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War-time Malaria


“Wasurena-ishi”, “A Stone To Not Forget” in Iriomote Island tells the tragedy of the Hateruma Island people who lost many lives to malaria as a result of the forced evacuation.
Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

As the organized resistance by the Japanese military was about to end on mainland Okinawa, the soldiers stationed on the Yaeyama Islands issued the evacuation order on June 1, 1945, as they predicted the American military would land on the islands soon: “Officers and physicians must evacuate to designated regions by June 5, and residents by the June 10.” 

The military ordered Tonoshiro and Okawa residents to evacuate to Shiramizu, located to the southwest of Omoto Mountain; Ishigaki residents to Fukayamada; Arakawa residents to Ugadou; Hirae, Maesato, Ohama and Miyara residents to Bunatabaru; Shiraho residents to Nakamizu; Ibaruma and Hirakubo residents to Fukai.

Even prior to that time, orders were issued in March and April for the residents of Hateruma, Kuroshima, Aragusuku and Hatoma Islands to relocate to Iriomote Island until the start of August. The evacuation areas were already known to be the home of anopheles, carriers of the malaria pathogens. People were forced to live together in small shelters built in deep valleys, so as to avoid air raids. 

Within a few days, many people were infected by malaria yet the medicines, such as quinines and atebrins, to treat them were quite scarce. The unhygienic environment and poor food supply made things worse, causing the death toll to soar. 

One of the residents evacuated to Shiramizu recalls, “Soon after we evacuated to the mountains, malaria patients were found in many of the shelters. Our second daughter and my mother were suffering from a high fever too. Our second daughter died as she also developed dysentery… We didn’t have wooden boards to make her a coffin, so my wife and I carried her on a stretcher to Nagura where we dug her grave on a hill, a little away from the road. That was the only thing we could do for her. We couldn’t set up a grave post. We couldn’t prepare her memorial tablet or offer a single incense. It was a sad parting. Returning to our shelter, we found my mother’s fever had gotten worse. Two days later, she followed her granddaughter.”

(Excerpt from Citizens’ Wartime and Post-war Experiences, vol.2, Ishigaki City Center for Historiography)

People suffered greatly even after they returned to their cities and islands from the evacuated areas. In Hateruma island, entire families were affected and died without being able to treat one another, or only their small babies survived. 

According to the document issued by the Yaeyama Civil Government in 1947, the number of malaria deaths caused by the evacuation orders stood at 3,647 in the Yaeyama Islands (2,496 in Ishigaki and Ohama, 785 in Taketomi, and 366 in Yonaguni.) Around 10% of the population died of malaria during and after the war. Malaria hit Hateruma island severely, where 1,587 out of 1,590 citizens, 99.7% of the population, were affected. The record shows that 477 residents, 30.05% of the entire population, lost their lives.

In 1989, the bereaved families formed a support group for malaria-affected families due to the forced evacuation during the Battle of Okinawa and appealed for compensation based on the Act on Relief of War Victims and Survivors. The Japanese government refused to apply the Act and denied their wartime responsibility. In 1995, the case was finally settled as the government supported Okinawa Prefecture financially for the 300-million-yen consolation projects to build a cenotaph1 and a memorial hall2.

Editor’s Note:

  1. In 1997, a cenotaph for the victims of wartime malaria in Yaeyama was built at Banna Park in Ishigaki city.
  2. In 1997, Yaeyama Peace Memorial Museum opened in Shinei, Ishigaki, as a branch of the Okinawa Prefecture Peace Memorial Museum in Mabuni.