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Peace Bridge to the Future
by Shoko Nakama
Shuri High School, Okinawa Prefecture
Messages of Peace from Chiran
13th Annual Speech Contest, 2002
Honorable Mention, High School Division

What is "peace"?

"Not waiting until June 23, the getto flower petals fell." (singing)

Every year in June getto flowers are blooming in profusion all around Okinawa, where I live. They seem to be saying that Memorial Day is near.

Each Memorial Day on June 23 when the siren sounds at noon, we Okinawans observe a moment of silence to remember those who died in the Battle of Okinawa. We remember in our hearts wherever we are at and whatever we are doing.

When Memorial Day drew near, we would sing the song "Getto" that we learned in elementary school. But I feel that in those days I sang glibly without any special feeling. The reason was that I did not yet realize the preciousness of peace since I thought of myself as a "child who does not know war" and since I had grown up in today's Okinawa and Japan without war.

Last summer, I went to Miyakojima to see my grandfather who for several years had suffered chronic pain. I had heard that my grandfather had been in the Navy a long time ago, but this was the first time that he told me seriously some details about his wartime experiences.

"Shoko, when I was young I joined the Sasebo Naval Corps in Nagasaki. There I learned how to maintain and repair fighters, and afterward I went to Taiwan and trained at a maintenance school. Also, I went to Kanagawa and Kagoshima. At that time the Battle of Okinawa was intense, and I also went to a kamikaze base. Young men about seventeen and eighteen years of age were there, and they flew off after exchanging cups of water. I could not stop crying when they left."

My grandfather said farewell to his friends who sortied toward Okinawa, and one evening his unit commander said, "Tomorrow you sortie together with me." However, the next day my grandfather's name had been removed from the list, and his unit commander became one who never did return.

"It was rare for a unit commander to sortie. But perhaps he took my name from the list because he cared about me like his own younger brother." My grandfather's eyes filled with tears as he told me this. At that time I realized that even now inside my grandfather's heart is a deep wound that will not heal.

When I visited Nagasaki on a school field trip, we visited the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. They have displayed there heartrending photos and items that were right at the place of the atomic blast. There were only things from which I wanted to turn away my eyes. In particular, the photos of human shadows stuck to rocks by the heat of the atomic blast and photos of people burnt on their backs are still etched in my memory. Each of those displayed articles told of the atrocities and tragedies of war.

In Okinawa there are the "Cornerstones of Peace" on Mabuni Hill in Itoman City. The names of 234,183 people who died in the Battle of Okinawa, including both enemies and allies without distinction as to nationality, are engraved on the "Cornerstones of Peace." Also, sometimes I see elderly people crying there as they point at the name of a deceased family member without knowing the place of death. Those bereaved family members seem lonely and small.

While the old wounds of war remained, Okinawa Prefecture celebrated this year in 2002 on May 15 the 30th anniversary of Okinawa's return to Japan.

In a newspaper article on this day, the following was published. During the 27-year period after the end of the Pacific War, Okinawa was placed under American military rule. The article reported that there was all sorts of damage at the bases and suppression of human rights. Okinawans must continue to fight against that American military in order to demand democratization.

From the standpoint of today's Okinawa without war, those events seem unimaginably shocking. Even though many American soldiers come and go along the road, I do not feel uneasy at all, and there are times when they make me smile. Perhaps that's why I feel happy being friends with people from other countries.

"What is peace?"

Not only Okinawa, not only Japan, I believe everyone throughout the world keeps in mind at all times the preciousness of life, human dignity, and not making the mistake called "war."

With firm steps, one by one, we need to cross the "Peace Bridge to the Future," and then surely there never will be a day announcing the end of today's and tomorrow's peace.

I send you the getto flower song from Okinawa, the only place in Japan to experience a ground battle, and now a transmission base for peace (singing):

Getto flower, be fragrant, be fragrant
Spiritual flower of the heart, blooming forever
Unchanging life, eternal heart, hometown summer

Translated by Bill Gordon
January 2005