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My research explores conceptualisations of peace on the Okinawan main island in the aftermath of the Second World War, with a specific focus on Okinawan war/peace museums and memorials commemorating the many thousands of Okinawans who died in the final months of the war. During my ten days in Okinawa, I was struck by the haunting presence of the remnants of war, seeing US military bases and personnel on my way to fieldsites, but also witnessing how the word ‘peace’ (heiwa 平和) was invoked at almost every juncture, from street names to explicit written prayers for peace and denuclearisation. But contrary to this presence was the absence of Okinawan war survivors themselves, only remaining through the inscriptions of their names on countless memorial towers all over the island. And not only was ‘peace’ invoked, but ‘war’ too, as some sites toed a rather uncomfortable line between remembering the dead and glorifying their terrible actions, especially in the case of Japanese army commanders. I was therefore constantly reminded of the unfinished project of peace in the aftermath of war, and the complex ethnographic landscape of Okinawa within Japan and the global project for peace and demilitarisation.


‘The Cornerstone of Peace’

This monument was unveiled in 1995 in Itoman, remembering thousands of people who died not only in the Battle of Okinawa, the deadliest land battle ever fought in Japan, but also everybody who died in the Asia-Pacific War, and those who died immediately after. Names are grouped by nationality, but not by occupation, emphasising the lethal reverberating effects of war across national borders, as well as remembering civilians alongside soldiers in equal measure. The Cornerstone of Peace is also marked by a flame that faces the rising sun, and aligns perfectly with it at noon on 23 June, the anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa (Irei no Hi 慰霊の日). The flame is lit from the same fire as those at the peace memorials at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, undergirding the national grassroots project for everlasting peace on the archipelago. This flame is still so far from achieving its goal, symbolised by how close to the vanishing point it is in my image.


‘Transnational Prayers for Peace’

At the end of the route through the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum is a board for visitors to write ‘messages for peace’. Multicoloured square sheets are placed next to the board for anyone to write. Children’s handwriting asking for peace in the simplest of words are pinned next to serious ruminations on the declining viability of peace efforts and the hope we must retain in the face of terrifying global events. And right in the centre are two words in English: “FREE PALESTINE!” Two words that have galvanised global protest and uprisings against the hegemony that has allowed Gazans to starve as a result of the impunity of the Israeli regime. From Okinawa to Palestine, peace remains at the forefront of so many people’s minds.


‘The Dead and the Living’

Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum sits in the capital of Okinawa, only a short distance away from Naha Airport. It is a smaller site documenting the terrifying final moments of over 1,500 passengers and crewmembers who died after a US submarine sunk the Tsushima-maru ship in August 1944. Over 700 of these passengers were children attempting to evacuate Okinawa to avoid death and disease. Their names are inscribed here at the Kozakura Monument in their memory, calling on people to remember them in the name of peace. The adjacent museum attempts to display pictures of every victim of the tragedy, although this collection is not yet complete. I was particularly struck by the single red flower descending from a vine above the names of the dead, a poignant symbol of life despite adversity. The bracelets placed on the statue of the bodhisattva Kannon, associated with compassion and reified widely across Japan, are a reminder of the constant visits people still pay to this monument in memory of the children who never got to grow up in a demilitarised Okinawa.