“They inflicted violence upon us farmers who placed our hands together in entreaty. They tied us up with rough straw rope and even wrapped us in blankets – threw us like pigs inside chain linked fences, and after accusing of the three crimes of agitation, violence, and public disturbance, set fire to our houses…and demolished buildings with bulldozers and drove us out, put up wire fence around our fields and used them as a practice range for mock nuclear bombs.” ~ Ahagon Shoko, on the US Military’s treatment of the Japanese in 1955 from the book The Japan We Never Know: A Voyage of Discovery
At once you are confronted with the clothes that an Okinawan child wore in WWII when he or she was bayoneted by the Japanese to keep the child quiet during the American invasion there in April of 1945. The clothes are now in tatters, and it’s hard to tell which holes, rips and tears are from that violently tragic episode. But it drives home the whole theme of the anti-war peace museum where the clothes are displayed: “Life is the Greatest Treasure.”
“Treasure of Life Itself” is written across the entrance to a little-known peace museum on Iejima, an island just off the western coast of Okinawa. Jody and I spent our New Year’s on this island, the first visit for is both. While I’m well-versed with the atrocities of the Japanese in WWII throughout the Asian-Pacific region, what really surprised me was how we Americans behaved here on this little-known island in the years since pacifying the Japanese.
Last year the Anti-War Peace Museum in Higashiemae, Ie Village “Nuchi-du-Takara-no-Ie,” celebrated the 30th anniversary of its opening. The museum is owned by the Wabiai no Sato Foundation, which to the best I can tell, means roughly “Village of Penitence” Foundation.
The Anti-War Peace Museum opened when an Iejima resident, Shoko Ahagon, was already 83 years old. Ahagon, who already had lost his son in the Battle of Okinawa, had his land forcibly taken by the American military’s weapons and bulldozers in 1955, and afterwards, dedicated his life to peace activism. The museum houses collections of wartime artefacts and records, photos, and newspaper articles of the village’s struggle against the forced takeover of land. It is considered the birthplace of Okinawa’s peace movement. The collection displayed record the postwar “bayonets and bulldozers” period when, in the 1950s, the Pentagon violently seized farmers’ land to turn the island into a bombing range. Exhibits include photographs of islanders’ homes razed by U.S. troops and several actual dummy nuclear bombs dropped on the island during Cold War training drills.
A moving read of this “second invasion” of Iejima can be found in Beggars’ Belief: The Farmers’ Resistance Movement on Iejima Island, Okinawa, excerpts which are provided here for background and to help make Takara-san’s point. TREASURE LIFE!
The first American invasion of Iejima occurred on April 16th, 1945, a detailed description of which can be found in the The Capture of Ie Shima. That day over one thousand troops aboard eighty landing craft stormed the island’s eastern beaches, meeting heavy resistance from dug-in Japanese defenders. In the following five days of bloodshed, two thousand Japanese Imperial Army soldiers were killed, together with fifteen hundred civilian residents of the island. Although U.S. fatalities were relatively light compared to those of the Japanese, by the end of the fighting, three hundred American had lost their lives, including Ernie Pyle – the correspondent famous for putting a human face to enlisted men in World War Two (see my blog The Demise of Ernie Pyle).
However, the second U.S. invasion there occurred a decade after the war. Barely noted by American historians, the takeover of land was violent and without due process for the island’s inhabitants, a facet of life – and death – on Iejima that local inhabitants are still suffering from today. On March 11th, 1955, with Okinawa a military colony of the United States, landing craft came ashore once again on the eastern beaches to confiscate two-thirds of the island in order to construct new airfield facilities and an air-to-surface bombing range. This time, the Army only brought three hundred soldiers and heavy construction equipment and plenty of fire since their new foes were the island’s unarmed peanut and tobacco farmers.
Ahagon Shoko (3/3/1901 – 3/21/2002) is referred to as the “Okinawan Gandhi” having dedicated his life to peace activism. Although born on the main island of Okinawa, he moved to Iejima well before WWII and decided to stay. In the middle of building a farming school when the Battle of Okinawa occurred, he lost both his school and his son to the war. Forced then to move to other islands in the Ryukyu chain in 1945, he was able to return to his home two years later. Having eked out an existence from 1947-1955 when returning residents were rebuilding their lives along with the totally destroyed land, homes and villages of their beloved island, his farm was again confiscated by the US Military without any compensation. Thus began a non-violent resistance, led by Ahagon, which continues on to this day. In 1984, Ahagon decided to create a place where people could learn about the struggles of the Iejima residents, leveraging his extensive records and personal photos to visibly and movingly make a point. Ahagon’s first-person narrative about the events surrounding WWII and beyond can be found here.
The museum asks, “What is War? How can we construct peace? We hope our museum will provide each visitor a chance to think about such questions.” Standing in the museum among the collection of weapons recovered on the island interspersed with pictures, banners and flags of protest, one does feel a weight that no words or pictures can do justice.
And after visiting there and learning of yet other terrible violations, possibly criminal, of human rights, it’s easy to agree with the museum’s directory when she says, “Let us work together to eliminate the man-made calamity known as war.”
And always, Treasure Life.
Contact and Location
Wabiai no Sato Foundation, 2300-4, Higashie-mae, Ie-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa-ken, Japan 905-0502
Web (in Japanese): www3.ocn.ne.jp/~wabiai/index.html
Hours: 0800-1800 daily, year-round
Admission: 300 yen for adults, 200 yen for children
This place is hard to find! Following the main ring-road east from the port, you will see this new structure (below) for your turn. There is no English signage for the museum!
Follow these signs. Don’t go to the beach, or go the beach to reflect after your museum visit!
You will find these rather oddly unique Shisa dogs at the entrance to the house’s grounds.
Turning right past the protectors, the museum is found in a small white building just past another structure.