Photo/IllutrationTatsumi Chibana, a musician based in Onna in Okinawa Prefecture (Go Katono)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

When Tatsumi Chibana wrote a poem of peace in 1994 for an annual memorial ceremony to mark the end of the Battle of Okinawa, it struck a chord with people along with changing his life.

Chibana, now 39, was a third-year student at Yomitan Junior High School in Okinawa Prefecture when he wrote and recited the peace poem titled “Hikari ga Hanete, Totemo Mabushii" (Lights are bouncing, and so bright).

The theme of his poem was the forced mass suicide by islanders in a cave in Yomitan during the 1945 battle, which claimed more than 200,000 lives including U.S. soldiers. One-fourth of the Okinawan population at that time perished in the battle, according to an estimate.

The poem includes the lines:

"I vow

To never allow this island with

Sea and balmy breeze

To be killed again

I declare

People around the world can love each other"

The poem became a starting point for Chibana, now a musician in Onna. He believes that there are many issues today that should be presented in the form of a song, such as the Okinawan identity or the heavy concentration of U.S. military bases there.

“Those peace poems are the same,” Chibana said. “Even though they are still written by children, they face the harsh reality of the island and try hard to put their thoughts into words. That is why powerful poems are born every year.”

FIRST STARTED IN 1992

Chibana is one of the Okinawan students who have recited a peace poem of their own composition at the June 23 memorial ceremony in Itoman since 1992.

The Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum solicits submissions from local schoolchildren and selects the one that will be read at the ceremony.

Many of the submissions selected make an appeal for peace based on the war experiences of their relatives and others.

The event is held at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman in the prefecture.

PEACE FOR ETERNITY

In the event's first year, Nana Onaka, 41, whose maiden name was Kugai, assumed the inaugural role when she was a third-year student at Hirara Junior High School in Miyakojima in Okinawa.

After her Japanese language teacher asked her to write a peace poem, she finished writing it in the next breath during class.

Her peace poem has been recited by children in the neighborhood and posted on a notice board of the junior high school that one of her sons attends. Onaka is raising four children in Ishigaki, also in the prefecture.

She also has recited successive peace poems read at the memorial service in the past to her sons.

“Having children made me wish for peace more strongly,” Onaka said.

Her poem, “Eien ni," (For eternity), includes the lines:

"Humans are not that great ...

Never

Strong ...

With each person’s hands

Let's continue to protect

Peace for eternity"

YEAR AFTER 9/11

Chika Nago, 34, who works for a company in the Kanto region, was selected for the role in 2002 when she was a third-year student of Gushikawa High School in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture. Her peace poem was titled “Mirai ni Mukatte" (Toward the future).

Her parents’ house was located near a U.S. military base. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, as security was tightened at U.S. military installations, she felt uncomfortable when she saw soldiers guarding the gate to the base pointing their guns.

Her poem reads:

"A gun in your arm

Pointing at who?

I glare at the gun

And realize

The war still lingers

In the form of the gun"

After she began living outside Okinawa in spring last year, Nago realized that seeing fences separating residential areas and U.S. bases and hearing the roar of U.S. military aircraft were no longer a part of her daily life.

“I came to learn that there are few chances to think about war and peace in people’s lives outside Okinawa,” she said.

She believes that she could write the poem because she was a student who grew up in Okinawa, home to about 70 percent of the U.S. bases in Japan.

“I still hope that war will disappear someday,” Nago said.

Learning modern history in college

Eisuke Kano, 21, a student at Tsuru University, Yamanashi Prefecture, recited his poem titled “Sekai o Mitsumeru Me" (Eyes looking at the world) in 2008.

He composed the poem when he was a fourth-grader at Yomitan Elementary School in Yomitan.

The poem includes the lines:

"A skinny boy

Looking at me with a smile

on the TV screen ...

And, I look back at him

What happened to you?

What happened?"

Kano grew up listening to his grandparents telling him about what they experienced during the battle. Today, he studies modern history in college and continues to think about wars and conflicts around the world.

“Losing family members in war is beyond my imagination,” Kano said. “Our young generation can't understand the horrors of war unless we think very hard.”

He questions how the peace achieved after Japan’s defeat in World War II can be sustained. Kano is thinking about his future and whether he should continue his research in graduate school or find a job.

(This article was written by Eishi Kado and Go Katono.)