2021: Article 9 - Presentation 3

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Article 9 of the Japanese
 Peace Constitution and Peace
 in Asia -Prayer from Okinawa
 ー 沖縄からの祈り ー
The 7th Global lnter-Religious Conference on Article 9  
of the Japanese Peace Constitution

Presentation 3
Rev. ISHIHARA Kinuko, Okinawa District, Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan

ISHIHARA Kinuko was born in 1937. She was seven years old at the time of the Battle of Okinawa. When the battle started, there were six members of her family – her parents, her nine-year old brother and her three- and one-year old sisters. It was a peaceful and enjoyable time with her family. But then her father was called up as part of the defense corps, and life for the family of five continued in bomb shelters to avoid air raids. In 1943, an out-of-prefecture evacuation was started for the general Okinawan population. A nearby aunt came to consult with her father about taking Kinuko’s brother with her and evacuating from Okinawa, but her father refused saying, “It’s best to keep family together, no matter the circumstances.” Kinuko was happy and felt reassured having her older brother stay; but in the end, he lost his life in the Battle of Okinawa.

The Battle of Okinawa began in April 1945 on the island of Okinawa. The family of five started fleeing from where they had lived in present day Tamagusuku in the city of Nanjo, toward Mabuni in the city of Itoman. However, on the way, several Japanese soldiers stormed into the bomb shelter they were hiding in and, pointing a gun at Kinuko’s mother, one yelled with a terrifying look on his face, “Either I kill your kids or you get out of here! One or the other!” This same thing was happening in shelters all over since the U.S. military would attack when they heard children crying. Parents ended up killing their own children; and large numbers of Japanese soldiers tore children away from their parents and slaughtered them.

Kinuko’s mother held onto her children and said, “How could I live if I let these Japanese soldiers so easily kill my precious children? When we die, we all die together.” With her mother being supported by her brother due to a burn she had received during a fire brigade incident that left her unable to walk on her own, and Kinuko carrying her youngest sister on her back while holding her three-year old sister’s hand, the family, forced out of the shelter by the soldiers, began what became their journey to the next world.

After being chased out of shelters, war refugees wandered the battlefield, shaking with fear and covered in mud in search of a safe place as they were wounded, collapsed and died from gunfire, flamethrowers, mortars, and airstrikes. In the end, the refugees were cornered at the cliffs of Mabuni, while a fierce U.S. military attack was launched against resistance by Japanese troops in the same area; one after another, the refugees were caught up in the fight. Kinuko’s family was also hit in the attack, causing her to lose consciousness. When she finally came to, Kinuko couldn’t see her mother or brother who should have been with them. While holding her sister’s hand, they had to step on and over dead bodies scattered around them in their search, until they finally found both of them crushed under rocks, dead.

Kinuko didn’t remember how many hours had passed lost in sorrow and fear, but when she noticed, her one-year old sister whom she carried on her back had become cold. Her three-year old sister, who had been wounded in the chest, died a few days later while saying, “Sister, can I have some water.” Kinuko, who had succumbed to the fear, despair and sorrow that came from the cruel deaths of her mother and siblings, was helped by a U.S. military medic. Although her life was saved, Kinuko learned from her maternal grandmother who had come to meet her that her father, who had been called to serve in the Japanese military, had also died. Kinuko started her post-war life with the despair of being the only survivor from her family. After the war, she moved, one after another, to the homes of seven of her relatives.

In a tent that was on her way to the outdoor school during her time in the detention center, Kinuko was drawn into the stories about Christianity being preached in broken Japanese by an elderly American priest. When she was able to go to school, this then led to church, which enabled her to look ahead and live with the desire to “become a person who can help to build peace.” She received baptism when she became a junior high student.

Eventually, Kinuko married an Okinawan man and for more than 30 years lived in Kumamoto [on the island of Kyushu] making a living on a dairy farm. She and her family started a church on the land where they lived, which was said to have been part of the discriminated “Buraku” caste community. “Because I know the bitter pain of losing my family in the war, I can share the suffering of people who have faced discrimination and prejudice as my on pain.” She relates especially to those in the region who are in a vulnerable position.

Since returning to Okinawa, Kinuko has served as a priest at the “National Sanitarium Okinawa Airakuen” [a Hansen’s disease (Leprosy) treatment center] and began to speak about her experience in the Battle of Okinawa. She says, “I continue to speak about it to protect the young lives of our children and grandchildren, so that we don’t have war again. That is my duty as a survivor.”

And Kinuko doesn’t only speak about the victim’s experience of war, but she also points out Japan’s responsibility for the war. “We cannot forget the pain we caused the people of Asia and the Pacific.” She stresses, “We must proactively make an effort to create peace,” calling for actions to protect Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.

* Presentation 3 is based on the experiences and writings of Reverend ISHIHARA Kinuko, with her  consent; the Okinawa Christian Peace Institute assembled this presentation for this conference and takes responsibility for its content.

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