Daily Archives: 21 April 2017

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Atrocities

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Mr. Higa got the job as U.S. pavilion bartender, or “lounge captain” thru an employment agency and a friend he had in it who thought this might be a possible part-time job until the organic chemistry prof. began teaching at RYUUKYUU University next year. Mixology was more than likely the foundation stone of the chemical sciences anyway, and goes back a long, long way in history. Having studied abroad at Ohio State and the University of Hawaii for some eight dedicated years, he is now in his mid-thirties, and so has rather vivid childhood memories of the dreadful, bloody, blitzkrieg invasion of Okinawa that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, a majority of which were Okinawan civilians, over a few short months.

When his house was burned by the U.S. troops in their clean-up operation of Japanese troop hideouts, his family went in afterwards and ate all of the cooked, garlic that had been stored on the shelves for seeding the next crop. The mountains were a refuge in those days, and most of the people of his village, KATSUYAMA [勝山], spent the daylight hours hidden in their cover, slipping down to their homes at nights to dig out SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes from the fields. Sometimes they would find rice and hard crackers in the quickly deserted camps of Japanese troops who had long since fled those posts. Everyone was desperate for grub, and he can remember dirty army deserters who came to their house fully armed and demanded food at the point of a gun. Not every Japanese soldier committed suicide in the face of defeat.

One day, before the clean-up burnings, a few U.S soldiers came to the HIGA home and sat on the front porch. The family was home and they all raised their hands in surrender and waited. The soldiers offered the children candy, but the parents told the youngsters in their tongue that they were not to eat it. Seeing the fear, the squad took the candy and bit off bits of it to show the locals that it was safe. Mr. Higa and his brothers then ate the goods quickly, altho Higa-san claims that he can’t remember if “it was good or not.” The youngest brother, still quite unaware of the whole situation, tried to play with the rifle of one soldier. The man took out the ammunition cartridge and gave the child the weapon to fiddle with.

Since Mr. Higa’s father was the KUCHOU [区長] ‘village head’, their house had been chosen as the temporary living quarters of WATANABE, the commander of a camp of Japanese soldiers who were setting up tents and settling in caves in the area before the invasion. This was an honor of a sort for the HIGA family, and when the commander’s private servant didn’t cook for him, the HIGA family included him in their humble meals. The village was expected to give provisions to the small Japanese post there in the foothills, most of whose men were from the Japanese mainland.

Altho the Okinawan people had been under Japanese gov’t for long enough to feel part of “the nation,” the mainlanders treated them like inferiors at times, even in the midst of a “united” war effort.

When Mr. Higa saw the negative press coverage that Japanese news media gave the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, he said that the big headlines seem to indicate they had “forgotten their own” atrocities. He mentioned the “massacres” at KUMEJIMA [久米島], and KERAMA [慶良間] of Okinawan civilians who were shot because they tried to surrender, or were given hand grenades to carry into the enemy lines and to blow up their families with. One supposedly responsible Japanese commander by the name of AKAMATSU is reputed to be living in Kobe, Japan, today and is a businessman. Some years ago, he came back to Okinawa and the papers got wind of it and the whole devilish drama was unburied though he denied guilt or responsibility.

One thing that surprised many of the mountain refugees was how little they came in contact with the poisonous HABU [波布] viper which loves the rocky mountains. Only two cases are recalled by Mr. Higa, one being a lovely young girl who was bitten in the arm, the other being a boy a few years younger than young HIGA, who was bitten in the face. The girl’s arm festered and swole up, and was later amputated by the American medical team who treated her area. She is now living in Brazil, one of the many Japanese immigrants. The boy still has an ugly scar on his face, but survived.

When the war finally finished, and families came out of the hills, the U.S. troops relocated them in camps, the villagers of KATSUYAMA [勝山] being assigned to HANEJI [羽地] in the flatlands south of there. Some food was supplied by the Occupation forces but many of the families dug up all the SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes that they could find in their fields, and carried them on their backs to the shoreline shacks. It was there that young HIGA started school, in April, one year after the invasion began.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Telephones

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Okinawa suffers a form of communications schizophrenia which it is only recently recovering from. The two worlds of this small island, on-base and off-base, each have their own ding-a-ling system, and if one of us who resides on-base were to call our home from off-base, we would have to dial a 10-digit number just to get the base commercial operator, to whom we must then give another 5-digit number to get our party on the line: 098 (area code)-938 (exchange number)-1111 (base operator), then ask for 35332, for instance. But even the local off-base population has to dial a 10-digit number including the Okinawan area code, just to call their neighbor. Worst of all, I can’t call an off-base number from on-base, or at least not officially. This is frustrating.

However, I had not been here a week when I was told by a very friendly local that not only dialing off-base is possible, but dialing anywhere in Japan for free was common practice from base phones. One only has to have plenty of patience and a little “know how.” The speed and rhythm of dialing is important, but only consists of an initial 9 for off-base, then any area code and number in the country. An operator never interrupts to ask, “what the hell you think you’re doing?” And the worst that happens is that you sometimes get cut off by a busy signal. Unbelievably risk-free.

I suppose that people everywhere know and pursue ways to “beat” the telephone establishment, just as IT&T has gotten fat “beating” the public. Still on many telephones today one can click the receiver button down rapidly for as many times as the number, say 6, that he is dialing, then pause, then click it down again however many times for the next number and so on until you have gotten the other party by simply using the sound that the phone makes when it is hung up in place of the signal that the dial sends out when it is correctly turned. The simple computer that “understands” your dial of 6, let’s say, by the six emitted sound pulses that the fingerhole sets off while returning to its original position next to 6 after you’ve dialed it, also “understands” 6 timely pulses from the click of your receiver button in the same undifferentiating way. Knowing this gimmick was especially handy when you didn’t have a dime for a telephone booth call, and had to make do with the receiver button instead of the dial, which took a dime to get going.

As I mentioned, timing is important, because there are gross differences between phones. Some, when you’ve dialed them, fly back around to their position before you’re ready to stick the ol’ finger in the next choice hole. Others are so slow in setting up for the next number that many a user has forgotten the whole number sequence in the menacing pause. Tokyo’s phones are fast and your party is on the line in no time. Osaka’s dials crawl back like the prodigal son. U.S. phones are usually between these two. When you cheat by using the receiver button tapping method, you must know the dialing interval of the phone you are tampering with. Especially hard are dials of 9 on Tokyo-like blitz phones, where you have to click the button down 9 separate and distinct evenly-spaced times in an interval that doesn’t seem divisible by even two. Osaka phones, on the contrary, aren’t much of a challenge to the phoney phoner (practiced). But alas, the phones being installed now are more finely fangled, so this is a dying art.

I hadn’t been at Expo long when I got a call one dreamy morning from a girl near Tokyo who was an operator for her company. and who took advantage of this calling to talk long and distant whenever she had the notion, which came to be everyday. She claimed that the phone bills were never questioned.

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