Tomiko Higa’s The Girl with the White Flag is about a girl who survived the Battle of Okinawa during the Asia-Pacific War in 1945.
She appeared in America’s military photograph holding a white flag as she surrendered to the American troops somewhere in southern Okinawa where American troops proliferated and secured quickly. Her objective was to find her sisters but changed into surviving with an old couple hidden away in the caves. I encourage all Japanese people to read this powerful memoir.
There are a lot of fascinating minute details worth looking at. For example, an equal amount of Okinawan civilians and Japan’s Imperial Army died in war at about two-hundred thousand per group. Japanese soldiers didn’t treat the Okinawan people well. Civilians and soldiers would hideaway in the caves at the southern coast, and if a child was crying, they would remove the child and the family from the cave. They did this so American troops wouldn’t find them. Another detail worth noting that most of the battle took place in the southern region of Okinawa, namely known today as Itoman, Tomigusuku and Shuri. Aside from the Shuri, which has buried the Second World War underneath them, Itoman and Tomigusku has some of the lowest cost of rent on the island. The north maintains its high cost because it’s surrounded by resort hotels. Locals have told many people aside from farmers choose not to live in the south because the spirit of their ancestors who’ve died in the war reside in the area. Driving past the shopping center, Itoman city begins to look abandoned and decrepit, and like a ghost town. There is a shopping center in the middle of downtown. All that survived is an old comic book cafe where teens hideaway to read their manga comics with cheap beverages and cold dishes. In the arcades you’ll find supermarkets and fishmongers selling beautiful groupers (akajin) and tuna. But there aren’t many people to purchase the quality items. You might find the shadow of an old man in a nice navy pinstriped jacket walking at the end of bright tunnel with a grocery bag hanging on the strength of his arms.
I wanted to share this book with my students who were stronger in Japanese than they were in English. But when I went to the commercial bookstore Junkudo there wasn’t a single copy to be found. Ordering a copy took about two weeks, said the book salesman in his green apron as if her were stocking vegetables in the commissary. I wondered why this wonderful neat book wasn’t in most households in Japan. It signified a trying time in Japan’s history–that is if Okinawa is truly considered in Japan’s sense of social studies. My colleague Kyohei Shimizu told me Okinawa tried many times to include Okinawa history in their social studies curriculum. The problem was that it would have to impact the national curriculum. Literally in Japan all the prefectures in the public school follows the same pages in their textbooks, turning the glossy pages altogether. All the pages are designed to do two pages a day, much like business textbooks. There are two sections on a certain subject. For example, in chapter on America, you have section discussing America’s proliferation of its hamburger chains across the world, and on the next page, the section is elaborating some of America’s influence on the world, like jeans, coca cola, and jazz music. Given all the time a student must complete to be awarded his middle school certificate, the student must complete a certain amount of hours of education, and thus the student can complete the entire book. However, in its defense, unlike the blubbery American textbooks, these can actually be finished. That is why, even when school closes in the face of an impending natural disaster, like a typhoon, they make up those days with weekends. There just isn’t enough time to study the suffering of the Okinawan people during the Second World War. Yet, there is enough time to study the propaganda Tojo Hideki used to lure the Japanese people into conquering their Asian neighbors.
Okinawa’s past has just become another relic in the form of museums instead of a live burning idea of Japan’s history. There’s a lovely park called the Okinawa Prefecture Peace Memorial that does a fine job rendering the Battle of Okinawa within the perimeters of the time. The curators showed the Imperial Army’s propaganda which led to the war, the carnage and warfare amid the war, and America’s presence after the war. On the left side of the park there are large marble walls with civilians’, Japanese troops’, and American troops’ names etched into it in gold. Inside the museum there is information about how Okinawa civilians survived and how the American troops invaded the island bombing the verdant hills of Motobu in broad daylight. Some schools send their students to Okinawa to visit the park, but it isn’t necessary. I find the Battle of Okinawa one Japan’s most inhumane behavior under severe duress. I believe Okinawa’s ministry of education has an onus to study one of its most oppressive era to invigorate the Ryukyuan spirit. Japanese companies continue to flourish in Okinawa, putting themselves in command, and dismantling some of Okinawa’s cities into ghost towns.