successful mission: terrorizing and killing the islands' civilians.

The tiny Kerama Islands are situated to the southwest of the Okinawa mainland.

By March 29th, the U.S. had seized nearly the entire Keramas, including the 4 tiny inhabited islands: Tokashiki Island, Zamami Island, Aka Island, and Geruma Island. During these battles, Japanese officers ordered the mass suicide (shudan jiketsu) of Okinawans on these Islands. The people were forced to commit suicide by the coercion (kyosei) and inducement (yudo). Handing out grenades and cyanide, the 32nd Army ordered the group deaths of the people who had lived in the Keramas peacefully for centuries until the Japanese military arrival. Only a few managed to escape and survive.

Some civilians on Toshiaki Island escaped the mass suicide order and surrendered to the US military.

The death toll from the forced group suicides was 330 people for Tokashiki-jima Island, 177 persons on Zamami-jima Island, and on Geruma-jima Island it was 53 people. 2 families are said to have killed themselves on tiny Yakabi Island. In addition to the Japanese military murdering residents whom they called "spies," 600 Korean laborers and "comfort women" (military sexual slaves) also lost their lives.

Exhibition of photographs of Toshiaki Island survivors of the forced mass suicide and their wounds. 
Courtesy of Mr. Hiroshi Yamashiro, Via Okinawa Peace Research Institute.

In February, Prince Konoe Fumimaro had advised the Japanese emperor to surrender and stop the continuation of deaths, suffering, and destruction of the Pacific War. The navy and  air force were practically wiped out.  Most of Japan's major cities had been destroyed by firebombing before the Battle of Okinawa. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians were dead, or wounded and starving. The Japanese government knew the Battle of Okinawa was lost in advance, that it would be a bloodbath; however the Ryukyuan people and their garden-like islands were cast as a last "sacrifice stone" simply to extend a war without mercy.  Okinawan civilians were used as laborers, and eventually human shields,  before the final sacrifices by forced group suicide. Korean military slave laborers and Korean and Taiwanese "comfort women" (military sexual slaves at the 145 "comfort stations" in Okinawa), erased from from the media and history books, as if they never existed, were also sacrificed.

Memorial service for the 600 people forced to commit suicide. 

The Japanese government has never apologized to Okinawans for the willful disregard of life in the planning of the Battle of Okinawa; the near-genocidal civilian death toll; the group suicide orders; the loss of homes, farms, means of livelihood, and near-total destruction of the culture of ancient Ryukyuan kingdom.

Okinawans had no part in formulating the Japanese military government decisions that led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War. Yet Okinawans are still being punished, and have never been allowed to live freely and peacefully.  Under the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco, the Japanese government gave control of the islands to the U.S. military which continued the Japanese wartime pattern of property and human rights violations against Okinawans.  Okinawa Prefecture only makes up 0.6 percent of Japan's land mass, but has been forced to accommodate two thirds of the 47,000 US troops in Japan. Why? Because no other prefecture will take them, according to Minister of Defence, General Nakatani.

From 1945 to 1970 (especially during the notorious 1950s era of "Bayonets and Bulldozers"), the US military forcibly seized tens of thousands of acres of private property—entire villages, including cemeteries, tombs, sacred sites, and cultural properties— from over 230,000 Okinawans, to make way for the construction of massive military complexes that are now training bases for the US wars in Central Asia. People who resisted were pulled from their homes, assaulted, arrested and imprisoned.  The US allowed soldiers to engage in crimes against Okinawans with impunity and contaminated the islands with Agent Orange, depleted uranium, white phosphorus, and other radioactive and chemical weapons.

After the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japan, the U.S. did not leave Okinawa, as expected. In 1996, the US and Japan announced their plan to landfill the coral reef and dugong habitat at  Henoko, a beloved natural cultural heritage site and most important eco-tourism destination in Okinawa, to make way for another base. The critically endangered Okinawa dugong is a sacred icon and protected natural historical monument. The healthy coral reef is the last fully intact coral reef in all of Okinawa and Japan, and the most biodiverse in the Pacific Ocean, surpassing the number of species that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Okinawans, supported by global environmental and democracy activists, have been protesting the plan since that day.

For 70 years, Okinawans have struggled for Japanese and U.S. military recognition and respect for their human rights, property rights, cultural heritage, and right to self-determinacy. In 1950, the U.S. said it would make Okinawa a "showcase of democracy". However U.S. military rule remained authoritarian: implementing unacceptable policies with brute force, then, as now.  As Okinawans remember and pay their respects to those who died during the Battle of Okinawa 70 years ago, they are also engaged in a historic battle for Japanese and U.S. recognition of Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga's efforts to stop the destruction of the coral and dugong habitat, an ecoregion that is the living manifestation of what little remains of tangible Okinawan cultural heritage.


"Seventy years since U.S. landings on Kerama Islands – Memorial service to be held on Zamami on 26 March" (What's Going On in Okinawa, March 26, 2015)

"Remembering the Konoe Memorial: the Battle of Okinawa and Its Aftermath" (Herbert Bix, APJ, Feb. 23, 2015)

"Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa" (The Ryukyu Shimpo, Ota Masahide, Mark Ealey and Alastair McLauchlan, APJ, Dec. 1, 2014)

"Compulsory Mass Suicide, the Battle of Okinawa, and Japan's Textbook Controversy" (Aniya Masaaki, The Okinawa Times, and Asahi Shinbun, translation by Kyoko Selden, APJ, Jan. 6, 2008)


Monday, March 9, 2015

Tokyo fire bombing survivor: "Japan starting down road to war again" • Remembering the victims & survivors of the bombings of 67 Japanese & Okinawan cities from 1942 through 1945, & all bombing victims worldwide from 1911 to 2015

Katsumoto Saotome, a survivor of Great Tokyo Air Raids, wears a headband 
with words reading 'Kamikaze' on it, which he carried during an evacuation in the bombing.
(Photo: Reuters)

Reuters journalist Elaine Lies's article on the commemoration of the firebombing of Tokyo, "Tokyo fire bombing survivor fears Japan starting down road to war again," gives voice to one of the many Pacific War survivors warning us about the Japanese government's remilitarization.
Katsumoto Saotome was 12 the night he ran for his life through a sea of flames, jumping over smoldering railroad ties along a train track as U.S. B-29 bombers rained incendiary bombs down around him...

Now, as memories fade of how civilians suffered during World War Two - suffering Saotome blames on Japan's wartime leaders who thought of their citizens as "weeds" - the 82-year-old author fears Japan may be marching toward war again.

"I think we're turning backwards, down that road," said Saotome, citing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plans to change Japan's war-renouncing constitution, his more muscular security stance and a state secrets act passed last year.

"Everyone thinks at first that it's nothing, but more and more things accumulate, and then it's repression. I worry about what happens to women and children in this situation. We have to talk about it, maybe that will put a brake on things."

For Saotome and others of his age, the war stole their childhood. In school, before being conscripted to work in factories, they learned that the "kamikaze" divine wind would annihilate Japan's enemies. Should Japan lose, they would have to choose death over dishonor and kill themselves...

With more than 80 percent of Japanese, including Abe, born after the war, Saotome worries that reluctance to discuss painful issues may mean repeating past mistakes. Political apathy is also a worry, he says...

"Those of us who survived have a duty to become a voice for the voiceless," Saotome said. "If I'm quiet, it means I've accepted the situation. If we don't speak up, the past will be made to disappear."
As we remember the 70th anniversary of the March 9-10 all-night US firebombing of Tokyo, we also remember the largely forgotten firebombings of over 66 other cities in Japan and Okinawa. Historian Mark Selden has noted  that the scale of civilian casualties in Japanese cities "had no parallel in the history of bombing."

The US bombed Kobe, then the sixth largest city, with a population of one million, in 84 air raids, between April 18, 1942 to August 15, 1945. On July 24, 1945, a US B29 dropped 4 experimental "mock" atomic bombs ("pumpkin bombs") , with the same scale and weight as the "Little Boy" nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, on Kobe. With a total death toll of more than 8,000, the death rate of civilians par square mile in Kobe was worse than that of Hiroshima and Tokyo.  Studio Ghibli's 1988 Grave of the Fireflies, an acclaimed animation about 2 child survivors of firebombings, was set in Kobe.

Before Tokyo and Kobe, on October 10, 1944,  US bombers began "softening up" assaults on Naha, the capital of Okinawa, destroying 80 to 90 percent  of the city. A thousand Okinawan civilians, twice as many as Japanese military personnel, were killed during the 10/10 raid. Colonel Yahara, the only surviving senior staff officer of Japan’s 32nd Army, wrote in The Battle for Okinawa (1972) that that the 10/10 destruction of Naha was “a sad foretaste of the tragedy to come” to Okinawa and mainland Japan. Yahara said Imperial Japan should have surrendered earlier to stem the loss of civilian life.  Most of the civilians who died during the Battle of Okinawa were killed by American bombardments.

The US bombings of Tokyo began in December 1944 and continued through August 13, 1945. March 9-10 was the worst of more than 60 air raids on Tokyo: over a hundred thousand civilians were killed and most of old capital was destroyed in one night.

In March 2007, 112 survivors and family members announced they would sue Japanese government for an apology and damages. The the plaintiffs, the oldest of whom was eighty-six and whose average age was seventy-four at the time, filed the suit with the Tokyo District Court in April. As expected, in 2013, the Japanese Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit.

However, the plaintiffs were able to tell their story, in their voices. Following this action, other lawsuits brought by Pacific War victims against the Japanese government, also raising the issue of war responsibility and accountability, followed, including actions by survivors of the Battle of Okinawa and the survivors of the Japanese fire bombings of Chongqing from 1938 to 1943 which killed 10,000 civilians.

Other Japanese cities the US bombed include Sendai (March 10 and July 19, 1945);  Osaka (March 13-14, 1945); Kagoshima (June 17, 1945); Moji, Nobeoka, Okayama and Sasebo (June 28); Takamatsu (July 4, 1945); Kofu (July 6, 1945); Gifu, Sakai, Sendai and Wakayama (July 9, 1945), Toyama (total destruction on Aug. 1-2, 1945).

According to the Shock and Awe Conference on Aerial Bombing held at the London School of Economics in November, 2011, the "development of aerial bombardment was more than just a military revolution.' [Aerial bombardment] "redrew the legal and moral boundaries between civilians and combatants, spread the theatre of war into new environments and expanded the battlefield, making cities into places of mass death and taking warfare into private, domestic spaces." This era began in 1911 when an Italian pilot, Guilio Cavotti, dropped the first bombs from a plane to the oasis of Tagiura outside Tripoli in north Africa during the Italian-Turkish War f ought between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Italy from September 29, 1911, to October 18, 1912 over the colonial control of Libya.

In the seventy years since the end of Pacific War, war memories and growing awareness of suffering of victims and survivors throughout the Asia-Pacific has continue to fuel peace building efforts by survivors and their descendants. Last June, 1,760,000 supporters of the Japanese Peace Constitution delivered a petition to Prime Minister Abe asking him not to change Article 9.


Film critic Roger Ebert - Grave of The Fireflies (video talk on Youtube)

"Tokyo fire bombing 70th anniversary: Survivors beg Japan to remember the forgotten 100,000" (David McNeill, The Independent, March 10, 2015)

"Saotome Katsumoto and the Firebombing of Tokyo: Introducing The Great Tokyo Air Raid" (Translation and Intro by Richard Sams, APJ, March 9, 2015)

"The Firebombing of Tokyo: Views from the Ground" (Brett Fisk and Cary Karakas, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Jan. 17, 2011)

"China and Japan at War: Suffering and Survival, 1937-1945" (Diana Lary, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Nov. 29, 2010)

"The Great Tokyo Air Raid and the Bombing of Civilians in World War II", The Asahi Shimbun, reposted at The Asia-Pacific Journal, March 11, 2010)