Okinawans gain ground in history book fight
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Okinawans’ fight with Tokyo to retain accounts describing how the Imperial Japanese Army was involved in civilian suicides during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 gained ground Friday.
Kisaburo Tokai, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said during a press conference that he has convened the ministry’s Textbook Review Council to examine the issue.
His comments were made following correction requests submitted to the ministry Thursday by two textbook publishers who want to restore the description stating more specific involvement by the Imperial Army.
Okinawans have been in debate with the central government since April, when the Ministry of Education instructed five publishers of history textbooks to downplay the military’s involvement.
On Oct. 27, one of the textbook authors, Noboru Sakamoto, 51, a Tokyo high school teacher, announced he will revise the description of mass suicides in a history textbook he wrote for Japanese senior high schools.
During a press conference, Sakamoto said he would also restore a statement that residents were forced to commit suicide by the military. He said he would submit corrections by Friday to the ministry.
In March 1945, when U.S. troops invaded the Kerama Islands in preparation for landing on Okinawa’s main island, Imperial Army soldiers issued hand grenades to villagers and told them to choose “honorable death” and avoid the humiliation of surrender and submitting to American “atrocities.”
According to the islanders, who retold their stories at a large Sept. 29 rally on Okinawa and in media interviews, residents killed their families and themselves by exploding the hand grenades, while others who did not have the grenades used hatchets, hoes and other makeshift devices to kill their loved ones.
On Tokashiki Island alone, some 329 people reportedly committed suicide.
However, an education ministry official said in April there were “divergent views of whether or not the suicides were ordered by the army and no proof to say either way.”
Toshinobu Nakazato, chairman of Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, chief organizer of the September rally, said he respects Sakamoto’s decision to resist pressure to alter history.
Nakazato was 8 years old when the Americans landed. As he and his family hid in a cave with other civilians and Japanese soldiers during the battle, his younger sister and 3-year-old cousin kept crying, Nakazato recounted.
To keep them quiet, a Japanese solider handed Nakazato’s mother two poisoned rice balls, urging her to give them to the girls, he said, but his mother refused. “We decided to leave the cave because we were determined to die together when we had to,” he said.
Nakazato said Okinawans will continue to push for changes in the textbooks, while Kosei Yonemura, 77, chairman of Naha City Tourism Association and former director of Okinawa prefectural Board of Education, said the issue is of national importance.
“This is an issue for the entire country, not just Okinawa,” said Yonemura, who fought against U.S. forces with the Imperial Army in the Boys’ Volunteer Brigade.
“It is the militaristic education that has tormented us to this day,” he said. “It was not just the military, but also the Ministry of Education who brainwashed us and led the entire nation to militarism.