On Okinawa, World War II, & the supernatural
I just came back from Okinawa. Like always, I love traveling to Japan. Every trip is like returning home, home to a country with a culture I fervently admire and wish with all my Asian might Taiwan could emulate. An analysis of their discipline, passion for success, and penchant for courtesy would take years of study and a whole other philosofee Tumblr post.
This trip prompted the same respect within me, especially since Okinawa is only an hour’s plane ride from Formosa. Because if Oki is also a microscopic island located in a marine tropical climate, why do they have such goddamn spotless bathrooms, such beautiful…scootlerless, smogless, signless streets? What would Taiwan be like today if Japan hadn’t surrendered us to ROC forces in 1945? Would we still be an economic powerhouse with the most liberties any citizen of a democracy could ever dream of? Or would we be slaving away as secondary citizens on an island whose successes exclusively went to the betterment of the great nation Nihon?
But enough questions, our Okinawa agenda consisted of a seemingly perfect balance between fully exploiting the materialistic offerings of the American-Japanese hybrid (an American territory and naval base until 1972) culture and visiting historical and cultural sites. Despite the pleasure I take in shopping, when in places of significant heritage, I care more about the history than dwelling at agnès b. or Ferragamo. When I saw the agenda, however, I wanted to spoon the eyes out of the tour company imbeciles - 15 minutes at the site of the last battle of Okinawa during World War II and 3 bloody hours at the outlets. Really? What did they take us for, ignorant degenerates with no interest in the battlefields where Japan defended Okinawa to the last soldier in the Pacific War?
Most of us have watched the movie Letters from Iwo Jima. A few of us have been haunted by the candid depiction of the atrocities committed by the belligerents of World War II. But compared to the Battle of Okinawa, codenamed Operation Iceberg, the Battle of Iwo Jima was a quick stroll in the park.
The Battle of Okinawa, referred to as the typhoon of steel, had the most casualties of all the battles in the Pacific Ocean Theater of WWII. The fighting was ferocious, the number and intensity of the kamikaze attacks unprecedented. A quarter of the civilian population died. The sheer amount of Allied ships, Allied soldiers, and Japanese defenders put into the battle caused one of the greatest tragedies in the Pacific War. We were to visit the Peace Memorial Park built on top of one of the last and most bloody battlefields of the 82-day campaign. As I agitatedly voiced my sentiments, the tour-guide explained to us why we were only spending 15 min there.
Because of the great slaughter of the last battle, including the deaths of thousands of civilians, tourists and locals alike are wary of visiting the area. The bloodstained conflict wrought extreme sorrow and agony that to this day have unseen but powerful reverberations throughout the land. The people fear the uncanny, the supernatural. Hauntings. Being possessed. Bitter, grief-stricken spirits that refuse to rest.
The tour-guide told us that in the past strange things have happened to tourists and locals who visited the memorial park. Entire buses consisting of otherwise normal and sane people breaking down crying or taken over by convulsions. She didn’t go into too much detail but simply warned us that yes, we will stop by, but it was our choice whether we wanted to get off the bus or not. In the past, usually nobody got off. That’s why only 15 minutes was allotted to this destination. And this is where I get to the main point of this post -
We got to the park. My dad and I were the only two who got off. I was unafraid and curious, a brave - if you will - curiosity stemming from a good reason. The reason being whether my disbelief in the afterlife (read my previous posts) would be demolished should anything otherworldly happened to me. There was a dichotomy between the supposedly true stories I hear of spirits and hauntings and my firm skepticism of anything uncanny or supernatural. At the edge of the park, my dad turned back, using the heat as an excuse. I remembered what he said on the bus - “a few souls cannot protect itself against the anger and woe of 200,000 souls.”
I peered ahead at the beautiful park, illuminated generously by the brilliant sun. My feet took me across the green grass towards the tombstones and monuments erected for the fallen. It was so, so difficult to imagine that such immense suffering and anguish could have taken place in this peaceful complex six decades ago. I looked around, I was completely and utterly alone. Suddenly, the feeling of tranquility began to be overtaken by a subtle fear pricking my senses. What if something did happen to me and I was all alone? But then again, if I didn’t believe in anything of that sort, why was I afraid? Thus, my curiosity also accompanied the absurd fear. With every step I took across the battlefield, I was testing to see if my disbelief in supernatural occurrences would be proven wrong. I wanted to find out if the peculiar things that overcome people when they come here originated from within. Was it the placebo effect at work?
About halfway across the field, I began to feel a queasy feeling in my stomach and a slight weakening of the knees. My head felt light. These were odd symptoms but nothing that couldn’t have been caused by wild thoughts of the mind. Slightly dizzy, I slowly walked back to the bus, my disbelief slightly reaffirmed.
While nothing may have happened to me, I still don’t understand why there are so many stories out there. My disbelief in the afterlife is utterly logical, so why can’t logic describe these phenomena? Or do people just enjoy letting their imaginations run wild and causing unnecessary fear? But then again, there are far too many accounts of supernatural happenings to let people’s mischievous tendencies take the blame. Is belief in the soul and heaven the same as believing ghosts and spirits exist?
My last question is - should I even be venturing into this area, letting my curiosity and imagination take the better of me? Because if anything happens one day, if anything tries to shatter my doubt of the soul the spirit whatnot, I may just be sorry I wanted to know so much. But, what is there to fear - it is simply the unknown that humans fear, isn’t it?
Despite all the above, battlefields aren’t just places of tragedy and death. They stand as testimony to the valiance and courage that are called for in desperate circumstances. Incredible examples of human love and compassion must have been demonstrated in the historic battle. Thus, I went to the memorial park to pay my respects to the soldiers and civilians, partially in fear, but mostly in reverence.
With that said, I heard the song “Call Me Maybe” more than a dozen times during my time at Okinawa. Maybe what I really should fear is cheap talent and frivolous entertainment sweeping the globe instead of crucial knowledge of history and humanity’s trials and tribulations. What is this world coming to?
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