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Where are those boys from back then? - Peter Ota, a second-generation Japanese-Okinawan, and Okinawa's boy soldiers - Part 2/3

Part 1 >>

The Iron Blood Imperial Corps: War Experiences in the Okinawa Islands

The day after arriving in Okinawa, I had the opportunity to speak in detail at the headquarters of the Okinawa Times with Mr. Asato, a reporter for the newspaper, Mr. Shotoku Asato, who was a child soldier at the time, and his relative, Mr. Yotaro Asato, and also received contact information for the people who were sent to Angel Island with him.

The Tekketsu Kinno-tai was an organization formed during the last war by male students aged 14 to 17 who attended old junior high schools and normal schools in Okinawa Prefecture. Minors could not be conscripted, but due to the worsening war situation, the organization was specially formed as a so-called extralegal measure. At the time, about 1,700 young Okinawans were conscripted into the Tekketsu Kinno-tai, and more than half of them met a tragic end. Among them was sociologist Masahide Ota, who served as Okinawa Prefecture governor in the 1990s.

During the war, Shotoku Asato, who was a student at Naha First Middle School (now Okinawa Prefectural Shuri High School), was a member of the Tekketsu Kinno-tai along with his relative Yotaro Asato, and was assigned to the communications corps.

The American attacks were so fierce that when the Battle of Okinawa began, the northern part of Okinawa Island was quickly taken over by the American forces. Furthermore, the battleship Yamato, which was heading to the rescue of the Japanese army, was sunk by the American forces, and the situation became very unfavorable for Japan.

The weapons used by the American military were very different from those used by the Japanese military and were extremely destructive. The flamethrowers used by American soldiers and the artillery fire from American warships posed a great threat to the people of Okinawa.

As the war situation worsened, Asato and other members of the Tekketsu Kinno-tai fled Naha with other students and soldiers, and retreated to the southern part of Okinawa Island (present-day Itoman City, Okinawa Prefecture), which had not yet been conquered.

However, American soldiers had already advanced everywhere, making it difficult to move south, and many people lost their lives in attacks by American soldiers. Furthermore, food and water had already run out, so the retreat to the south was also a battle against starvation. Desperate to survive, Asato and his friends ate anything that looked edible, including rainwater and weeds from the roadside.

Okinawa to Angel Island

Just as they were about to reach the southern part of Okinawa's main island, Asato and his companions were surrounded by American soldiers. It was a moment when they "prepared to die." However, they were not shot on the spot, but instead loaded onto American soldiers' trucks and taken to Yaka (present-day Kin Town, Okinawa Prefecture). At that time, Yaka had a facility for Japanese prisoners of war who had been taken prisoner during the Battle of Okinawa.

After that, Asato and the other POWs who had been taken prisoner during the Battle of Okinawa were loaded onto a US military ship from Yaka. They were housed in a large, dark, and extremely unsanitary cargo hold-like space on the ship. Several times a day, American soldiers on guard brought food, but they did so by tying buckets filled with soup and other foods to ropes and dropping them from the top of the cargo hold, a method that disregarded human dignity.

About two weeks later, the ship arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii. When Asato and her friends arrived in Honolulu, Okinawans who had been taken prisoner during the Battle of Okinawa were already being held there. Some Japanese-Americans in Hawaii who saw them offered water and food to the Okinawan prisoners through the fence of the camp.

After spending a few days in the internment camp in Honolulu, Asato and his friends were once again loaded onto a US military ship. A few days later, they were taken to Angel Island, where Ota had been. Ironically, Asato and his friends set foot on Angel Island, where many other immigrants to America, including Okinawans, had set foot, but as "captives," not as "free people."

On Angel Island, Asato and his friends were under the watch of the US military, but they were allowed a certain degree of freedom. They were served meals at set times, and were allowed to play sports with other young people. It was a completely different experience from the harsh days of the Battle of Okinawa that had been just a short time before. Some of the boys who had been boy soldiers only a short time before seemed to want to leave Okinawa, which had become devastated by war, and live in America.

After the war ended, Asato and his friends were sent back to his hometown of Okinawa on a US military ship. After a three-week voyage, Asato and the other members of the Tekketsu Kinno-tai arrived on the beach in Yaka and returned to their families and relatives. After that, Asato studied in the US and then got involved in running a company in Okinawa.

Part 3 >>

© 2013 Takamichi Go

Angel Island (Calif.) armed forces Battle of Okinawa California child soldiers generations Hawaii Japan Nisei Okinawa Prefecture retired military personnel soldiers Tekketsu Kinnotai United States veterans World War II
About the Author

He studied American social history and Asian-Ocean American society, including the history of Japanese American society, at Orange Coast College, California State University, Fullerton, and Yokohama City University. Currently, while belonging to several academic societies, he continues to conduct his own research on the history of Japanese American society, particularly in order to "connect" Japanese American society with Japanese society. From his unique position as a Japanese person with "connections" to foreign countries, he also sounds the alarm about the inward-looking and even xenophobic trends in current Japanese society, and actively expresses his opinions about multicultural coexistence in Japanese society.

(Updated December 2016)

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