Irei no hi 2011

Yesterday was the 66th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa. This day – the 23rd June – is known as Irei no hi and is a public holiday in Okinawa. Annual ceremonies are held throughout the Ryukyu Islands to commemorate the end of the battle. I was at the largest of these events, which was at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park (Okinawa Heiwa Kinen Koen) in Itoman on the south coast of the main island. A total of 5,000 people attended the ceremony.

This year Irei no hi was a day of blazing sunshine and scorching hot weather. Once again the Itoman ceremony was attended by Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan – and once again there was some brief shouting and heckling as he prepared to make his greeting speech, despite warning notices being displayed this year calling for good behaviour.  A moment of silence was observed at noon and there were addresses by Okinawa’s Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and from Zenshin Takamine the Speaker of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly.

Okinawa Heiwa Kinen Koen with Peace Tower in the background

Most impressive was Takamine’s speech which straightforwardly addressed the situation in Okinawa today which is unchanged from a year ago. He pointed out that 66 years after the end of the war, the remains of many war dead have still not been found, and he went on to highlight the fact that the aftermath of war still lingers on Okinawa with unexploded bombshells, aircraft noise, and incidents and accidents arising from the vast U.S. military facilities. Residents of Okinawa live with a continuing sense of insecurity and peril. He went on:

“It is no exaggeration to regard the damages incurred by incidents and accidents arising from United States Armed Forces installations as ‘man-made misfortunes’ caused by neglect to alleviate the excessive burden of military bases. The Japanese government bears an immense responsibility over the current situation in Okinawa.”

“Among such issues, the closing and return of Marine Corps Futenma Air Station, the most dangerous military base on Earth whose reversion was agreed upon 15 years ago, has yet to materialize. Furthermore, the governments of Japan and the U.S. are proceeding with the plan to relocate the Air Station to the area off the coast of Henoko in Nago, a move which is entirely unacceptable. On this Battle of Okinawa Memorial Day, I remind the governments of Japan and the United States of our wish for a decision on easing the burden and removal of risks to residents by way of the earliest possible closure and return of Futenma Air Station and other facilities.”

Yesterday's visitors gather for the ceremony

The names of 241,132 people who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa are inscribed on the Cornerstone of Peace in this spacious park next to Mabuni Hill and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s a tranquil setting now but one which has witnessed the horrors of war, and the long-suffering people of Okinawa are constantly reminded of this with the continued massive American military presence on the island.

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