War. War is a negative destruction of our earth by mankind. War destroys the innocent lives of families. The lives of men, women and children lost forever. Mankind has committed many senseless wars, one of which was the the Battle of Okinawa. ‘Operation Iceberg’ was the code name for this major battle of the Pacific War fought on the island of Okinawa by the United States Army and U. S. Marine Corps forces against the Imperial Japanese Army.
It was a 82-day horrific battle. For those of us who have never experienced war, how could we imagine the fear of a three month, six days, bloody war on this small subtropical island of Okinawa, located south of Japan.
The severe magnitude of the Battle Of Okinawa claimed the lives of 12,520 American service members and 110,000 Japanese troops. The innocent civilians of Okinawa saw 140,000 of their families die during this war that happened 76 years ago.
It is said that the heaviest fighting occurred in the southern part of Okinawa and for decades, teams have searched the small island for the remains of the war dead, their ancestors and loved ones.
According to sources, 185,269 sets of remains have been recovered since the war which began AprI 1st, 1945 and ended in June 22, 1945.
Mr. Takamatsu Gushiken is founder of “Gamafuya” a project leader who digs the soil for the remains of Okinawa’s Japanese and American war dead. For many decades, this operation has recovered many remains. The remains of Americans have also been found, identified and given back to their families.
This soil is holy ground and sacred to the people of Okinawa. In the south of the island is a site where war-dead remains have been found.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
The Japanese government decided to use the soil to reclaim land in waters off the Henoko district of Nago to build a new U.S. military base. Simply put, soil that possibly contains war-dead remains will be thrown into the ocean to build this American base. If the plans keep moving forward then that means an American base will have a foundation built with remains of innocent Okinawan civilians and US military members.
So on March 1st till March 6th, Mr Gushiken began a hunger strike protest in Naha, Okinawa in front of the Okinawan Prefecture Building.
The purpose of the hunger strike was to persuade the Japanese government to halt using the soil.
Mr. Gushiken in an interview stated that, “This issue is a discrimination against Okinawa by the Japanese government, and we want foreign countries to know about it as well. Our ancestors were innocent victims of the war and by dumping them into the sea along with landfill sand is a betrayal. This inhumanity is incomprehensible even to us. It is clearly wrong.”
Mr. Gushiken hopes that through this hunger strike that the plight of the Okinawan people can reach the ears of the world society. Over the weekend, the Governor Of Okinawa Mr Tamaki Denny, visited and spoke with Mr Gushiken.
Talking with the Chairman of the Okinawa Prefectural Commission of the Japanese Communist Party, Mr Seiken Akamine said , “About 200,000 people died in the Battle of Okinawa, but most of their remains have not been returned to their families. Everyone wants to know where their relatives died. If they have even one finger, the bereaved families want to keep them under their care. Even now, the remains have not been found, and returning the remains to the bereaved families is a top priority.” Mr. Akamine added, “The government, however, is using the earth and sand mixed with the remains to build a base for war. This is absolutely unacceptable.”
Regarding this disposition and asking his views as a politician, Mr Akamine said, “ Okinawa is home to a vast array of US military bases. The U.S. believes that they won the war. However, even if you win a war, you should not take the private property of the people of the losing country. That is a violation of international law. The people of Okinawa have suffered rape and other harm from the bases built in violation of international law, and yet the Japanese government has tolerated it. I would like the government to reflect on its actions and change its attitude.”
Mr Gushiken in interview, said that “Many people do not realize that freedom of expression in Japan is a right. The idea of exercising freedom of expression against superiors is hard to come by. It takes a lot of effort on the part of all three parties: the citizens who speak out, the masses who need to hear and spread their voices, and the politicians who receive those voices. “
As a politician who is very engaged in the human rights of the people and regarding the future for Okinawa, Mr Akamine said, “ Despite the fact that the people of Okinawa have expressed their will through a prefectural referendum that the base should not be built in Henoko, the Japanese government refuses to listen to them. Rather than accepting the will of the people, the Japanese government is prioritizing the military alliance with the US. I want to build a country where the power of democracy can move society.”
In Okinawa there was a sacred ritual called Senkotsu. It was not until the seventeenth century where ancestor worship became prevalent throughout the Ryukyus 」(Okinawan Government 1992).
It was a highly spiritual ritual in which the dead body of a loved one was taken out of the tomb after a long period of time when the flesh no longer remained. In the ceremony the bones were then cleaned by the close relatives and then buried again in the tomb. It is believed that after the ceremony the soul was finally able to leave this world.
In an interview with Mr Minoru Kinjo, he spoke about the Senkotsu ritual and said “ Our ancestors deserve our deepest respect. Without our ancestors we would not even be here.!After the war, many of the Okinawan people could not find the whereabouts of their family members. They must be found. The Okinawan people need to know where their family members are buried. Any human would want to know this.“
“The search still continues to look for the bones on ancestors lost in the war. The Japanese government must immediately cease using the soil which potentially contains human remains. “
“We respect our ancestors and the search will continue until there is no stone left unturned. No one should be left behind.” Mr Kinjo said.
I remember a few years ago meeting an Okinawan woman, named Fumiko Shimabukuro San who is in her 90’s. As she told me about the war which she had experienced first hand, I could not help myself and cried when she told me, “During the war we needed to find water to survive and I remember one day that we had taken a sip of the water and after that we realized that there were dead bodies floating in the water. We had swallowed the water mixed with the blood of the innocent war victims. “
As I try to finish this article, I find myself feeling speechless.
I think about Mr Gushiken and the “Gamafuyā” diggers who have been digging for 39 years to unearth the remainder of the deceased. I wonder how hard it must be for him to uncover bones but when he does, they see able to be reunited to their families who survived and hopefully may begin to find closure.
I pray that the Japanese government will cease using this soil as it a degrading act against these victims of war and they deserve respect. The bone diggers must be allowed to continue their search to find the remainder of the American service members and other innocent civilians in Okinawa who remain missing in the soil.
We the people say, let the “Gamafuyā” bone diggers, dig.
Perhaps finally, then, the lonely souls of those who died horrific deaths may be found, returned to their families and find peace in their souls to rest at last.
Catherine Jane Fisher is a US military rape survivor and grassroots advocates in Japan since 2002. Fisher was the first woman to break the Silence in Japan and was nominated for the Nobel Peace is 2020. Catherine Jane Fisher coined the phrase #Empowertarian On April 6th, 2021 it will commemorate 20 years of her work as an advocate and defender of innocence. Her activities includes speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Convention in 2019 and author of
‘Jyu No Tobira,’
‘I Am Catherine Jane’ and
‘Namida No Ato Wa Kawaku’
This is very powerful, and helpful. Thank you. I recently took part in the 7th Global Inter-religious Conference on Article 9 of the Japanese Peace Constitution, which focused on Okinawa (and Guam). I plan a blog posting and a magazine column on Gushiken-San and the Gama-fuya work. If I use something you have posted, I will credit the source. Thank you onceagain.
I hereby ask your permission to reproduce one of your photos of Gushiken-San in my blog https://empireshadowpeacemaking.blogspot.com/ . This is in reference to the recent Global Conference on Article 9 of the Japanese Peace Constitution. Thank you.
Permission granted with reference