27 Sep Okinawa – all quiet today but not 70 years ago
So here I am in Okinawa (another spot on the planet I never, ever imagined I would visit). Its a hot, sunny Sunday in Naha, the capital. Actually, the label ‘capital’ is highly relative – Naha appears even quieter than Brunei, and that’s saying something.
The reason I am here this weekend is for the team-building programme organised by my friend and Director of the renown Hong Kong-located Delia School of Canada, Patrick Lee. Most of Delia’s senior managers and administrators are here at the Loisir Hotel for what has become an annual, much anticipated break by the school’s hard-working management. Also attending are the senior management and administration of Columbia International School, Tokyo, including Moto Tanaka, the school Director, and his family. So, in all, about 60 people.
(Patrick and Moto, along with senior school managers, Jason Walter and Allan Morrison, are graduates of the MBA Edi programme that I directed in Asia for Keele University).
The team-building part took place yesterday morning – the photo above shows the managers busily engaged in one of the many games (highly competitive and lots of fun). Everyone is wearing the compulsory black/red polo shirt. Patrick even brought one along for me. Thanks Patrick.
Having gotten the team-building bit out of the way, everyone then has the rest of the weekend to themselves. This morning I took myself off to see a little of Naha. The two photos below show me at Shuri Castle, and on the main shopping street of Naha. (In both photos I am trying not to look too much of an idiot taking a selfie – Asian’s are much better at taking selfie’s than Westerners, who always look rather self-conscious).
In all, I spent about three hours first taking a trip on Naha’s monorail to Shuri Castle, then exploring the shopping area. Actually, its all very pleasant, clean and extremely laid back. Quiet doesn’t describe it. Though I am sure there is a little more going on in and around the US Army and Navy’s 32 military bases spread across Okinawa. The US has maintained a strong military presence on Okinawa since the end of WWII. Though I didn’t see one Marine during my brief stay.
What I did see, and which starkly reminded me of the impact of WWII on Okinawa and its people, was a surprisingly impressive privately-run little photo-museum situated almost right opposite the Loisir Hotel (see photo below). I was walking past it on the other side of the road and if it hadn’t been for the large black and white photos showing the fighting between the Japanese Army and the US Army, and which caught my eye, then I’d have missed it altogether.
As you can see, none of the signs are in English. So I stopped, curiously looked at what appeared to be a shop with interesting photos in the window, crossed over and went in. It was an amazing place. Of course, like most people I’ve seen the films, videos and photos of the War in the Pacific between the Allies and the Japanese, but I’d never seen the quality of photos which were on display in this museum. Hundreds of them and all dedicated to the Battle for Okinawa which began with the US Army and Navy landings just a few miles north of Naha on 1st April, 1945, and only ended on 22nd June, 1945. One of the most devastating and ferocious battles of the Second World War. No one knows exactly how many died, including those who succumbed from their injuries, but its around 280,000 (including approximately 150,000 civilians). What is especially salutary about Okinawa is that it was the battle for this island (the first to actually take place on Japanese soil in WWII) which resulted in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Yanks simply said “we’re not going to put ourselves through that hell from here to Tokyo” and dropped the bombs. Who can blame them? Certainly not me.
Walking up the shallow hill to Shiri Castle on a bright, sunny, peaceful Sunday morning in September 2015, it was difficult if not impossible to imagine the terror, fear, death and destruction which configured the place 70 years ago. I was thankful the museum gave the picture in full. Starkly.
If you ever take a trip to Okinawa, the museum is a must-visit.
This photo shows all that was left of Naha (and Shiri Castle) by June 1945.