The thing on my Okinawa must-see list was the WWII Peace Memorial Museum. WWII, very specifically in Okinawa, is central to my very existence, and so I wanted to pay proper respects.
I was not prepared.
In the US, we learn about WWII from the European perspective. The Asian front is just a footnote.
Growing up, I had learned that my Okinawan grandmother was raised by an older step-brother in a cave. I had assumed that they were just really poor, and that it was happenstance that they were orphaned.
In the time leading up to WWII, and during the war, every Okinawan lived in a cave. All of them. Before the war, the Japanese military ruthlessly stripped all the resources from their Okinawan territory in order to support their own expansion efforts into Korea and China. There was no food. There was no peace. There was no safety.
If you were an Okinawan in that time period, you sought refuge in the caves.
And then WWII arrived. Japanese soldiers learned that if they also sought refuge in the caves, the Allied forces were less likely to attack if they knew there were civilians there.
If the Japanese soldiers felt that there was no way they could win, they committed ritual suicide. After first ensuring that all of the Okinawans first committed ritual suicide. Women. Children.
So this was my grandmother’s reality: she grew up in a cave. And she survived.
I had always been amazed that my grandmother would marry an American soldier and move across the world, not knowing English. But now, I get it. If you’ve lived through hell on earth? That’s not scary. Not even a tiny bit.
It was a heavy morning, for sure. Incredibly hot (sensing a theme, here?) so we didn’t see all the various memorials on the grounds. We did walk through the walls of names (like the Vietnam memorial, but so. many. more. names). There’s a computer, to look up names to find on the walls. I wanted to see if there were Tokumotos represented, but … you have to pick a language to search for names in, and once you pick English, you can only search for English names. Aaaand I don’t read Japanese. So that was a bust.
I would highly, highly recommend a stop at the WWII Peace Memorial sites. It is a sobering experience: it showcases the horrors that humans are able to inflict on each other. But it’s also a reminder that we can come back from that. We can heal. And, hopefully, we can learn from our past so that we aren’t doomed to repeat it.