Photo/IllutrationThe second sentence from the left in the restored farewell note by Akira Negamiya, shown June 10 at the exhibition facility in Naha, mentions his hopes of seeing his family again. (Sei Ito)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NAHA--The farewell notes by youngsters mobilized for the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 talk of glory, dying for the emperor, the barbarian enemy and love of their families.

Many of the letters, all badly decayed when they were found, have recently undergone extensive restoration.

Penned by students of the Okinawa prefectural-run No. 1 Junior High School, now called Shuri Senior High School, the thoughts expressed reflect not only heroic sentiments but also deep affection for their kin in the face of impending death.

The letters, as well as personal items, are now on public display at an exhibition facility here dedicated to war and peace.

Students of Shuri High School visited June 10.

Hikari Ota, a 30-year-old guide, read aloud the entire farewell note by Akira Negamiya, who died in the fighting at the age of 17, in front of the young visitors.

“The U.S. and British forces finally showed their barbarian nature and are invading our homeland of Okinawa," he wrote. "I resolve to die for our nation and the emperor.”

Negamiya added: “I definitely want to see the faces of my father, mother and siblings again. I have nothing to regret.”

In Ota's view, the sentiments express “extreme emotional swings.”

According to records kept in Okinawa Prefecture, at least 1,500 male and 500 female students aged between 14 and 19 were mobilized under the prewar education system for the battle that claimed the lives of one in four civilians in Okinawa. The death toll in the conflict exceeded 200,000. The youngsters were drafted from 21 teachers’ training colleges and junior high schools.

Among them, only those from the No. 1 Junior High School are said to have written farewell notes.

Shoken Yoza, 90, was one.

He recalled that when he was a 16-year-old, fourth-year student in a five-year course at the school, he was allowed to graduate from the academy earlier than usual at the end of March to enter a squad comprising senior male students.

Several days after U.S. forces invaded Okinawa’s main island on April 1, 1945, the commissioned officer of Yoza’s squad told his subordinates to “pen farewell notes as you may die in the battle that's coming.”

Although he didn't accept the prospect of an imminent death, Yoza penned a letter of appreciation for all his parents had done for him.

According to the Yoshu alumni association of the No. 1 Junior High School, the farewell notes were placed in two pots and buried in what became Tomigusuku city. This was because the student recruits and others started fleeing south to escape the fierce fighting that was raging.

The pots were unearthed four years after the end of World War II. Although one was sodden with water, the other pot contained about 40 farewell notes and locks of the students' hair meant as keepsakes for their families.

Some of the letters were handed over to the students' bereaved families, but the remaining 30 notes were stored at the Shuri High School and exhibition facility.

Because the items were severely damaged and had degraded over time, the alumni association in fiscal 2016 commissioned experts to restore them. Ten or so farewell notes had been restored as of late May this year, and copies made.

The remaining letters are also currently in the process of being restored.

Sachiko Ota, the alumni association's vice chair, said the farewell notes express a wide range of emotions.

“The notes were written by those of the same age as current senior high school students, so young people today would surely feel sympathy,” said Ota, 69.

“The letters show that the students could not forget their families even after they had steeled themselves to die for the nation," she said. "They are a priceless war-related heritage.”

Yoza voiced his agreement, saying, “The notes represent the tragedy and cruelty of war, and will surely serve as an excellent educational material to help people learn the importance of peace.”

The alumni association is soliciting donations to cover costs to restoring the other farewell letters.

The exhibition facility in Naha’s Shuri-Kinjocho 1-7 district is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday to Friday. It closes at 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is free.