Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying. It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though! But after a couple of months of being back in England […]
Archive for March, 2009
When I initially started to write this article, I elected to give you ladies and gents a full recount of the history of Okinawa. About its prehistoric times, when a land bridge existed between Okinawa, Yonaguni (probably the time when the underwater ruins were above the waves) and China… about it originally being a separate country called the Ryukyu Kingdom, whose king believed in not fighting because “Life itself is a treasure”… about its invasion in the 1600s by Satsuma (the feudal domain in Japan, not the type of orange!)… about the Japan’s constant classification of Okinawans as second-class citizens (a practice which still occurs today). But then I decided that the most influential time for Okinawa occurred in the first half of 1945, and the battle of Okinawa. This will be the focus of my blog entry today.
An excellent way to find out about this tragic battle and the aftermath here is to visit the Heiwa Kinen Kouen (the Peace Prayer Park) and the Himeyuri monument. Both are located in the south of the island, very close to one another, and their vicinity to “Suicide Cliffs” might give you an idea of the dark past this beautiful island once had. But before we talk about the Peace Prayer Park, let’s wind the clock back to the middle of March, 1945. Iwo Jima was about to fall to the Americans, and Japan had suffered huge losses. The Japanese defence force was 22,000 men, and the American army they battled against totalled 110,00. Out of this force of 22,000, 20,073 were killed and 216 were captured. (Incidentally, if you are interested in this battle then I can highly recommend seeing the film, Letters from Iwo Jima, starring the always-excellent Ken Watanabe). Japanese soil had fallen to the Americans, and the Japanese defensive line had been breached. Iwo Jima was fortified with the intention of fighting a war of attrition, and thereby giving more time for the defence of mainland Japan to be built up. Following the loss of Iwo Jima, Okinawa was made the new boundary of the Japanese defensive line, and given this new holding role. General Mitsuru Ushijima, the leader of the Japanese forces in Okinawa, knew that he could not fight off the American attack, but he was determined to make it as difficult for them as possible.
2 torpedoes used in the Battle of Okinawa
As part of the preparations for the forthcoming battle, the focus-point for the defences would be Shuri Castle, the historical capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The steep enbankments and walls leading up to the castle meant that it could only be flanked by the sea, and provided excellent defences against a land-based attack. However, as the huge Allied armada surrounded Okinawa Shuri Castle was pummelled, and on May 27th after 3 days of bombing, it was razed to the ground and the underground headquarters which had been created there was destroyed. The citizens of Okinawa were also made to prepare for an invasion; this was to be very different from Iwo Jima where there were virtually no civilians. The Japanese military made hogen (the traditional Okinawan dialect) illegal – this is one of the reasons why the language is so rare to hear now, and only usually spoken by the older generations. All of Okinawa’s economic and material resources were put into preparing for this huge battle against the Allied forces.
A rebuilt Shuri Castle
On April 1st 1945, the game was set, the pieces started to move and the Battle of Okinawa began. The 100,000 regular and militia (including many old men and children – people with no combat experience or training) of the Japanese forces against around 548,000 Allied forces. To people who experienced this, the battle became known as “The Typhoon Of Steel” due to the ferocity of the fighting and the huge number of allied ships that surrounded the island. I was lucky enough to visit the Peace Prayer Park 2 years ago and saw an exhibition of paintings and writings made by people who survived the battle. Some of the paintings were very vivid and showed the waters a mass of warships and gunfire. There were around 1,300 warships involved in this assault – and The Battle of Okinawa proved to be the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific during WWII. The Japanese defences fought back but were sorely outnumbered. Kamikaze fighters attacked a number of ships, but were often shot down before hitting their targets. One of the ships that was hit was the USS Emmons – struck by 5 kamikaze fighters which badly damaged, but failed to sink it. Eventually it was sunk by the Allies themselves (fearing it might be taken by the Japanese), and remains an official war grave and a fascinating place to dive. Landings were made in the middle of Okinawa, basically cutting the island in 2. The north of the island was relatively weakly defended, and was under complete Allied control by April 20th after very little fighting.
In the south of the island, the defences were much more formidable and fighting was at its most fierce. Despite a huge defensive effort, the Allied attack was relentless and the frontline of the battle was continually pushed south, yard by hard fought yard. As the battle raged on, the Japanese forces realised that they were fighting a losing battle, and around 4,000 troops and their commanders committed suicide in the Navy Underground Headquarters. The Japanese forces retreated to the south-east tip of Okinawa, and took shelter in caves in the cliffs and hillsides. This was to be the last stand for the Japanese troops. Already hiding in these caves were Okinawan civilians trying to escape the fighting. The troops held these civilians in little regard, taking their clothes so they would not be captured, and often forcing the Okinawans to go outside to collect water or find food. In these caves the conditions were horrendous, and many civilians were forced to work in there for the troops, including the Himeyuri girls (which I will talk about in my next blog entry). The Allied forces knew that civilians were up in the caves and pleaded with them via huge loudspeakers to come out and that they would not be harmed, before bombings on the caves commenced. Their intentions were good but the Okinawan civilians were told by the Japanese forces that they would be killed, mutilated, raped and even eaten by the “cannibal” American invaders if they surrendered, and that it was more honourable to commit suicide. Groups of girls would huddle together around a hand granade, pull the pin and just wait for death. Other stories include people throwing themselves and their family members off the cliffs to escape being captured. Just take a second to imagine how scared and how dire the situation would have to be to even contemplate something like that.
Names of those fallen in the Battle of Okinawa
The landscape in parts of southern Okinawa was literally bombed flat. As you travel past the centre of the island, the land becomes much more hilly which I’m sure is, at least, party due to the continuous carpet bombing of southern Okinawa during the battle. At the formal end of hostilities on June 21st, around 218,000 people had died. 12,513 of the Allied forces, and around 206,000 Japanese died. Those numbers are staggering enough to start with, but then it is important to know that around 140,000 of the Japanese casualties were civilians. Out of those Okinawans who survived the battle, over 1/3 were injured. The Peace Prayer Park honours all of these people who died, both Japanese and Allied forces (including Americans, British, New Zealanders, Australians and Canadians). All of their names are on marble monuments outside (see photo above) and you can search for names on a computer system in the museum building, which will tell you exactly where to find that person’s name. This is an excellent feature for those who are looking for someone specific. Another big focal point at the Peace Prayer Park is the Flame of Peace. This flame and surrounding pool was built so that people can reflect on the wars and conflicts in the world. When all wars have ended and nuclear weapons destroyed in the world, the flame will be extinguished. Unfortunately, with the state of the world at the moment, that could be some time…
The Cornerstone and Flame of Peace
If you ever come to Okinawa and visit one place, I would plead for you to come to the Peace Prayer Park. It is not the happiest of places, but rightly so; the history of Okinawa has been turbulent and very sad in many respects. But it is one of the places that you should see. I would class it in the same regard as visiting the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima – they are places that will make you feel sad/reflective/sick in parts, but in order to understand the country, they should definitely be seen. Especially in Okinawa, visiting the Peace Prayer Park will give you an insight into Okinawa, and maybe make you start to understand the hostility that is sometimes felt between Okinawans and mainland Japan. A number of times I have been corrected by students when I’ve called them Japanese. “I’m not Japanese. I am Okinawan” is the usual response.
Well, that’s it for this entry. I hope there were some things in there for you to think about. The next entry will cover the Himeyuri girls – a very sad story but another that should be told to understand Okinawa fully.
Another article plucked from the archives of my old site, but one which raised a smile or two and so is being brought back to life here. So, in Japan you’ll find there are hospitals with cartoons on them, “Keep Out” warning signs on premises with pictures of rabbits holding out their paws, and even the roadwork signs have pictures of flowery meadows on them. But this time the Japanese Ministry of Defence has gone one better. Whoever said war can’t be cute has obviously not met the Japanese Self Defence Force’s (SDF) new mascot, incredibly named Prince Pickles!
If you think this is some bizarre joke then think again. The bigwigs in the armed forces have obviously been on some team-building weekend in which far too much sake was drunk. Then one evening someone came up with the great idea of having a cartoon character to promote the armed forces in Iraq. Everyone knows that what Mohammed needs after his home has just been destroyed and his family murdered by a bombing in Baghdad is for Prince Pickles to come bouncing down the road with his disturbingly big eyes!
That’s all for now, but I just wanted to share that little image with you. And to cop it all off, they still can’t spell defence properly!!! More later as I get ready for some stick coming from any American readers of my site…
Just over 4 months until my working contract here in Japan comes to an end, and I have to confess I’m not having a huge amount of luck in the job market at the moment. Finding work is difficult everywhere in the world by all accounts, with companies making redundancies left, right & centre, and not even thinking about taking on more staff, and Japan is no different.
I’d like to remain in the education field, and will have 6 years of teaching experience come the end of July at the elementary, junior high and high school levels. I would also like to stay here in Okinawa if at all possible, although a move to mainland Japan certainly isn’t out of the question if I can find employment there. I sent 35 applications off to every high school and local board of education here in Okinawa around 3 weeks ago and was completely underwhelmed with the lack of response. I have had a single reply from a technical high school, who informed me that they don’t have a specialist English programme and so would not be looking to employ an English teacher. From everyone else I haven’t even received an acknowledgment they have received anything from me. That may be the thing in Japan, but it’s still pretty frustrating when you are trying to find out if you should be preparing to leave the country in 4 months or not.
Have also sent my resume out as a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer to diving shops based on US military bases here in Okinawa. I’ve had a better rate of return from them (66%) with one saying they were not hiring but another saying they might be interested and would need to check to confirm my visa status would allow me to be employed on a US base. It’s promising but I’ve not heard back from them in over a week when they said they would let me know about it the following day. That is despite sending a follow-up email reminding them I am still interested in employment.
Finally, my other ongoing application is with the NGO, Peace Boat. This is a large ship which travels on a 3-month voyage around the world from the end of July, visiting around 30 countries in the way. They look to employ around 20 English teachers on board, and look for people with experience of globalisation/internationalisation education experience. I am hoping that 5 years of teaching the Model United Nations will put my in good stead for at least an interview for this one. It is only a 3-month placement but if nothing else comes up it would buy me some more time, as well as being an amazing opportunity to ply my trade and continue my English language/Model UN teaching. D-day for finding out if I have an interview is April 6th so I’m keeping fingers crossed for that one.
I know a few of you people who read this blog are living in Japan so this is a small request to you. If you hear of any job opportunities arising around you then please let me know about it. It’s a tough job market at the moment and I’d be eternally grateful of any assistance.
Some stories make me roll my eyes, some make me laugh, and some make me just put my face to my palm in embarrassment. But it’s rare that a story has me virtually speechless. The latest update from NewzJapan has done just that. Some junior high school students in Handa City in Aichi got annoyed because their pregnant teacher scolded them and changed the seating arrangements in her class. So they decided to form a “Make Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club” at school.
I kid you not. Take a second to pick up your jaw from the floor and follow this link to read more: http://newzjapan.com/junior-high-students-in-japan-try-to-make-teacher-have-miscarriage
Back to some good, old-fashioned Engrish for this post. Saw this in a local Family Mart (convenience store) here in Okinawa and it had me a little confused, but smiling I whipped out my phone and took a picture.
I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing that I’m thinking: wild, but what?! Wild, but gives you a bad hangover? Wild, but a bit too sweet for most tastes? Wild, but overpriced? The public demand to know!
This actually reminds me of a postcard I got once at the end of the academic year from one of my classes. All students in the class had written a thank you message of some descript and some of the messages weere really sweet. The one I will always remember though is, “I enjoyed your classes, and you are good teacher, but sometimes you…”. Sometimes I what?! Don’t leave me hanging on like that!