Japan’s ‘Reversion Children’ Help Preserve Battle of Okinawa Stories

OKINAWA, Japan – Okinawans born in 1972 are often referred to as “reversion children” because their year of birth coincided with Okinawa’s return to Japan after 27 years of American rule. Half a century later, a number of these people are working on a documentary film featuring testimonies from people who survived the Battle of Okinawa. The film is an attempt to preserve for posterity the words and thoughts of people who lived through the war, and, in particular, the fierce battle that took place on the isolated island of Ie.

The project is carried by the general association Yui 515, led by Seiya Higa, president of a video production company in Nakagusuku, Okinawa prefecture, Japan, and closely assisted by his friend Hiroki Kawata, from the comic duo Garage Sale . Yui 515 includes more than 300 people who help provide food aid to families in need.

The project was launched two years ago following a request sent to the company in Higa requesting materials for peace education. As part of the project, the company recorded a video interview with 84-year-old Kamekichi Uchima, who experienced the fighting on Ie Island.

Around 1,500 islanders are believed to have died during the six days of fighting that took place after American forces landed on the island in April 1945.

Uchima explained how around 25 of his relatives – 12 of whom died in a poison gas attack – huddled for safety in large stone graves. Uchima spoke hesitantly on camera, detailing how the adults had discussed ways to take his own life and the devastating effects such events had on his young mind.

“I think the world is a happy place now, so why are so many people still killing themselves?” he said. In response to these words, Higa felt the need to record similar testimonies from war survivors to convey the value of life to young children today.

As the 50th anniversary of Japan’s reversion approached, Higa recalled thinking, “We, the children of reversion, must pass on [the survivors’ messages]When he told Kawata about his desire to make a movie, Kawata agreed, saying, “We don’t have much time to listen to our grandparents’ voices.”

Last year, Higa and Kawata traveled to the island to speak with Uchima and other survivors. They also held a round table and collected testimonies from eight people. As filming progressed, Higa decided to use a documentary format to simply capture the testimonies, believing that the survivors’ words would carry more weight if recorded without any sort of direction.

Higa is expected to revisit the island on May 15, the date of the reversion. He plans to speak with survivors and show clips from the film at an online memorial event marking the island’s connection to Okinawa’s capital, Naha.

The film, titled “Yui Du Takara” (Connection is Treasure), is expected to be completed around summer; part of the profits will be donated to an association that fights against child poverty in the prefecture.

“I believe this is the year to express our gratitude to the elderly we are connected to and to commit ourselves to leaving a bright future in Okinawa for the children in 100 years.”

According to the Okinawa prefectural government, 20,871 people were born in the prefecture in 1972. Okinawans born during the April 1972 to March 1973 school year are also known as reversal children. As they were born after 27 years of rule by the United States, these people have recently attracted attention as symbolic and key players in opening up a bright future in Okinawa.

This temple bell in the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum was one of many cultural artifacts feared to be lost forever in 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa, the last major battle in the Pacific . (Mari Higa/Stars and Stripes)