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Okinawa prefecture

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Okinawa (沖縄) is the southern most prefecture of Japan and the main island of the Ryukyu island chain. Because Okinawa had been the half-independent Ryukyu Kingdom until 1879, Okinawa has a culture and a language that are different from mainland Japanese. The Okinawan language, known locally as Uchinaguchi, is only used by older Okinawan people. Most of the younger Okinawan people prefer to speak Japanese.

The Battle of Okinawa, fought in 1945, was one of the last major battles of World War II, claiming the lives of an estimated 120,000 people. Okinawa was the only place where there was a land battle in Japan during WW II, and it was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. In addition to the Japanese military people who died fighting in the Battle of Okinawa, more than one third of the civilian population, 100,000 people, died. The Okinawa victims were not only killed by bombs and shells, but also by the Japanese military.

The island was occupied by the United States as a result of World War II.

The 1972 reversion of Okinawa completed the return of control of the main islands to Japan.

Karate Okinawa is also considered the birth place of karate. The origins of this form of martial art are not clear, but were likely born from the synthesis of an external style of kung fu brought from China and native Okinawan fighting techniques, known as Okinawa-te or simply Te. A ban on weapons in Okinawa for two long periods in its history very likely contributed to the purely weaponless nature of karate.

American service men and woman stationed in Okinawa after World War II learned karate there and took the martial art to America where it grew in popularity.

Okinawan Tension with Japan Many Okinawans refuse to raise the Japanese flag at official events, because of the flag's percieved link to Japan's emperor, the Japanese Imperial Military, and the World War II Battle of Okinawa. The Japanese flag reminds many Okinawans of the worst aspects of Japanese imperialism.

On October of 1987, Mr. Syoichi Chibana burned the Japanese flag while it was being raised for the Kaiho National Athletic meet in Yomitan, Okinawa. This incident not only shocked Okinawans, but also Japanese.

During the Battle of Okinawa, Japanese soldiers killed Okinawan civilians. One reason was due to non combatants disturbing the Japanese military in their hiding places. During the battle, people hid in the many caves on Okinawa. At first, there were only civilians, but the soldiers also took refuge in the caves after the fighting became intense. During the many fierce battles, the babies in the caves started crying. Their mothers tried to stop the crying, but the soldiers, being afraid of being found by the enemy, murdered the babies at once. This brutality was not unusual to the Okinawans. They were also killed over small amounts of food. "At midnight, soldiers would wake up Okinawans and take them to the beach. Then they chose Okinawans at random and threw hand grenades at them." (Moriguchi, 1992)

The suspicion of being a spy was another reason why Okinawans were killed. Classified World War II Japanese military documents describe punishment for Okinawans who didn't speak Japanese. They were declared spies, and killed for speaking their own language. Additionally, Japanese soldiers shot Okinawans who wanted to surrender to Allied Forces appealing to them to quit fighting. The Japanese military commanders were afraid of their subordinates losing their fighting spirit while watching civilians surrender. So they killed civilians to prevent their troops from losing morale.

During March 1945, there was an intense battle on Yaeyama Island. The Japanese military forced people to evacuate from their towns to the mountains even though malaria was prevalent there. Okinawans, without food and medicine, lost 54% of the island's population to starvation and disease. After WW II, the government told that the Japanese military didn't knew that malaria was prevalent on Yaeyama Island, however there is some evidence that this was known before evacuating the Okinawans to the mountains. The bereaved families of the malaria victims filed a lawsuit against the government for its responsibility.

The Princess Lilies Another point of Okinawan resentment is due to that the WWII Japanese military forced school girls to join a group known as the Princess Lilies and go to the battle front as nurses. The Princess Lilies was an organization made up of girl students, 15 to 16 years old, who participated in the battle as nurses. There were seven girl's high schools in Okinawa at the time of WW II. The Princess Lilies were organized at two of them, and a total of 297 students and teachers joined the group and eventually served the Army as nurses. Two hundred and eleven died. Most of the girls were put into caves, which served as temporary clinics, and took care of injured soldiers. There was no medicine, food or water. Many of the young girls died while trying to get water for the wounded soldiers. The Japanese military also told these girls that if they were taken prisoner the enemy would rape and then kill them, and then gave the girls hand grenades to commit suicide with before being taken prisoner. One of the Princess Lilies explains this by saying, "We had a strict imperial education, so being taken prisoner was the same a being a traitor. We were taught to prefer suicide to becoming a captive." --(Moriguchi, 1992) Many students died saying "Tenno Banzai." which means "Long live the Emperor."

The board of education, made up entirely of mainland Japanese, required the girls' participation. Teachers opposed to the board of education, insisting the students be evacuated to somewhere safe, were accused of being traitors.



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