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Join hands with Okinawans at "Peace Anniversary Festival

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-06-11

Okinawans will commemorate one of the saddest episodes in the history of these islands on June 23. Across the entire Prefecture of Okinawa, locals pay their respects to family members and friends who lost their lives during the Battle of Okinawa. The day is known locally as "Irei no hi," and has been held annually as a national holiday since the end of the war. In commemorating the many lost lives, Okinawans pray at their family alters and participate in various ceremonies organized by local governments. One of the most visited places will be Itoman's Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, where the "Cornerstone of Peace Monument" is located. The monument lists the names of everyone, including Americans and other foreigners, who died during the Battle of Okinawa. The names of Okinawans killed in other areas of the Pacific are also listed on the huge slabs of stone. The city of Itoman is asking foreigners to join with Okinawans on June 20 to participate in the "Peace Anniversary Festival," which will begin with the cleaning of the monument.

"We want many families to come. There are many names of foreigners on the monument, so we would like everyone to attend," said Yoshimasa Kamiya of the Itoman City Peace Promotion Division.

The festival is for free and will start at 2 pm. Small towels for cleaning will be provided by the Itoman City Hall. The festival will continue with a concert at 3 pm, lasting until 5 pm. Okinawan music, as well as speeches by various government officials and foreigners are also scheduled. (English translations will be provided.) Headlining the concert is George Murasaki, who will play keyboards in a duet with "koto" player Yoko Onaga.

Itoman City has also organized a free art exhibition by famous wood-block print artist Hiroshi Gima. The eighty year old Okinawan, who now resides in Osaka, is one of Japan's most well known wood-block print artists. The exhibition, which will be held at the Itoman City Central Library, is a collection of work stemming from the experiences of the war here on Okinawa. Times and dates for the art show are between 10 am and 5 pm from June 17 until June 20.

The "Cornerstone of Peace Monument" was completed in 1995 and holds over 235,000 names. Overlooking the southern cliffs of the island are the names of Okinawans, Americans, British, Koreans, and other nationalities, etched in stone forever on this impressive site.

The names echo the suffering and tragedy that began on March 26, 1945, when American troops landed in the Kerama Islands. As the Japanese Military prepared for the invasion under the command of Lieutenant General Ushijima, the local population was left to find their own means of survival. Okinawans began to flee into the country side - family tombs became places to hide, and caves soon filled with women and children.

On April 1 the U.S. forces began their invasion on the west coast of Okinawa Island. Meeting little resistance at first, the fighting became brutal as the battle pushed itself further south. Okinawan civilians trying to escape the bullets and bombs were caught between Japanese and American troops. The confusion and lack of assistance by the Japanese forces caused panic. With nowhere to go, many locals chose suicide. After almost three months of fighting, the Americans finally captured the island. Approximately one third of the local population died, and the island was devastated. For the Okinawans, help from American soldiers eased some of the suffering, but losing so many family members changed the spirit of the Okinawan people forever.

Today, Okinawans and Americans live side by side in peace. The "Peace Anniversary Festival" offers the foreign community to extend the hand of "brotherhood," by remembering all those who suffered and lost their lives in the island tragedy referred to as the "Typhoon of Steel."

For more information in English, call 992-2378.

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