Traces of War: Ryukyu Islands Surrender Site


Japanese Delegation on the USS Missouri

Japanese Delegation on the USS Missouri

The Japanese in WWII surrendered on September 2nd, 1945, or so most people think. The surrenders of some of Japanese forces scattered across the Pacific occurred later, as it day here on Okinawa. Five days after the Japanese formally surrendered to the Allies aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo harbor, the last remnants of their Okinawa garrison officially capitulated on September 7th, 1945.

Japanese Surrender on Okinawa

Japanese Surrender on Okinawa

With General Doolittle in attendance, General Joseph Stilwell and commanding representatives of the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy signed a surrender document in a ceremony held at what is now the Stearley Heights area of Kadena Air Force Base.

Japanese Representative Flag Officers Arriving on Okinawa

Japanese Representative Flag Officers Arriving on Okinawa

f3eec8bc2bf66e672bb5bf2a482254f3General Toshiro Nomi, flown in since all Japanese Flag officers in the Ryukyus – including Ryukyu Commanding General Mitsuru Ushijima and his Chief of Staff Isamu Chō – had been killed or committed suicide, signed on behalf of the Imperial Japanese General Headquarters and the Japanese Government.

surrender001

Signatures and Signatories

Signatures and Signatories

g344921g344919The ceremony was held at the then 10th Army Headquarters at what was known as Camp Kuwae. While victory on what was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific theater was declared much earlier on June 22nd by General Geiger, mopping up operations continued for many weeks. The capitulation was formal and befitting the end of hostilities on the Island, and remained marked by a flag pole and historical marker flanked by captured Japanese artillery pieces.

Surrender Site ~1946

Surrender Site ~1946

Surrender Site ~1960

Surrender Site ~1960

But through the years, some way and somehow, this site lost its place of importance, becoming overgrown and unkempt with each passing year.

Surrender Site ~1967

Surrender Site ~1967

Then, the area was repurposed as military housing to support the growing footprint of the American military presence on the island as the growing cold war turned hot in both Korea and Vietnam. Still, the site remained marked with a small granite stone in the center of a residential cul-de-sac, a marker less than befitting the site’s actual historical importance.

Surrender Site 2015

Surrender Site 2015

Okinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, Surrender WMOkinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, HQ Tenth Army Surrender of the RyukyusFinally, and only recently in 1997, the site was re-recognized for the pivotal point in history that it tangibly represents. A construction project was undertaken to transform the cul-de-sac into a “Peace Memorial Garden,” and more appropriate markers and plaques better tell the story of what transpired there.

Peace Memorial Park 2015

Peace Memorial Park 2015

Still, it’s odd that the location is flanked on three sides by nondescript cinderblock single family homes, where the garden doubles as a children’s playground for the immediate neighborhood.

Okinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, Surrender 2 September 1945 WM

Okinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, Surrender placards WMOkinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, HQ Tenth Army Surrender of the RyukyusBut given the blood, sweat and tears shed over Okinawa by all sides civil and military, perhaps there is no more fitting use of this sacred ground than that which can produce laughter and happiness. I was only too happy to see a couple of children giggle and scream as they give chase through the monuments. For it is peace that the site represents, and the innocence of those children are exactly what help to consecrate the grounds to just such ends.

Okinawa Battlesites 2015, Ryukyu Surrender Site, war monument and peace garden WM

See more modern photographs of Okinawa Battlesites here on my Flickr photostream.

 

Okinawan Traces of War: Telegraph from the Past


 “There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.”  ~ Dwight David Eisenhower

Carrier aircraft attack Ishigaki-jima in the Ryukyus

Carrier aircraft attack Ishigaki-jima in the Ryukyus

Kamikaze-Attacks-of-World-War-II-Okinawa-Ryukus-MapIt was probably a lazy day at the office in the fall of 1944 or spring of 1945.  Having finished a shift full of mundane duties and boring watches, perhaps a few decided to enjoy the sandy beach and pristine waters immediately adjacent to this wooded site.  Others were probably enjoying their time off, tending to personal business nearby.  Being stationed on a remote island far in the southern reaches of the Ryukyu Chain, and then being billeted to such a small, isolated communications station in a completely rural part of the island, the War in the Pacific seemed many thousands of miles away, if not of a different time.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), bullet scared WM

Then, without warning, death rained down from above.  And nothing was ever the same again.

Death came from above by means of the Navy's "Avengers"

Death came from above by means of the Navy’s “Avengers”

Sakishima%20IsIshigaki Island is the most inhabited and developed island of the Yaeyama Islands (Yaeyama-shoto) in the deep southwestern waters of Okinawa Prefecture (Ryukyu Islands) and the second of this grouping of sub-tropical isles.  The Yaeyama Islands are, at the same time, the mostly southerly and westerly parts of Japan, located approximately 430 kilometers/260 miles south of Okinawa.

Ishigaki's relationship to Okinawa, the Ryukyu Island Chain

Ishigaki’s relationship to Okinawa, the Ryukyu Island Chain

Japanese-WWII-key-capturedOn a small peninsula out to the west of Ishigaki-jima is a former Japanese Military Undersea Telegraph Station, built at the turn of last century (1897), which operated until attacked during World War II.  While not the easiest place to find, and certainly not a well-visited “touristy” destination, the unimproved road leading to the coastal site is well signed off the primary road in the area.  Be prepared though; the long and winding path leading down to the facility can be very rough on your vehicle!  We had a rental (wink).

Telegraph Lines converge at Ishigaki

Telegraph Lines converge at Ishigaki

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), now defunct and dead station on the beach WMDuring the time in which Taiwan (then Formosa) was administered by Japan, this small structure served as a critical node in the larger Japanese Imperial Army communications system between Taiwan and headquarters in Honshu.  Numerous relay stations were located all the way from the Japanese mainland to Taiwan, all connected by huge undersea cables.  From the Sino-Japanese War until World War II, this station, known as Denshinya, was used by the Japanese military.

Attacks on the Japanese airfield at Ishigaki-jima.

Attacks on the Japanese airfield at Ishigaki-jima.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), old wooden signage WMDuring WWII, it was attack by carrier-based aircraft, was abandoned, and has been in this damaged state ever since.  Severe damage can be seen, and although it appears the building escape a direct hit by bombs, it certainly was well-strafed with heavy machine gun and aircraft cannon fire.  Some locals claim that many ghosts haunt the area, but on the bright, warm sunny day of our visit, we unfortunately (fortunately for my wife) encountered none.  I cannot find any reports of casualties or of the actual attack in my research (read about the frequency and magnitude of attacks across Ishigaki-jim).  Ishigaki was frequently attacked in the lead-up to the Battle of Okinawa, particularly its airfield.  Read about an unfortunate American crew that was shot down perhaps at the same time this station was attacked in Beauty and Honor Entombed, and about their particular story Shipley Bay.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), bullet scars remain WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), now defunct and dead station WMThe facility was never repaired or reclaimed, and continues to deteriorate.  The day we visited there was some archeological study going on, where a Japanese man was taking meticulous measurements which annotated some amazing sketches of the facility he had done.  There is no English here, but there are what appears to be a couple of memorial plaques in Japanese.  As simple and small as the building may appear, it was once played a key role for the Japanese Imperial Government.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), war-torn decaying structure

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), ruined interior WMSurveying the scene today, one can only imagine the horror of the day when the facility was attacked.  Set in a rustic yet beautifully bucolic setting, I’m sure the death from above was both a shock and a surprise to the Japanese that were pulling duty here.  The remoteness of the site, along with the preserved state of battle-damage and ensuing decay, allows this particular location to certainly convey somber and silent commentary on the darker complexion of war.  There certainly was no glory here at this station, even though blood was surely shed.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), Jody modeling the Army's Station

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), station's beach & ocean warningsTo Visit: Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph) 556, Sakieda, Ishigaki City (Ishigaki-shi), Okinawa Prefecture.  There is no fee, nor hours; the site is not lighted, and no facilities are anywhere nearby.  Easy beach access is adjacent to the site, but parking is very limited.

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), looking back through time to WWII WM

Ishigaki Vacation 2014, Denshinya (Imperial Japanese Army Telegraph Station), Jody on the beach-front property 2 WM

Typhoons: A Divinely Okinawan Experience


A "Rishi" Calling up a Divine Storm

A “Rishi” Calling up a Divine Storm

Divine Wind destroying the Mongrels in the 13th Century

Divine Wind destroying the Mongols in the 13th Century

Kamikaze (神風):  literally, “God wind,” but more commonly translated as “Divine wind.”  Kami is the Japanese word for “god,” “spirit,” or “divinity,” and kaze translates as “wind.”  The word kamikaze originated as the name of major typhoons in 1274 and 1281 that dispersed and destroyed Mongolian invasion fleets under Kublai Khan which otherwise would have most likely defeated Japan at that time.  However, Kamikaze has been forever negatively morphed in meaning due to the incomprehensibly suicidal Japanese actions against the Allies in World War II, many of which occurred right here in Okinawa.  But this latter context certainly doesn’t apply to our current-day experience with typhoons and their still-divine winds in Okinawa.

Crimson Typhoon - Not a Threat to Okinawa

Crimson Typhoon – Not a Threat to Okinawa, but to Godzilla!

The word typhoon comes from the Cantonese word tai feng, meaning “great wind” and when pronounced sounds very close to “typhoon.”  A typhoon is defined as a tropical cyclone in the western Pacific, where these storms generally track in a westward and northern direction and occur most frequently in the western Pacific region of East Asia that includes the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, southern China, South Korea, southern Japan, Guam, the Marianas Islands and parts of Micronesia.  It is essentially the same thing as a hurricane occurring in the west Atlantic and the eastern Pacific.  Similar storms in the Indian Ocean are called tropical cyclones.  Ones that strike Australia are NOT called willy willies contrary to popular belief (and I hate to burst your and my bubbles), which are nothing more than a small dust devils that often occur in parts down-under.  Cyclone is a catch-all phrase which describes all low-pressure systems over tropical waters and includes typhoons and hurricanes.

Typhoon Alley; hitting Okinawa is considered a Strike for Mother Nature

Typhoon Alley; hitting Okinawa is considered a Strike for Mother Nature. She has come close to rolling a Turkey this year so far….

Massive Storm Earlier this Summer

Massive Storm Earlier this Summer

The typhoon season here is very similar to that back home and lasts from the early summer to early autumn (June to November), often coinciding with the monsoon season in Southeast Asia and the wet season in eastern Japan.  An average of 2.6 typhoons make landfall on the four major islands of Japan annually since record-keeping began in 1951, while on average 10.3 approach within 180 miles of the coast each year.  Twelve named typhoons in this part of the Pacific are considered “many,” while eight or less is considered “few.”  Rarely is there a year without landfall, with a record 10 making landfall in 2004.  Landfall on the relatively tiny island of Okinawa occurs at three times the rate of any other prefecture of Japan!  In fact, Okinawa lies right in the heart of “Typhoon Alley.”  It gets hit by an average of seven typhoons a year.  It is customary that the finances of the families of Okinawan fishermen are in the name of the wife in case the fisherman go out to sea and don’t return, historically a common occurrence, but a seldom modern occurrence due to modern weather-forecasting and storm warning.

The Japanese can find a sexy Manga Character in Anything!

The Japanese can find a sexy Manga Character in Anything!

Japanese Fetish: Umbrella use during Typhoons!

Japanese Fetish: Umbrella use during Typhoons!

Living with typhoons on Okinawa is a completely difference experience than surviving storms back home.  Often there are literally back-to-back storms threatening the coast, and Category 3, 4, and even 5 “super typhoons” are more common and commonly encountered here.  We have lost track of the number of named storms we’ve dealt with in just the eight weeks we’ve been on-island; we are either at seven or eight, with the next due here this week sometime on Wednesday or Thursday.  Oh, and there is another depression out there just waiting to be named….

Wipha 3

Really, what's with the umbrellas and storms??

Really, what’s with the umbrellas and storms??

BUT, given this what Americans would consider a threat, the reaction of the Okinawans is calm and subdued to that of America; even the military here doesn’t “panic” over a strong storm barreling down on their people and bases like they do back home.  Here there simply does not exist the pervasive culture of fear and the media-driven frenzied-panic to which Americans mindlessly prescribe and react without any critical thought.  The Okinawans learned long ago that they must learn to live with the furious side of nature, rather than react to threats and the effects of such storms.

Yikes!  It actually wasn't bad at all....

Yikes! It actually wasn’t bad at all….

 

Pre-Strom American Runs Deplete Shoppette Supplies of Ramen!

Pre-Strom American Runs Deplete Shoppette Supplies of Ramen!

While the Okinawans utilize a wide variety of talisman to help ward off evil and offer protections from damaging typhoons, they also utilize construction techniques that have, for centuries, offered much better shelter than that of many areas of the modern west.  Starting in the mid-19th century, culturally centered construction customs helped to defeat the threat of such storms, and still today include heartily tiled roofs adorned with protective shisa statues (lion-like dog creatures that ward off evil spirits and are omnipresent in Okinawa), and a stone wall and high deeply rooted trees for protection against damaging winds.

Nkamurake Home - Nearly Typhoon-Proof

Nkamurake Home – Nearly Typhoon-Proof

More modern construction codes here are deceiving; while structures look bland and unappealing, it is only because they are designed to withstand both earthquakes and typhoons at the same time.  This means that structures are poured concrete with rebar reinforcement attached to strong, deep foundations.  Modern roofs are flat concrete slabs.  Windows are generally barred, not to defeat crime, but for protection from wind-borne missile hazards.  And, by law, homes are required to have a certain capacity of roof-mounted gravity-fed water storage, which provides for families even when water and power are not available from the authorities.  And due to the harsh climate here and proximity to wind-driven salt-laden air, painting becomes a secondary concern, giving many homes and apartment buildings a rather dingy external appearance.  They are, however, every bit as nice on this inside as we would expect to find anywhere in middleclass American.

Do you sense a recurring theme here??

Do you sense a recurring theme here??

However, unlike back home, in Japan and Okinawa more damage is almost always caused by heavy rains (and resulting floods and landslides) than by the winds or storm surge.  This, in relation to huge swaths of the America eastern seaboard and gulf coast, is opposite in experience and effect. Japanese-centric flood prevention measures, improved planning and construction and storm and flood warning that began in earnest in the 1960s have dramatically reduced the number of people killed in typhoons.  Even the most destructive storms today – including Super-Typhoons (Category 5) – rarely kill more than a dozen people.  By contrast, typhoons even in America still can take hundreds of lives.  There is an obvious and blatant lesson to be learned here….

Two Typhoons and a Tropical Storm.  Can you even image this back home?

Two Typhoons and a Tropical Storm. Can you even image this back home?

The most interesting result of these types of construction practices?  Our sizeable condo building – at 5 floors situated not 20 meters from the East China Sea coastline – actually moves when strong typhoon winds strike just right.  That’s right – glasses rattle, and the floor literally moves.  The building is actually on rollers or tracks to help defeat the transmission of earthquake energy.  It is an eerie feeling indeed to have such a large structure shift beneath your feet!

Strom Survival Kits are the Same World-Round

Strom Survival Kits are the Same World-Round.  But with gas, we can continue to cook gourmet meals!  In other words, the Ramen is wholly optional….

Okay, maybe it's a sport.  He's probably bragging about his attempted umbrella use!

Okay, maybe it’s a sport. He’s probably bragging about his attempted umbrella use!

I wish our friends and family could see the rationale and grounded approach to nature that is part and parcel of the culture in Okinawa.  Acknowledge nature, respect her, and learn to live more in harmony with your surroundings.  But do not FEAR nature.  I’m convinced it’s part of the Okinawan secret to enhanced longevity (and to their less stressful quality of life); not just because they in large part survive storms relatively unscathed, but that they fail to freak like the American populace does at the slightest perceived threat from inclement weather.

The primary drawback of tiny Asian cars!!

The primary drawback of tiny Asian cars!!

Change your longitude next summer, and come visit us in Typhoon Alley.  You’ll go home with a much-improved disposition about life.  And perhaps, just maybe, you’ll see the beauty of the divine wind inherent in such magnificent machinery of nature, especially if Mother Nature decides to bowl a Turkey!

Snail Mail


I get mail; therefore I am. ~Scott Adams

lettersWe have an address in Okinawa.  Therefore, we are.  What is it about mail that remains so imbued with warmth and tangible connection?  What is this ongoing love affair with snail-mail that stands each and every test of time?  Or is it just me?  And, curiously, is the idea of mail held in the same embrace for Gen-Xers and those generations beyond?  Until today I would have said an emphatic “no”….

I was thinking about this very thing this afternoon as I completed the almost daily ritual of heading to the mailbox to check for mail.  And behold, four small card-sized envelopes addressed to me from my somewhat estranged daughter Naomi.   Our relationship is now only just starting to recover from a tough and somewhat nasty divorce seven years ago, and I wonder if she realizes the impact and purchase that such mail can breathe back into a relationship.  In the same sense, I believe that people woefully underestimate the mysterious power that mail can conjure.

funny-facebook-fails-mail-then-and-nowI, until very recently, still used to send hand-written postcards to friends and family.  I also have enjoyed a gift of a wax stamp seal kit for letters, using it to help personal my communications.  I cannot tell you how many comments I received from these simply but thoughtful acts:  actually taking the time to hand-address and hand-write a (very short) note, stamping it (front and back), and dropping it in the mail….  We are all warmed by this simple act, an action of yesteryear, one that survived millennia before email and the modern electronic information age.  That someone takes, not so much the time, but the intersection of time and effort to reach out and literally touch another is at once intimate and personal.  Snail-mail remains special, and my somewhat sacred walk to the post box at the street in front of my house is no less filled with great expectations than it has ever been.

I hope that we will receive mail often in Japan.  The dance moves are different in Okinawa; our post office is no longer literally a dance away down the driveway, but a specific journey by car to a military post office and sterile post box far, far away from our home.  However, the dance is no less emotional, and shifts from a simple box-step to more of a long-distance Foxtrot.   But, as is true in so many facets of life, it is always better to send than receive.  Be on the lookout once we are rooted in Okinawa; postcards and letters are sure to be flying at least one-way over the Pacific!

Especially to my daughter.

how-to-address-a-letter-Islandkings

 

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