VOX POPULI: Memorial Day in Okinawa an event for all of Japan to share

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VOX POPULI: Memorial Day in Okinawa an event for all of Japan to share

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VOX POPULI: Memorial Day in Okinawa an event for all of Japan to share

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of The Asahi Shimbun.

June 23, 2018 at 12:05 JST

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Photo/IllutrationEmi Tani in a rehearsal in 2010 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Few things ruffle the feathers of actress Emi Tani, 53, whose stage career spans more than three decades.

But last summer, she experienced a severe case of stage fright on Mabuni Hill, site of the final phase of a bloody ground battle that officially ended on June 23, 1945.

“A total stranger to the Battle of Okinawa, I was performing in Okinawa,” Tani said. “ I almost cracked under the pressure.”

Her performance, titled “Kao” (The face), was in reader’s theater format. It is based on a story of a female survivor who was 13 years old when the battle ended.

A bomb exploded and maimed the girl's face while she was fleeing south from Shuri, part of current-day Naha, where U.S. troops were closing in.

Tani interviewed her eight years ago and wrote a script.

“A hole, looking like a pomegranate, appeared in the middle of my face .... I don't know if I should be glad to have survived,” goes one line.

Tani was born and raised in the Kanto region, but her inflection was distinctively Okinawan as she recited this passage.

Throughout the 50-minute recitation, Tani kept gauging the audience’s reaction with fear and trepidation. It was only when she saw tears on many faces at the end of her performance that she felt all tension drain away.

“It may be presumptuous for someone fr om the Japanese mainland to dramatize the Battle of Okinawa. But I wanted to let the people of Okinawa know of my desire to share their grief and mourn the dead with them.”

She first performed “Kao” in Okinawa three years ago for free. She collected donations, but they did not even cover her round-trip airfare.

Someone once got in her face, saying, “Don't you dare pretend to know anything (about Okinawa).” But she persevered and kept performing.

As many as 200,000 lives were lost in the Battle of Okinawa. Speaking with Tani, I came to seriously doubt if people outside Okinawa can simply dump on Okinawans the painful task of remembering and recounting that horrific and tragic part of World War II history.

And I became firmly convinced that evading the issue by claiming to not want to be “presumptuous” is tantamount to remaining indifferent and turning a blind eye to the reality of the overconcentration of U.S. military bases in Okinawa.< /p>

June 23 is the Okinawa Memorial Day. Various events are being held around Okinawa, and Mabuni Hill is one of the venues.

And how is the day being remembered in the rest of Japan?

I pray that Japanese citizens who have not had any direct contacts with Okinawans so far will in their own communities seek to learn and talk about the sacrifices made by the people of Okinawa, and join in their mourning.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 23

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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