The fountain in the center of the The Cornerstone of peace memorial in Okinawa Heiwakinen Memorial Park. (Photo: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas)

Memorial day in Okinawa about more than just reliving the past

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Memorial day in Okinawa about more than just reliving the past

(Original article: Vox Populi, The Asahi Shimbun. June 23, 2016)

When 23-year-old Shun Kuninaka attended elementary school in his native Okinawa Prefecture, “peace education” was a turnoff.

Children were forced to listen to accounts of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, and what they heard was gruesome and disturbing.

For instance, a survivor of the battle recalled seeing people being blown apart when a bomb exploded at the mouth of a cave where civilians were taking refuge.

When Kuninaka was in junior high school, he and his classmates visited the Cornerstone of Peace, a memorial inscribed with the names of more than 200,000 people who died in the Battle of Okinawa. Kuninaka found his great-grandfather’s name, and traced it with his fingertip. He was unable to stop his tears from flowing.

As a student at the University of the Ryukyus, Kuninaka became involved in peace education. But he also felt the futility of his undertaking.

One day, he saw a young student on a school trip pointing at something and laughing at a historical site where many Okinawan civilians had committed suicide.

“What is the best way to get students to learn from history?” Kuninaka asked himself.

This eventually led to the foundation of a student venture business that he called “Gachiyun.”

The name is a combination of two Okinawan expressions: “gachi” for “serious” and “yuntaku” for “conversation.”

When students visit Okinawa on field trips, Kuninaka arranges for university students to mingle with them and ask questions, as well as encourage them to voice their thoughts and feelings.

Asked what they thought Okinawa had lost in World War II, the students answered, “life,” “culture,” “livelihood” and “freedom.”

“Students may simply tune out if all you do is give them an impassioned talk,” Kuninaka said. “What is important is for the students to verbalize what they think and feel.”

June 23 is Okinawa memorial day. The Battle of Okinawa officially ended on this day in 1945. With the passage of 71 years, survivors have dwindled in number. This reduces the opportunities for younger generations to hear firsthand accounts of what happened in Okinawa.

I hope this does not mean that people, in Okinawa and especially on the Japanese mainland, will cease to raise questions about the continued existence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture.

Okinawa is definitely not the only place where “serious conversation” is needed.

(Go to original article)

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