Okinawan Gandhi and his House of Nuchi du Takara: Treasuring Life

“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

A Murdered Child's Clothes from WWII

A Murdered Child’s Clothes from WWII

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.”

The Anti-War Museum's Entrance

The Anti-War Museum’s Entrance

“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.

Protest Banners and Flags

Protest Banners and Flags

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.

Bombs & Bullets collected on Iejima

Bombs & Bullets collected on Iejima

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, please hear our petition WMThe 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.

Those are training bombs ("shapes") for the B43 and B57 Nuclear Bombs

Those are training bombs (“shapes”) for the B43 and B57 Nuclear Bombs

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!

Iejima prior to the FIRST invasion in 1945

Iejima prior to the FIRST invasion in 1945

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, bullets and projectiles WMThe 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).

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, shameful behavior

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, bombs and bullets 3 WMHowever, 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.

Their lands confiscated, many had to turn to scrap metal to eke out an existance

Their lands confiscated, many had to turn to scrap metal to eke out an existence

rev3_01Ahagon 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.

Nonviolent Protest

Nonviolent Protest

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.

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, anit-war collection 5 WM

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.”

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, perish by the sword WM

And always, Treasure Life.

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, strange alter WM


Contact and Location

Wabiai no Sato Foundation, 2300-4, Higashie-mae, Ie-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa-ken, Japan 905-0502

Phone: 098-049-3047


Web (in Japanese):

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!

Ie Island 2015, House of Nuchi du Takara, turn off the main road

Follow these signs. Don’t go to the beach, or go the beach to reflect after your museum visit!

Ie Island 2015, House of Nuchi du Takara, don't go to the beach

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, more signage along the way

You will find these rather oddly unique Shisa dogs at the entrance to the house’s grounds.

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Nuchi du Takara Anti-War Peace Museum, welcoming Shisa

Turning right past the protectors, the museum is found in a small white building just past another structure.

The Anti-War Museum's Entrance

The Anti-War Museum’s Entrance

Traces of War: Life and Death in the Ahasha & Sennin Caves on Ie Island

 405512“Dying ain’t so hard for men like you and me, it’s living that’s hard; when all you ever cared about has been butchered or raped. Governments don’t live together, people live together. With governments you don’t always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well I’ve come here to give you either one, or get either one from you. I came here like this so you’ll know my word of death is true. And that my word of life is then true….” ~Josey Wales’ two tales of death and life, The Outlaw Josey Wales

“The only reason my mother didn’t kill me was that she never went to school,” smiled our Okinawan tour guide during a tour of Ahashagama on Ie Jima. “She was never brain-washed by the faculty and the government….” (See Loyal Soul Monument for more on the militarization of Okinawa in the years preceding WWII)  When war came to Okinawa, Setsuko was less than a year old and was hiding with her family on the main island of Okinawa. She had a remarkably chipper attitude about the whole thing; I guess there’s really no other way to really be once you realize that words of life and death can be spoken in such casual ways as they were on Okinawa back in 1945.


Okinawans continue to tell their wartime accounts least younger generations forget the appalling consequences of war. Like the oral traditions of just a few generations ago, such are the ways the Okinawans preserve the honor and memories of those who tragically lost their lives in such horrifically meaningless ways. With more and more of remaining firsthand witnesses to the carnage passing away, such frightful tales are necessarily being expressed more and more through memorial sites left for future contemplation. At the end of the day, to the Okinawans, the moral of all these chronicles and memorials is the same: the inescapable shocking costs of war.

Alter in the Cave of 1000 People

Alter in the Cave of 1000 People

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Niya-thiya Sennin Cave, coastal entranceTraces of War 2015, Ie Island, Niya-thiya Sennin Cave, memorial stone 2Jody and I recently visited a nearby island to celebrate the beginning of the New Year. Little did I realize the traces of war that remain so blatantly palpable on that tiny piece of earth. Ie Jima, a small island off central Okinawa’s west coast reachable only by boat, memorializes a tale of two caves utilized by the locals as shelter during the Battle of Okinawa. One cave’s narrative involves words of life. At Niya-Thiya Gama (gama means cave), over 1,000 people, while seeking sanctuary inside, survived the invasion and fight on Ie Island throughout the second half of April, 1945. The locals still refer to this cave as Sen-nin Gama, which translates loosely to “The Cave of 1000 People.”

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Niya-thiya Sennin Cave, Jody at a cave exit to the ocean

Fertility Stone

Fertility Stone

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Niya-thiya Sennin Cave, site marker plaqueBecause of this miracle of life during Okinawa’s Typhoon of Steel where roughly 1/3rd of all Okinawans died in a few short weeks, inside this cave is located a sacred stone, a fertility stone, sometimes called Kodakara-ishi (子宝石, “Child Stone”). Many come here to harness the “special power” that permeates such “Power Spots,” the phrase the very superstitious Okinawans use to describe such important locales. The stone here is believed to be imbued with a living god, and not only does it help those wishing to conceive new life, but it can foretell gender before birth. According to legend, if a woman who picks up the stone feels that it is heavy, her offspring will be a boy. If the stone feels light, the baby will be a girl.

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Niya-thiya Sennin Cave, sacred power fertility stone and power spot

According to the Japanese sign on the outside of the Niya-Thiya Cave, around March of the Lunar Calendar each year a prayer ritual lead by a female priestess is held inside the cave, although I have not been able to confirm this.

Ahasha Gama

Ahasha Gama

wallTraces of War 2015, Ie Island, Ahasha Cave, Jody negotiates an entrance to the cave 2The tale, however, takes a dark, somber turn at Ahashagama (Ahasha Cave) where there are only words of death. Seemingly forgotten after the war, the cave was sealed during the war and left unmolested for over two decades. Many probably wanted to forget what happened there. But finally, and rightfully, the cave was opened and excavated in 1971, twenty-six years after the end of World War II. In short order, the horrific rumors that locals knew to be true was confirmed by forensic analysis: the remains of about 150 people – civilian villagers including men, women and children – were still there, serving silent yet inescapable witness to the mass murder-suicide which occurred there. The Imperial Japanese Army had given the civilians grenades and ordered everyone to kill themselves in order to evade capture. Even so, a few people realized such folly and survived their cavemates’ dreadful demise. Unfortunately, words of death like these are not uncommon on Okinawa where mass suicides and murders were perpetrated over surrender and capture, sometimes by choice, mostly through coercion, and even by force.

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Ahasha Cave, modern cave site 2

AJ201304250011MTraces of War 2015, Ie Island, Ahasha Cave, plaque at the entranceOkinawa’s anguish over these widespread civilian suicides is sharpened by the horrible realization that soldiers from Japan’s main islands always encouraged suicide over capture. Worse, they often used intimidation and bullying to pressure many into taking such drastic actions, and at times murdered civilians who refused. In a diorama at Peace Prayer Park, the Okinawa memorial to WWII, a spotlight glints off a bayonet held by a fierce-looking Japanese soldier who stands over an Okinawan family huddled in a cave, the mother trying to smother her baby’s cries. “At the hands of Japanese soldiers, civilians were massacred, forced to kill themselves and each other,” reads the caption. Nearby, a life-size photo shows the grisly aftermath of a family killed by a hand grenade.

Traces of War 2015, Ie Island, Ahasha Cave, entrance to the cave

On Geruma Island, part of the Kerama Islands just a few miles off Okinawa’s southwestern coast, Takejiro Nakamura attests first-hand to atrocities. In 1945, he was just a boy, a 15-year-old student when the American invasion started.

Jody temps fate with the Sacred Stone!

Jody temps fate with the Sacred Stone!

“For a long time, the Japanese Imperial Army announced that, on other islands, the women had been raped and killed, and the men were tied at the wrists and tanks were driven over them,” he states flatly. He claims that, as Japanese defenses crumbled on his home island in late March 1945, 56 of the 130 residents there committed suicide. Fleeing with family and neighbors, he ended up in one small cave where ten of his fellow citizens had already killed themselves. They decided to do the same.

1,000 Person Cave

1,000 Person Cave

“I heard my sister calling out, ‘Kill me now, hurry’, ” Mr. Nakamura said, recalling how his 20-year-old sister panicked at the approach of American soldiers. His mother took a rope and strangled her. Seeing this, he attempted the same. “I tried to also strangle myself with a rope,” he recalled, lifting his now weather-beaten hands to his neck. “But I kept breathing. It is really tough to kill yourself.” Minutes later, before his mother had time to kill him as well, the Americans took them captive.

Cave Alter

Cave Alter

His mother lived well into her 80’s. “We talked often about the war,” Mr. Nakamura said. “But to the end, she never once talked about killing her daughter….” The iron in such words of death would shatter her already broken heart, nor could it offer any lasting catharsis for her damaged soul. Instead, she, like all those who have suffered war, should always struggle to find words of life.

Words of Life Finally Work

Words of Life Finally Work

“I ain’t promising you nothing extra. I’m just giving you life and you’re giving me life. And I’m saying that men can live together without butchering one another,” Josey says through gritted teeth, squinting but looking the Indian Chief squarely in the eyes.

Ten Bears, in full war paint with his scouts and warriors surrounding Josey, contemplates such words. “It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life… or death.”

“It shall be life.”

Geishun (迎春): Welcome Spring and the New Year!

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The New Year is perhaps the most important time of the year in Japan, akin to the way the West views Christmas. At the end of the year, the Japanese traditionally say, “I wish you will have a good new year,” or in Japanese (formally), “Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai (よいお年をお迎えください).”

Although we’ve been flirting with the New Year as the world always does for the whole of December, the Year of the Sheep is fully upon us. And, being the Far East Flirts that Jody and I are, we celebrated differently this year than we did last (See Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker to read about our past flings).

This year Jody and I took another island-hoping jaunt to another remote near-by island (see Tropical Trek to read about another), this time Ie (pronounced “Eeee-A”) Island. Taking the military up on one of their pre-arranged good-deal tour packages, we embarked on our 2-night stay at a Japanese “resort” over the New Year’s. And our journey – and the festivities were both full of surprises.

Celebratory Dinner!

Celebratory Dinner!

The Japanese New Year (正月, Shōgatsu) is an annual festival in Japan, similar to others celebrated elsewhere across the globe. Since 1873 the Japanese New Year has been celebrated according to the western Gregorian calendar on January 1, or New Year’s Day (元日, Ganjitsu). However, much of Okinawa, being much more closely aligned throughout history with China rather than with the Empire of Japan, still recognizes their New Year as the contemporary Chinese lunar New Year, which varies based on the moon but usually occurs in late January or sometime in the first half of February. It’s a pretty good convention; why have only one New Years in a year when you can have TWO?!?

Finding ourselves on Ie Island in the heart of a very elderly and rural population, the customs and traditions surround the Welcoming of Spring (which the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrates) were well represented, and in which we eagerly participated.

Soba for Long Life in the New Year...and beyond.

Soba for Long Life in the New Year…and beyond.

The night of the countdown, the hotel served us fresh dishes of buckwheat soba noodles, to be topped off with steaming broth. The stretching and consuming of the long noodles are representative life stretching well into the future. Although feasting on soba noodles is traditionally done after ringing in the New Year, our resort made the traditional dish available starting at 10pm. Of course, after our Korean BBQ feast that only started just a couple of hours prior, we had to literally find the room in our bloated bellies, else we tempt the darker side of fate in the coming year.

Traditional New Year decorations in Japan

Traditional New Year decorations in Japan

Bubbly makes everything better.

Bubbly makes everything better.

The hotel offered typical Japanese fun and games during New Year’s Eve in a bonenkai party of sorts (read Bad Year? Fogetabout it! for more on how the Japanese dismiss their troubles of the past), to which such fanciful fun is typically reserved. We missed the – and here I am not kidding – the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game, and interrupted the “Guess what’s in the Box” amusement with our late arrival. Although I was the first to win at bingo, just before midnight Jody and I retired to our room for a more private countdown and personal kiss (or two).

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, zoni soup, explanation at the YYY ResortIe Island New Years 2014-2015, zoni soup, broth, taro, spinach and rice cakesNew Year’s Day, however, came with a whole host of celebratory events. January 1st and 2nd are generally regarded as feast days throughout Japan, and our hotel didn’t fail us in this regard. A hugely popular dish made and consumed during the day’s festivities is ozōni (お雑煮), a soup centered around mochi rice cakes. Our soup at breakfast was served with soft-boiled taro and some fresh spinach, topped with a salty clear broth.

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, pounding rice for mochi rice cakes on New Years

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, Kevin and Jody pounding rice for rice cakesHowever, it’s not just the consumption of mochi that is important; it’s the actual creation of the cake from raw rice that’s the heart of this long-lived ritual. In Japan rice is more than food; it’s considered a sacred grain. According to Shinto belief, the ritualistic act of creating mochi invites kami (gods and spirits) to visit. The mochi themselves are thought to contain the presence of kami; and as such they represent perfection and purity and are believed to imbue the eater with these qualities. The ceremony involving these cakes starts with boiling sticky rice (餅米, mochigome) and placing it into a wooden bucket-like container called a usu (臼). The rice along with large, heavy wooden mallets called kine (杵) are both hand-patted with hot water so the rice won’t stick. Using these kine held high overhead, two or more people take turns pulverizing the rice, a cadence being necessary to avoid simultaneous strikes.

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, dusting mochi rice cakes with flour WM

After a period of beating, the rice is turned and folded by hand, and then beaten once again. This rhythmic cycle goes on again and again until the rice becomes a sticky white dough, when it is finally transformed into spheroid-like solid dumplings. Although the dough is usually made before New Year’s Day, the hotel allowed the guests to participate in this important tradition on January 1st itself. Served as kinako mochi and coated with brown sugar powder and soy flour, such treats are eaten specifically for good luck in the coming year.

Breaking open the New Year's sake barrel.

Breaking open the New Year’s sake barrel.

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, Kevin toasting the New Year with sake fresh from the opened barrelIe Island New Years 2014-2015, toasting the New Year with sake in a traditional wooden cup (masu)Traditional Japanese culture also makes frequent use of sake as a way to observe special events, and is perfect for toasting a New Year. Our sake was served to us from a freshly opened large timber barrel and presented in a traditional small square wooden cup called a masu. Sipping our generous portions of chilled sake on a blistery cold and windy New Year’s Day definitely helped keep us – or at least our spirits – warm and toasty. As rice represents the soul of Japan, sake brewed from rice represents its very essence.

Waiting for First Sun of the New Year on Mt. Gusuku

Waiting for First Sun of the New Year on Mt. Gusuku

There are also a whole plethora of things to celebrate as the “first” of the New Year. Perhaps foremost of these firsts is the “first sun” (hatsuhi) or “first sunrise,” which Jody and I celebrated (or attempted to) together from the top of Mount Gusuku, the highest perch on Ie Island affording a full 360 degree panoramic view of the East China Sea and Okinawa Island. Although the previous day’s 300 step hike up the steep slope was under clear, blue skies, the overcast and scattered rain showers of New Year’s morn kept the disc of the sun well-hidden; our first twilight will just have to suffice!

Ie Island New Years 2014-2015, Kevin and Jody looking for first sun hatsuhi on top of Mount Gusuku

We were still able to share a few quiet moments together in silent contemplation on that mountaintop, only to be broken by our “first laughter” (waraizome). In Japan, like most any place else on the planet, starting the New Year with a smile is considered a very good sign. And this year, I plan on smiling more than ever. So, from the Far East Fling to you and yours,

Happy New Year!

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!