ITOMAN, Okinawa Prefecture--On Okinawa Prefecture’s map marking the plots of landowners, 2,663 parcels of land totaling 805,000 square meters remain blank, a sad legacy of the fierceness of the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
The owners of these plots were likely killed in the battle, and those who may have known the landowners are also believed to have died.
Around 25 percent of Okinawans died during the fighting. The bombardment also destroyed village offices, which kept land ownership records, and local courts, which managed registrations. Nearly seven decades after the fighting stopped, the identities of many landowners have not been confirmed.
On June 23, the 67th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, a memorial service for the war dead was held at the Peace Memorial Park in the Mabuni district of Itoman, the site of the final stage of the battle.
“After 67 years since the end of World War II, Okinawa’s wounds remain unhealed,” Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima said. “I offer my deepest prayer for the spirits of those victimized by the battle. It is a mission and responsibility of Okinawa citizens to build a lasting peace.”
The Teruya district of Itoman became the site of a fierce firefight in the spring of 1945 between the advancing U.S. military and the retreating Japanese army. U.S. warships off the island bombarded the area.
Of the 544 residents in the Teruya district, 213, or about 40 percent, were killed. All members of 13 families were lost, accounting for 7 percent of the district’s families.
“The people, houses and fields were blown away in this area,” said Toroku Oshiro, 81, who lives near Teruya.
During the war, Oshiro had to pass through Teruya to go to his high school. He lost 13 relatives, including his grandmother, in a naval attack.
With land ownership records destroyed, surviving Teruya residents took it upon themselves to confirm boundaries after the end of World War II. But the owners of four parcels of land totaling about 476 square meters were never found.
“War destroyed our lives and hometowns, even the people who would have known who had lived where,” Oshiro said.
For the first time, the central government has allotted about 80 million yen ($996,000) for field research to find the landowners in Okinawa Prefecture. As an initial step, the government plans to ask Okinawa Prefecture and three municipalities to study ownership of 120 parcels of land.
Since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, the prefecture has identified the owners of only 369 parcels of land, an area of 167,000 square meters.
Governor Nakaima, in his peace declaration, addressed another pressing issue concerning Okinawans. He demanded that both the Japanese and U.S. governments reduce the burden of U.S. military bases carried by Okinawa Prefecture, and called for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futennma to be relocated out of the prefecture.
He also promised that the “people in the prefecture will work together for the creation of new Okinawa.”
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who attended the memorial service, pledged to reduce the burden on Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts 74 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
“I will make the utmost effort to ease the burden on Okinawa so progress can be visible,” he said.
An estimated 150,000 Okinawans died in the 90-day Battle of Okinawa, including those who succumbed to malaria and starvation.
The names of those killed in the battle that are carved on the Heiwa no Ishiji (Cornerstone of Peace) increased by 36 this year to 241,167.
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