Photo/IllutrationIwojima island (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Some people possess more finely attuned visual and audio senses that let them catch what others miss when analyzing the same information.

As a newspaper reporter, I have learned the importance and difficulty of noticing things that are not quite obvious at first glance.

Journalistic instinct and knowledge are certainly vital for a reporter. Even more important, however, is having a keen awareness of the issues involved in a story.

This was attested by Shun Ishihara's uncomfortable reaction to watching “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

The 44-year-old Meiji Gakuin University professor sensed something was out of place in a scene in the 2006 U.S. film directed by Clint Eastwood.

In the closing days of World War II, Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi of the Imperial Japanese Army took command of the Japanese garrison during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

In one scene of the movie, Kuribayashi, in the face of the looming invasion of the island by U.S. forces, says, “Let us return islanders back to the mainland immediately.”

The historical fact is that many of the some 1,200 islanders were “forced into evacuation” and some of them were mobilized to perform military duties.

The U.S. military continued to occupy Iwojima island long after the war ended. After it was returned to Japan in 1968, it was transformed into a Self-Defense Forces base.

None of the former islanders have been allowed to return to live on the island, while many have died.

Behind all the stories about the Battle of Iwo Jima, which killed and injured some 50,000 people on both sides, is this history of islanders who were thus deprived of their homes in their native land.

The phrase “return islanders back to the mainland” could obscure the fact that these people had long resided on the island and formed a local community, Ishihara says.

The process of dealing with the war's painful legacies is far from over for the island's former residents, the sociologist said.

Seventy-four years ago, on March 17, 1945, Kuribayashi decided to mount a hopeless, final all-out counterattack against U.S. forces, and wrote a farewell telegram he sent to imperial general headquarters.

The following day, writer Futaro Yamada (1922-2001) wrote about the battle's imminent tragic denouement in his dairy. “The decisive battle on Iwojima is now finally coming to an end.”

The island of “gyokusai” (the shattering of jade), meaning "death for honor," is known as Iwo Jima in the United States. But for the islanders, it is “Iwoto.”

After so many years, the sorrow stemming from different views of history still continues to haunt the island.

The Asahi Shimbun, March 17

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.