DAY TWELVE OKINAWA: Monday September 16, 2013
On Monday we headed to a historical site called the 'Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters' that proved to be an educational and emotional site. This particular site was renovated and opened to the public in the 1970's. As a student I took several classes on World War II but they largely focused on the European front. My knowledge of the Western offensive is largely relegated to the large key battles that occurred. Okinawa had been an independent island that was taken over by the Japanese and this led to their involvement in the war. In fact, according to the brochure, "the Okinawa Islands were the only populated Japanese home islands to experience large scale land battle" (Site Brochure). After climbing up to the peak of the exterior hill you see this lovely yet haunting memorial.
After you enter the initial entryway you pass by many photos from after the defeat of the Japanese Navy by the American forces. The pictures are of surrender and suffering of the Okinawan people. You proceed down a flight of stairs to the Museum and entryway to the tunnels. In the museum you get the background of the Japanese Naval forces that had dug into to defend the area of Naha City when the American forces landed on April 1, 1945 (Site Brochure). The tunnels that were created for this headquarters were dug by the Okinawan people using hand tools. Later you will see the pick ax tool markings that still score the walls of the tunnels.
This exhibit in the museum area highlights the high cost of war. This is a snapshot of the lives lost in this one particular area during the three month offensive on the island.
Although blurry, this is a photo of 1000 origami cranes that adorn the entryway to the actual tunnels. The cranes were created to "represent grief and pray for world peace for those individuals that lost their lives during the war" (Site brochure).
The descent begins. The long tunnel appears to go on forever when you first begin the descent underground. The walls seep water onto the stairs and the air begins to cool as you move slowly lower into the damp and musty air. The first room is the operations room. An artistic impression of the now empty room hangs on the wall to explain what would have occurred in this particular room.
The original socket electrical systems remain on the wall (though not longer used).
As you move further into the tunnels you are taken next into the staff room. This room hits you in an unexpected and unforeseen way. It was in this room that commanding men pulled the pins from grenades for an honorable death rather than surrender to the American forces. The small plaque on the wall that informs you of this fact also states that the pitting on the wall is from those explosions.
The next few areas show the Commanding Officer's room and Code Room. You can almost make out the tree branches/trunks that were used as support beams in the Code room. There is also another artistic impression of how the dirt was removed from the tunnels by the Okinawan workers.
The next area was a Medical Room, which really was just an alcove off of the tunnel.
This is one of three generator areas where you can still see the original foundation supports for the generators.
Next was the Petty Officers Quarters, which again was a very small alcove. In fact the plaque stated that often there was not enough room for the men so they would simply sleep standing up in between the bunks.
This exit, which is the only daylight that comes into the tunnels, was where the last stand occurred. It was this tunnel exit that poorly armed men would have streamed out to fight the final battle against the American forces.
The last room is the signal room which holds great significance for the Okinawan people. This is where Admiral Minoru Ota, the commanding officer of the Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, sent his farewell telegram to inform the Japanese of the battle situation. This telegram was highly important to the native people (as evidenced by the posting of the entire text in the Museum, in the Tunnels, In the brochure, and parts repeated on many signs and plaques) as it commended the Okinawan people for their efforts to support the war.
This is an excerpt from this highly important telegram:
"The Okinawan people have been asked to volunteer their labor and conserve all their resources (mostly without complaint.) In their heart, they wish only to serve as loyal Japanese. Finally, ----. This battle is nearing its end, the situation of the island of Okinawa -----.
There are no trees, no grass; everything is burnt to the ground. The food supply will be gone by the end of June. This is how the Okinawan people have fought the war.
And for this reason, I appeal to you to give the Okinawan people special consideration from this day forward." (Site Brochure) *Note ---- are words that could not be deciphered
This last picture is of the informational board that is at the end of the tunnels (that are open to the public) the pictures show Japanese commanders, US commanders and what the area looked like at the time of the battle.
"On June 13, 1945, Admiral Ota, with many of his officers and men, died and honorable death inside the underground. According to the intelligence section of the Sixth Marine Division, 175 bodies were found." (Site Brochure)
Perspective is something that is taught in school and it is a hard concept to learn. Even as an adult it is hard to look at these historical sites without being influenced by previous knowledge and the American perspective. However, I tried to look at this with the perspective that we must remember the horrors of the past so that we are more encouraged to avoid those horrors in the future.
Okay, so I did not want to end this post on a downer so I snapped this lovely picture of a Slot and Pachinco palace called the "Faroh" :)