Excursion to Southern Park of Okinawa

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May 11th 2019
Published: May 11th 2019
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Excursion to Southern part of Okinawa

At the end of 16 April, Ms Akamine asked us to come to Akamine station at 9 o’clock the next day. We got up and had breakfast early in the morning and headed for Akamine station by monorail. Unlike the previous day, it was brightly sunshining; Ms Akamine regretted planning to go to the beach the previous day. She brought someone who is currently a taxi driver and knows roads very well.

After leaving Naha city, the driver headed for southwards direction. We were told that our first destination would be Peace Memorial Park. I’d heard that Okinawa had an extremely fierce battle at the end of the Second World War and an awful lot of civilians lost their lives in the most desperate and unimaginable circumstances. As soon as our car drove into Itoman city’s area, Ms Akamine told us that southern part of Okinawa including Kerama islands was the worst place in the Okinawa’s battle – there were a lot of houses where they had lost entire members of families in the war and there are still very few number of houses in the vast field even
View from the observatoryView from the observatoryView from the observatory

Beautiful and serene sea - it was totally different 75 years ago...
after 75 years have been passed.

Peace Memorial Park

Southern Okinawa has been designated as Okinawa Battlefield Quasi National Park and Peace Memorial Park was located in the heart of the National Park; it has become one of the tourists’ destinations in Okinawa.

After taking photos, we started looking round the museum. Despite the large scale of the battle and huge losses, Okinawa’s War has not been widely told in Japanese history, as there were very small numbers of testimonials from survivors, and more importantly, Okinawa was heavily and unfairly administered and controlled by the U.S Military Base until 1972. We looked round the exhibition rooms on the 1st floor and learned that Okinawa was once an independent country known as Kingdom of Ryukyu until Meiji Restoration (1868); but Meiji government made the kingdom a prefecture of Japan and its assimilation policy aimed at making Okinawa as faithful subjects of the Emperor.

The battle of Okinawa was described as ‘Typhoons of Steel’: the invading forces indiscriminately bombed the central and southern part of the island from the air and the sea; and these attacks even made changes to the landscape of the islands. We never imagined how many people lost their lives. The exhibition rooms included documents of young girls of Himeyuri and other Girls High Schools who were forcibly and directly involved in the battle of the Okinawa and models of trenches which showed the mother was pressing her hand over her baby’s mouth to prevent it from crying under the threatening eyes of Japanese soldiers.

Okinawans continued to struggle with their lives even after the end of the war. We looked at a series of documents and newspaper articles of incidents between 1945 and 1972 when Okinawa was under the control of the U.S military base. As the cold war tensions between the U.S and the Soviet Union, Okinawa was turned into a vast military complex; land was confiscated and people were oppressed. They weren’t given the right to vote and freedom of speech – they weren’t allowed to protest against constructions of the military bases and travel to the rest of Japan. Non-Okinawan people had to go through the special travel requirement to gain visa if they needed to visit Okinawa. Okinawans’ struggles finally ended in 1972

Not only Okinawans lost their lives but lots of Americans and British soldiers lost their lives
when their land returned to Japan, but there are still an awful lot of military bases on the small spaces of the main island and its small islands.

There were an immeasurable number of people lost in the battle of Okinawa; an awful lot of people are still unaccounted for. Ms Akamine lost her mother, sister and brother in the war. She showed us the way to search names of victims in the cornerstones by the computer in the reception. Cornerstones of victims of the war were erected in the northeast of the museum’s building. Cornerstones showed names of victims in Japanese in an alphabetical order. She showed us three of her family’s names inscribed on the cornerstones. Names inscribed were not only Japanese people, but also countless Korean, Chinese, Russian, Americans and British people. Search for missing people is still carried on; it is likely more people’s names will be added in the future.

We should never forget that there were millions of Koreans who were forced to come to Japan and carry out laborious and dangerous jobs: I’ve heard that they were told to build up defensive forts in Japan and made
Menubi HillMenubi HillMenubi Hill

Bushes are home to snakes, but we can still find people's bodies in these bushes...
to work for 12-15 hours a day; quite a few of Koreans were forced to join the Japan’s army at the end of war, and sadly claimed a massive number of people’s lives. The Korean’s people’s monuments were erected at separate places from other cornerstones in Peace Memorial Park.

Not only Peace Memorial Park and Himeyuri Monument, but there are quite a few war monuments should not be missed in the south of Okinawa. Ms Akamine took us to a couple of monuments who are dedicated to people who were forced to fight in the Battle of Okinawa. She said that people’s body searching is held in the dense bushes on Manube Hill in the south part of Okinawa in every February when snakes are completely inactive – and there are still a number of bodies found in the present days.

Himeyuri Peace Museum

We reached Himeyuri Peace Museum around the lunch time. As expected, there were loads of tourists and students in the museum. Bunches of fresh flowers were on sale. Some visitors bought them and left them at the Himeyuri’s
Himeyuri Peace MuseumHimeyuri Peace MuseumHimeyuri Peace Museum

High School girls worked in one of the trenches 75 years ago
monument. I was interested to see caves made around the monument and wondering what they meant. The museum had English leaflets and explanations for each of documents and exhibited items; so Mark could follow what was happening date by date.

Himeyuri was one of the Okinawa’s Women’s Normal Schools and the First Women’s Prefectural High School. All these students were very bright girls and selected as best pupils in the prefecture. They were full of hopes and aspirations, but the war situations that dragged on throughout the 1930s had gradually militarized these schools and finally led to their induction into the Battle of Okinawa. The 240 students from Himeyuri were mobilized for the battle. The exhibitions included the life-size diorama of a clinic cave – many of which were like ants’ nest containing shabby bunk beds. These young students were assigned not only treat wounded soldiers but were thrown out of the caves into the war front at the end of May 1945 when the deactivation order was announced. Only 13 out of 240 Himeyuri students survived; archive films were displayed with the survivors’ testimonies – there people told the public what a tragic and miserable ordeal
One of the trenchesOne of the trenchesOne of the trenches

By the end of Okinawa's battle, lots of civilians went to one of the caves, but forced to commit suicide...
they had to deal with, as a result of these unreasonable military orders – in those days Japanese people were taught that they possessed spirits of Yamato Kingdom and were faithfully to fight for Emperor to the last minutes and surrendering was the most insulting thing for Emperor.

Trenches of Todoroki Go

After having lunch around Himeyuri Museum, Ms Akamine took us to several unknown war memorial places including the one where her sister was laid, and then took us to the very special place – Trenches of Todoroki Go .

As soon as the driver had parked his van, we were all given a straw hat (as a means of helmet), gloves and a torch. We then met up with the professional Heiwa (peace) guide, who shows non-Okinawans the war memorial places and places where civilians were directly involved in the battle of war. Her job is to educate people what causes of war and process of unreasonable military order and how we could stop these horrible wars. Ms Akamine had become friend with this peace guide and specially arranged for us to see the cave where Okinawa’s Major hid and many civilians escaped to shelter themselves. This peace guide usually sees Japanese tourists and students, but not foreigners. I said to her that I would translate for my husband while she was talking.

We were shown to a big hole of the earthen trenches surrounded by bushes – it looked pretty sheltered with bushes, but the guide told us that these trees and shrubs were not grown in 1945. We followed the downward steps using ropes provided on the right side for tourists. These downward steps were very steep, uneven and slippery. The downward routes were quite narrow; we had to bend ourselves not to hit our heads at times. The guide stopped at the place where we could hear the stream of underground water. She explained that this trench has remained intact for 75 years. She asked us to switch off our torches. It was just a couple of minutes, but made me feel frightened of the complete darkness. Afterwards, she asked us to switch on torches and reminded us that we took it granted for torches, but these poor civilians did not have torches or candles, or even a bite of food and consequently lost their lives in the complete darkness.

After we all came back to the ground, the guide showed us the numbers of estimated deceased people by month to month between March and August 1945. It showed a large number of victims, approximately 50,000 people in June – when the issue of the No.32 defensive army’s deactivation and they were dismissed on southern part of the island. By the end of the devastating Okinawa’s battle, all the people – dismissed soldiers, police and civilians – became inhuman while coming across the desperate situations: I’ve heard the dismissed soldiers threatened mothers and they had to kill their babies and little children who didn’t stop crying…

We are certainly living in a much better world, but there are some countries where evil dictators control their people and suppress their freedom and don’t give sufficient food and human rights in the world. And, a lot of countries are still fighting for conflicts of different religions. We have to think about people who have struggled under oppressive governments and promote the peace and the equality to the world.

Shuri Castle

Afterwards, we were taken to Shuri Castle, northeast corner of Naha city. This historic, vivid-looking castle became the UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. Being used as a base of No.32 Japan’s defensive army, the castle was very badly damaged and destroyed in the battle of Okinawa, but has been restored as the symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom’s government, diplomacy and culture. Mark commented that Shuri Castle looked nothing like the castles he had visited in Japan.

Shuri Castle was greatly influenced by Chinese architecture with functional and decorative elements similar to that seen primarily in the Forbidden City. The gates and various buildings were painted in red with lacquer, walls and eaves colourfully decorated, and roof tiles made of Ryukyurian tiles, and the decoration of each part heavily using dragon.

Although many of the original external and internal decorations and elements of construction were destroyed in 1945, the restored historic castle offered quite a few rooms for us to see: Kugani-Udun, private area for the king, his wife and mother; Nanden, the ‘South Hall’, formally an entertainment area for Satsuma envoys; Ni-kei-udun, a sitting room for the king linked to Seidan; Seidan, the so-called State Palace contains the throne room and royal living and ceremonial areas; Sasumoma Anteroom for royal princes, guests and official reception area; and Oku-shoin, rest house for the king; and Yuinchi, royal food preparation area. All the room guides were wearing Ryukyu style kimono, mainly featuring in red and gold, which looked different from ones in the rest of Japan.

We also enjoyed overlooking Ryukyu University and looking out to the city centre of Naha and coastlines beyond from the viewpoint.

We decided to take the bus to the city centre. Ms Akamine took us to the restaurant near Kencho (Prefectural Office) station. Okinawan’s food is cooked with vegetables and beans containing a lot of fibre, mineral and vitamin, which is good for us and sustains the longevity. Despite the dark, gloomy history in the half of the 20th century, there have been some people who have lived more than 100 years old in Okinawa; Japanese scientists believe that Okinawa’s food and diet have made these people live healthily and survive for a long time. I had a set menu, with dishes cooked with beans. I was given a glass of milk made of beans. The waitress recommended that I would drink that milk. However, I don’t usually drink milk and quietly asked Mark to drink it on behalf of me.

Makishi Public Market

On 18th April, our flight to Nagasaki was due to depart at Naha at 15:15. We had free time in the morning. My mother said that she would meet up with her friend and go to the Tsuboya Pottery Museum. She suggested that we would go to the First Makishi Public Market, which I had found on the Youtube. Daiwa Roynet Hotel was located on Kokusai Street, Naha’s main shopping street; and wasn’t far to walk to the Makishi Public Market. There were a lot of souvenir shops selling an amazing array of local food, glasses, toiletry goods, T-shirts on the Kokusai Street and Heiwa Street – and they were quite tempting. As the Youtube showed, we saw a wide variety of fresh vegetables, meats, and fish on the Makishi Public Market. One of the Okinawa’s main foods is pork. Pork meat is taken from pigs which we often forget about. I closely looked at these meats – they were truly pigs’ legs and are used for Okinawa’s dishes. Okinawa has a sub-tropical climate and there were a lot of fishes and shell-fishes which I had never seen before; they were as colourful as fishes at the aquarium. We were encouraged to buy and try these fishes which would be cooked in the kitchen upstairs. These messages were written in English. We were a bit too full at that time. We continued strolling through the market and the shops. I bought a pair of ornaments featuring Ryukyu’s dragon for my parents-in-law, summer shirt for myself and T-shirt for my husband and brother-in-law.

We met up with my parents at hotel just after 12 o’clock. We had lunch at the restaurant in the hotel where we had breakfast for the past couple of days.

Afterwards, we headed for Nagasaki.

Additional photos below
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