Irei no hi ceremony

The 23rd June – Irei no hi – is a public holiday in Okinawa (but not in mainland Japan) and commemorates the end of the Battle of Okinawa and the thousands of soldiers and civilians who died and whose names are inscribed on stone slabs in Heiwa Kinen Koen, the Peace Memorial Park at Itoman in the south of the island. Every year more names are added and the current total of those who perished stands at 240, 931. Yesterday was the 65th anniversary of the end of the battle and as usual there was a ceremony held in the grounds, attended by several thousand people. The spacious park is on the very southern tip of the island around Mabuni Hill and looks out onto the Pacific Ocean. It’s here that so many were killed or committed suicide  in the final days of battle. It’s hard to imagine that this tranquil area once witnessed such horrors. The park also contains the large Peace Memorial Museum which was opened ten years ago. I live in the same area and often go through the park on walks. Yesterday I went to the Irei no hi ceremony.

The Japan and Okinawa Prefecture flags fly side by side at half mast

Attending the ceremony was new Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. He must have been apprehensive about this visit to Okinawa, and he was predictably greeted by anti-base protesters along the route from Naha airport to Peace Memorial Park. A heckler also attempted to interrupt his speech at the ceremony with shouts for Kan to “Go home!”. Kan apologised for the burden of the US bases but otherwise offered only the usual bland platitudes about Okinawa, saying how much he appreciated its contribution to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

PM Kan makes bland speech - guarded by security police to the right

Of far more interest and much more to the point was the speech by Zenshin Takamine,  Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly. He noted that a growing number of people are calling for the repeal of the Japan-US Security Treaty which was made “in disregard of the wishes of the Okinawan people.”  He also condemned the decision to relocate the Futenma base within Okinawa. His speech was also interrupted several times – not by heckling but by the loud applause of an audience obviously in agreement. He continued:

“Sixty-five years have already passed since the end of the fierce war. We will surely never forget the inexplicable ground battle that unfolded here in Okinawa in which precious natural beauty and cultural assets were completely burned down and destroyed, and which claimed the lives of over 200,000 people.”

“Even now, work is still underway to unearth the remains of war dead and to dispose of unexploded bombshells which remain beneath the ground. In Okinawa, the aftermath of the war still continues.”

“Furthermore, even in the 65 years after the war, Okinawa has been forced to shoulder an excessive burden of US military bases. Even if land returns south of Kadena are carried out as a result of a realignment of US Forces in Japan, there will still remain approximately 70% of military bases on Okinawa used exclusively by American forces. It is impossible to accept the current situation in which even a single base, namely Futenma Air Station, cannot be returned to Okinawa.”

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Kan sat through Takamine’s speech with a surly expression on his face. He has already, of course, given his support to the previous government’s plans to relocate Futenma to a new base at Henoko in Okinawa. At least it was pleasing to see his discomfort. Among others at the ceremony were musician/politician Shoukichi Kina who represents the governing Minshuto party in Okinawa, and a student, Shiori Naga from Futenma High School, who read an impressive peace poem about daily life on an occupied island. Her poem was chosen to be read at the ceremony from a total of 1,800 entries.

Below are some other photos from yesterday’s event.

Offering of flowers - Shoukichi Kina is second left

Futenma High School student Shiori Naga reads her peace poem

Peace Memorial Park looks out to the ocean

Some of the many stones bearing names of the dead

Paying their respects to the dead

This banner outside the park reads "Kan Naoto PM we don't want appreciation. Anger - Take Futenma base away with you!" Minshuto Itoman City Congress

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4 Comments on “Irei no hi ceremony”

  1. Aki Says:

    Great post – I’ve been posting comments about this 65th anniversary on twitter, and I will also post the link to your blog. Thank you for writing about this!

  2. toranosuke Says:

    As much as I am disappointed and annoyed to hear that Kan is taking the same old tack with the bases issue – offering the same old platitudes and not indicating any intention to move for change – and while I do think that the Okinawans are totally right to speak out against such attitudes and such inaction, increasingly I come to think that the responsibility for this situation really is not wholly on Tokyo’s shoulders.

    Where is Washington in all of this? Regardless of what Tokyo does or does not do, Washington is perfectly capable of volunteering – with or without prodding from Tokyo – to up and get out of there.

    What ever happened to the US being the good guys? What ever happened to justice and freedom and doing what is right? Just because Okinawans are not US citizens with the right to vote, just because they do not represent the constituency of any US Senator or President, does not mean that they are not people with the same inalienable rights described in our Declaration of Independence. If Tokyo won’t take the initiative, to respond to the demands of its citizens, to pressure the US for change, then its about damn time that the US take the initiative and pressure Tokyo to agree to have the bases moved to Tsushima or Kumamoto or somewhere far less densely populated, far less controversial, and no less strategically viable.

  3. Wayfarer Says:

    Washington is more concerned about Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Taiwan, and China than Okinawa. Hence, they will continue to use Okinawa to their advantage in the pursuit of their hegemonic foreign policy. The US simply sees Okinawa as a convenient strategic point in the Asia-Pacific to carry out missions and keep an eye on its untrustworthy neighbors. They are not interested in upholding the rights or listening to the voices of the Okinawan people.

  4. Wayfarer Says:

    And to an extent it is on Tokyo’s shoulders because they are ultimately responsible for the welfare of its citizens (which Okinawans technically are.) However, it is clear in this case that where majority rule the minority has no choice but to accept the resulting decision. This is the very essence of a democracy.

    The Japanese are adamant about keeping American troops in Japan for the deterrence factor (due to their own inability to have a standing army) but at the same time are reluctant to assume the responsibility that comes with such a presence.

    At the same time, I suspect the American military also doesn’t want to have its resources spread out across Japan because having it concentrated in one area is much more cost-efficient and effective in both response and coordination.

    Ultimately, this issue boils down not to the notion that there are American bases in Okinawa that need to be shut down but rather the geo-politics at play in the Asia-Pacific that leaves Okinawa as an unfortunate victim of the US’ foreign policy against communism and other “uncooperative” states and Japan’s obvious side-stepping of their no military clause due to increased tensions in North Korea and China.

    Yes, the Cold War is alive and well in East Asia.

    I don’t mean to turn this into a political discussion but for anyone who wants to understand the situation in Okinawa, they first need to see the big picture.


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