Archive for September, 2012

Okinawan Naval Underground

I’m no history buff when it comes to World War 2 so I was relatively surprised to learn that Okinawa was the site of a huge battle, the Battle of Okinawa.  When my sister suggested that we visit the tunnels of the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, I jumped at the chance.  To show you where we areA view of Okinawa from a hilltopthis is the view from the visitor’s entrance on top of the tunnelsA tunnel leading down to theheadquartersand this is the stairs we went down to get to the headquarters.

A picture of men digging through stone with pickaxes and an old pickax below it.The 450 meter tunnels were cut by hand with pickaxes by hand to hold the 4000 men they would hide.  Earlier in the battle the sailors had built and fortified these tunnels as the headquarters of their navy.  When they were ordered north to another position, they had destroyed the weapons that were hard to carry, like cannons and other big guns.  When they arrived to their new headquarters, they found barely any protection and begged their leaderA gray picture of the Japanese rear admiral in uniformRear Admiral Minoru Ota to return to the tunnels for a final stand against the Americans.  Finally he agreed and the Navy sailors that could still move went back to the underground headquarters.

The tunnels were powered by 3 generators kept in spaces like this one.

A gray sketch of many men standing up and leaning on poststo fall asleep.

Space was so tight the petty officers, at least a few hundred men, had to sleep standing up, leaning against poles.The petty officers had two rooms this sizeA wooden structure of purely wooden poles for the men to sleep onand this is a recreation of what they had to sleep on.  Their motto by this time in the war was “Do Without Until We Win” and this headquarters is a good example of that ideal.  Even the Rear Admiral went with that ideal.A small stone room with a single desk and a vase of flowersThis is his office/dinningroom/sleeping quarters.  Although he was the only person in the complex to have his own room, he got much less than most officers would demand now a days.  There medical area was merely a cave in the wall where supplies were kept and there might be enough room for a new patient to be laid on the floor to be treated.A room hardly larger than many people living room carved of stoneThe code room was the biggest room in the complex and where the Japanese codebreakers would work for hours trying to break the American code or communicating with their own forces.A fake wooden suppoort recreated to look like real woodMy sister is pointing at these in the ceiling beam.  She thought they might be some sort of code, I thought they may have been counting the days they were in the tunnels, similar to a calender.  Then we realized that the room had been redone and the supports were merely a form of plastic made to look like wood.  The marks are probably a recreation of how they bent the wood or something to do with building.A poster showing men running out of the tunnel poorly armed near a tunnel openingThis is one of the main exits where the sailors  ran out poorly armed to fight the incoming Americans.  The Battle of Okinawa is known for its kamikaze attacks.  Although used throughout the Pacific war, kamikaze attacks were a huge part of the Japanese defense strategy.  With few planes and barely any weapons remaining, kamikazes,both on plane, on land and when possible by water on small speed boats were used.  It was common for sailors to be sent from the tunnels with a few grenades, a sword attached to a stick as muskets were scarce, and orders of where to attack.  A lot of Americans died due to these attacks but so did a lot of Japanese.  They also used the local populations who mostly willingly fought for the Japanese.  (The Wikipedia article says they were sent out at gunpoint to attack the Americans but the Rear Admiral sent a message back to Tokyo saying how willingly the civilians helped the war effort, even as they lost their homes and lives.  He was requesting that the government look kindly on the Okinawans in the future.)

This s one of the few tombs on the site for all those who died in the tunnels.  In the middle of June the highest ranking Japanese sailors, including Rear Admiral Ota, shot themselves in an honorable suicide inside the tunnels.  When the tunnel was finally excavated years after the war, they found 2,400 people dead inside of the 5,000 men the rear admiral had brought back from the other position.

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Today my sister and I created a project using the Okinawan technique called bingata.  Look here to see my experience with bingata and here to learn about the art.  Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds!

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I’m Off To Oki!

The time finally came for me to take time off work and go travel.  My first stop is Okinawa, Japan to see my sister.  To get there I needed  to take the train from my town to Narita International Airport outside of Tokyo.  I left my place an hour before my train was scheduled to leave.  My schedule was to get the 9:57 train to Tutsuka, a stop one beyond Ofuna.  (Keep that in mind, it will come in handy later.)  I knew the schedule had the train to Narita leaving Ofuna at 10:15 to get to Tutsuka at 10:18 to continue it’s ride to Narita.  I knew Ofuna was a huge train station so I decided to catch the train at the assumed would be the smaller station.

I got on the 9:44 train and thought to find my track and wait for my train.  I followed the sign to Narita Express, waited for the train, and got on the spiffy Narita Express…to Ofuna.  Yep, I got on the wrong train.  Luckily I had time to grab my backpack and my suitcase and hush to the other track.  I managed to get on the correct train right before it left the Ofuna train station and sat down to wait.  The train was supposed to pull into Narita at 11:58, it puled in at 12:45.  From what I could tell a bullet train had thrown off all the trains in the system by breaking down.  That slowed my train down but I had planned for that.  Thanks to previous experiences nearly missing a plane at Narita due to assuming the schedule,I had gotten the schedule for a train route arriving at Narita over two hours before I needed to board so being nearly an hour late arriving at the airport didn’t bother me.  As I hurried through the airport to find the domestic flights I passes a Japanese who had decided to cause a scene.  He was screaming (in Japanese) and swinging a large metal something to keep the airport cops away.  I walked around the attendants keeping us away from the scene and saw as I went up the elevator that about four cops had finally gotten the man on the ground and they were restraining him.

I finally found the check-in place for my plane and realized they were already checking baggage and all for the flight.  I got through the line (had to check my suitcase since it was too heavy to be in the car) and looked at my clock.  I had an hour before the flight started to board and I was hungry.  Having been to Narita before, I headed for the shopping area above the international departures terminal for lunch.  I walked around the area and saw mostly sit down restaurants.  Since I couldn’t be sure I would get my food in time to enjoy it, I settled for McDonalds.  I couldn’t read the menu and pointed at a fried burger.  Turned out their fish fillet was a shrimp fillet.  Not bad for lunch and I had a half hour to wait.  I tried to call my sister but she was busy so I went through the security checkpoint.  I didn’t realize that I could bring an open bottle of water through the check point so I threw out my half empty bottle, only to have them ask if I could take out my water for the x-ray machine.  After informing them I had no water in my bag, I got through and my sistercalled me back just as I walked through the checkpoint.

I called her back after I’d put all my stuff back in my bag and gotten out of the loud area.  We talked as I walked to the gate and we hung up after I told her it looked like my plane would be on time.  We were supposed to start boarding at 2:25.  At 2:45 a lady came down and put a note up, all in Japanese but the numbers 1600.  The plane would take off at 4:00 pm.  Um, okay.  Boarding started a little after 3:30.  I was told to come back at 3:50.  They wanted to board the back of the plane first and I was near the front of the plane.  I got back in line a little before their assigned time and we got on buses.The front of a bus, or airport limo, that took us to the plane.

The bus took us to the plane and this what I saw:A small passenger plane with a van in front of itYep, they were just finishing loading the luggage and the meals were still being loaded.  We sat on the bus for about twenty minutes before they let us on the plane. I got to my seat at 4:21, yes, that is after the plane was supposed to have taken off.  We all got in our seats and I started to dose on and off.  The plane finally took off at 5:30.  Yay.  After some turbulence and some awesome views of the sunset over JapanA strip of red between clouds with a clear blue sky above the clouds   Unfortunately our altitude and the fact that the window reflected the image of me inside the plane after dark kept me from getting any really awesome pictures.  It was fun watching the clouds go by because they reminded me of ghosts: just wisps of white floating in the air outside my window.  I ate a bento box and got a bottle of water as my meal and finally got to Okinawa at 8:05 pm.  After picking up my checked bag I headed to the arrivals area to hug my sister and we were off to her house and her two cats.  (Her husband is away on emergency business for now so he probably won’t be here for my visit.)  Ah, travel time wth family.

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