By Ayumi Yoshihama |Staff Writer|
The Battle of Okinawa occurred from March 26 to June 22, 1945 during World War II (WWII), in which more than 200,656 people died, including a third of the civilian population of Okinawa, according to Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum.
Okinawa is a prefecture in the far south of Japan, consisting of more than three hundred small islands called the Ryukyu Islands, and is also where I was born and raised.
Okinawa used to be its own kingdom called the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429 to 1879 after being unified by three kingdoms. People in this kingdom spoke Ryukyuan, which is an endangered language, according to UNESCO.
The Japanese invaded the Ryukyu Kingdom and renamed it Okinawa in 1879.
After the Japanese invasion, many Okinawans immigrated to Hawaii and South America due to the economic situation and the changes in society at the time.
On March 26, 1945, American soldiers entered the Kerama Islands in Okinawa, where my paternal grandparents lived.
My grandmother, Fujie, does not like talking about this period in time.
When she talks about it, she still cries even though it happened 69 years ago.
However, she saw bombing from the air and fled with her family from the area.
Fujie and her family did not commit suicide, but some people who remained committed group suicide because they did not want to be killed by either Japanese or American soldiers.
“I could have died if I stayed there,” she said. “I could not trust even Japanese soldiers.”
Her brother joined the Japanese military, but he could not stand the situation of so many people dying, so he secretly left Okinawa to the mainland of Japan on a little boat. It was a 400-mile sail.
On April 1, 1945, American soldiers landed on Toguchi Beach, Yomitan on the mainland of Okinawa.
My grandfather, Susumu, lost his younger brother, Kousaburo, who was a university student at the time they attacked the mainland of Okinawa.
There is a famous story in Yomitan that all generations know about when the American soldiers landed.
There were two bomb shelters in Yomitan.
One group survived, but the other did not.
The reason one group survived was because there was an Okinawan man who returned from Hawaii who could speak English. He could communicate with American soldiers and helped relocate the Okinawan people to a safer place.
However, in the other shelter, Japanese soldiers told them American soldiers would kill them, and were forced to commit group suicide.
After WWII, Okinawa was under the U.S. administration until May 15, 1972. Many U.S. bases are still there.
Okinawans are still struggling between Japanese and American governments today, but hopefully one day they will come to an agreement and gain peace of mind.