By NORIKI NISHIOKA/ Staff Writer
June 23, 2022 at 17:02 JST
Shortly after Masaharu Noguni was born, U.S. troops landed on the main island of Okinawa Prefecture on April 1, 1945.
His family lived in Chatan in the central part of the island. His mother carried him on her shoulder as they fled the fierce fighting during the Battle of Okinawa.
While he has no memory of the events, he still has a scar on his right thigh caused by U.S. shelling.
His older sister Haruko was 14 at the time. She was scheduled to graduate in the spring of 1945, but she volunteered as a nurse for the Japanese military.
Although she was assigned to an underground hospital in Haebaru in the southern part of the island, there are few details of what happened to her.
The military reported that she died in the fighting in June 1945, but her remains and belongings were never found.
With 77 years having passed since the Battle of Okinawa and amid growing concerns about the possibility of war in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Okinawa Prefecture residents undertook a different approach this year to remember those who died in some of the fiercest combat of World War II.
The Cornerstone of Peace in the Mabuni district of Itoman, near the southern tip of Okinawa’s main island, is a monument on which is engraved the names of the war dead in Okinawa during World War II, regardless of gender, age or nationality.
Fifty-five names were added to the monument this year, bringing the total to 241,686.
A citizens’ group gained the cooperation of about 1,500 people both in Japan and abroad to read out all the names over a 12-day period. The last name was read on the morning of June 23.
“With the invasion of Ukraine, it has become time to once again think about the importance of peace," said Naomi Machida, 65, a member of the organizing committee. "I hope having participants read out the names and remember those who died will serve as a catalyst for feeling the misery of war.”
Members of the organizing committee said each participant read the names of between 10 to 500 of the war dead. Participants joined online from the United States, Ireland and Colombia, in addition to various parts of Japan.
Starting June 12, every day people recited the names of the war dead online from 5 a.m. until 4:30 a.m. the following day.
Participants read the names from wherever their computer was set up--be it at home, a coffee shop or school.
The online reading continued until June 21. Then, on June 22, the readings took place at the Peace Memorial Park, where the Cornerstone of Peace is located, and continued through the night before ending the following day.
SISTERS HE NEVER KNEW
In addition to the list of the war dead that he read from, Noguni, 77, also placed by the computer a diploma meant for Haruko.
His mother received Haruko’s diploma about 30 years after the end of World War II.
“My sister was unable to attend her graduation, so I read out her name as if she was at the ceremony,” Noguni said.
The name of another older sister, Masako, is also engraved on the Cornerstone of Peace. She was only 3 when she died of malnutrition as the family fled to the northern part of the island.
“I hope my voice reached the spirits of my sisters,” he said.
While the fighting may have ended 77 years ago, the U.S. military presence still casts a long shadow over Chatan, where half of the land is still used by the U.S. military.
Noguni served as Chatan mayor for 16 years, and he worked to have some of the land returned to the town.
SOLDIER OR AGGRESSOR?
Mika Kinjo, 53, read out the names of the war dead from her home in Haebaru on June 18. The first name she read out was Ikusaburo Okayasu, her grandfather.
Kinjo is originally from Saitama Prefecture. She moved to Okinawa after meeting and marrying Hiroshi, who came to the greater Tokyo metropolitan area from Okinawa for school.
Kinjo knew little about her grandfather except that he died while fighting in Okinawa.
However, she came to realize the wide awareness gap between Okinawa residents and those who once lived outside the southernmost prefecture.
She learned of many stories about Japanese military personnel abusing Okinawa civilians, even killing those suspected of being spies.
She gradually began keeping her grandfather’s existence secret because she was afraid that he might have been one of those who oppressed local residents.
Kinjo gradually changed her thinking, however, after living for about 25 years in Okinawa. Her grandfather left behind his wife and 1-year-old daughter, who would become Kinjo’s mother. She knows nothing about where or how her grandfather perished.
Among the other 500 names that Kinjo read out was Hiroshi’s great-grandfather, Ryuko.
“I got goose bumps when I thought about the sheer number of victims who died in the war,” Kinjo said after completing her part, which took about 30 minutes.
Visit this page for the latest news on Japan’s battle with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Cooking experts, chefs and others involved in the field of food introduce their special recipes intertwined with their paths in life.
Haruki Murakami and other writers read from books before selected audiences at the new Haruki Murakami Library.
The Asahi Shimbun aims “to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” through its Gender Equality Declaration.
Let’s explore the Japanese capital from the viewpoint of wheelchair users and people with disabilities with Barry Joshua Grisdale.