[Episcopal Church Office of Communication] Despite the pelting rain and occasional torrential downpours, the dozens of attendees to the Worldwide Anglican Peace Conference piled into buses – separated according to language – for an extensive, day-long tour of Okinawa.
The residents of Okinawa tell their history and their stories with great passion.
We heard the history of an oppressed indigenous people – starting with the arrival of Japanese in the 1800s, through World War II and up to today.
As we traveled through the city we were asked to consider the actions and events of 67 years ago, before most of the attendees were born.
Our first destination was the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum. The museum’s main exhibits chronicled the invasion by allied troops on April 1, 1945. Statues and memorials graced the extensive grounds overlooking the sea, etched with the names of those lost during the battle and afterwards – names of Okinawans, of Koreans, of allied troops and of Japanese.
We were told about the caves on this volcanic island – both the natural caves and new ones, dug out by Okinawans – and the forced Korean labor in anticipation of the expected World War II invasion. The caves were used as family shelters, government offices, and for the care of injured and wounded. The caves were 2 x 2 meters, many lined with bunk beds for the best use of cramped space, chillingly illustrated in the museum.
The museum, both inside and out, offered views of the battle of Okinawa in a local context.
The second stop was an impressive Himeyuri Monument, situated in a tranquil setting and dedicated to the Okinawan people who perished or were killed during the battle and afterwards. This shrine, we were informed, hosts the most pilgrims on June 23, the anniversary of the official end to hostilities on Okinawa.
The afternoon was dedicated to driving by, around, and near some of the U.S. military bases. The narrative provided an overview of the tangled relationships among the military bases, the United States and Japanese governments, and the local residents over naval bases, Air Force runways, Osprey aircrafts, fighter planes, noise, property issues and more.
Greetings from hosts and religious leaders, plus a message from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, closed the evening at St. Paul’s Cathedral.