Skip to content

Memorial Day


Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

This is the story of when a certain minister of state who was the director of the Okinawa Development Agency1 in November 1998, visited Okinawa for an inaugural speech and an inspection. He toured the Memorial Towers and the Cornerstone of Peace in Mabuni of Itoman. When the prefectural attendant began to explain: “Every year, on June 23rd…” He asked, puzzled, “Now, what happened on June 23rd?” From what I’ve heard, the official exclaimed “Akisamiyō2,” on the spot.
 As the director, we expected him to know the meaning of June 23rd. Nevertheless, the world is full of unknowns and some things cannot be helped.

During World War II, Okinawa was the only site in Japan where there was a land battle that embroiled civilians. During this Battle of Okinawa, there were over 230,000 casualties, including American and Japanese soldiers along with civilians. June 23rd 1945 is said to be the day the Battle ended; the day the high commander of the Japanese 32nd Army in the defense of Okinawa, Lieutenant General Ushijima Mitsuru committed suicide. Therefore, since 1974, the Okinawa Prefecture has issued an ordinance to set June 23rd as Memorial Day, its own holiday, to commemorate the spirits of the victims. However, various opinions exist on the exact date marking the end of the Battle. The former governor Ota Masahide, known for his studies on the Battle of Okinawa, insisted that June 23rd should not be the day the war ended from the fact that the combat had not stopped. What ended on the day was merely the organized battles by the Japanese Army, and it was criticized as a military-centric memorial that did not reflect the reality of the disastrous war that went on involving the citizens. The enactment of this ordinance gave rise to heated controversies. Anyhow, the Memorial Day of June 23rd has come to stay as a day of profound prayer for those living in Okinawa. On this day, people pray in silence along the noon time signal broadcasted from radios and TVs. Many of the elderly members of the victim’s family participate in the memorial service held in Itoman and then visit their own Memorial Tower to give tribute and heavenly bliss to the fallen. On this day, Okinawa is veiled in the fumes of incense as people pray, palm to palm.

Editor’s Note:

  1. In 2001, the Okinawa Development Agency was integrated into the Cabinet Office following the reorganization of the central government ministries and agencies.
  2. Okinawan exclamation.