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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 November 2007, 01:09 GMT
Okinawa's war time wounds reopened
When Japanese officials decided to erase Okinawa's most notorious war time incident from official textbooks, residents were furious. They explained to the BBC's Pramod Morjaria why their anger has not abated.

Mitsuoko Oshiro
Mitsuoko Oshiro was given a grenade and told to kill herself

A bustling group of islands surrounded by clear waters and coral reef, Okinawa is a haven for tourists all over Asia.

But look beyond the glitzy malls and neon lights, and it is not long before you get a sense that history, too, is very much visible.

The island group is hundreds of miles south of Tokyo - Japan gained full control of the islands as recently as the 1970s.

It is home to almost 50,000 Americans, and US military bases are scattered across the islands - a legacy of World War II.

Okinawa was one of the few places in Japan to see ground fighting during the war.

Now painful memories of the conflict are being revived, and there is deep anger towards the Japanese government.

Earlier this year the education ministry in Tokyo edited history textbooks, removing references to the Japanese Imperial Army ordering people to commit suicide during the war.

Rat poison

Hunched over a garden bench, 81-year-old Mitsuoko Oshiro recalls how she was given a grenade by a soldier, who told her that if she failed to use it to kill herself and her family, she would be raped and tortured by the Americans.

Takejiro Nakamura
Takejiro Nakamura blames the army for his sister's death

"I wanted to die, but I couldn't do it. We fled to the hills when the Americans invaded, but they didn't harm us - they just let us go," she says.

But 11 members of her extended family obeyed the orders - they all died by taking rat poison.

Another survivor, 76-year-old Takejiro Nakamura, clutches a picture of his sister from before the war. He watched his mother strangle his sister in a cave.

"We all wanted to kill ourselves, because we believed the Imperial Army," he says.

His sister pleaded with his mother to kill her first, so she was strangled with a rope.

"I blame the Imperial Army. My sister would have had children and grandchildren by now."

Local records suggest several hundred people in Okinawa obeyed the Imperial Army and committed mass suicide.

The memorial which marks their final resting place lies by the main hillside road, on Zamami island.

Partial retreat

The textbook controversy led to one of the biggest protests ever seen on the island, with 100,000 people attending.

Now the Japanese government is indicating a willingness to change its position without actively intervening.


Education Minister Kisaburo Tokai says publishers are free to reinsert references in history textbooks which say the army forced people to commit suicide.

Nationalist sentiment in Japan has long involved a strong defence of its war time actions.

This explains why the politicians in Tokyo are signalling a retreat, but not officially going back on their original decision.

That is not enough for the survivors, who say they saw their loved ones die needless deaths.

Mr Nakamura says it is important for children today to know what really happened.

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