Okinawa’s ‘Reversion’ 50 Years On

Alan Christy

University of California Santa Cruz

The Yaeyama Wartime Malaria Reparations Campaign and the Postwar Meanings of the Battle of Okinawa

In 1988, Shinohara Takeo discovered that he and his family had been victims of a war crime in 1945 on Ishigaki Island. The discovery came in a single entry in a Battle of Okinawa timeline in the back of the museum catalog for the former Peace Memorial Museum in Mabuni which read, “On June 2 each of the units on Miyako and Yaeyama forcibly removed civilians to the malarial zones in the mountains in preparation for battle.” Shocked to learn that the deaths of his mother and sister from malaria were not just a coincidence, but the result of a conscious decision by Japanese military leaders, Shinohara launched a campaign for the survivors to receive reparations from the Japanese government. Along the way, the campaign compiled historical documents and survivors’ testimonies that documented the history of malaria in Yaeyama and revealed an uncomfortable historical relationship between the “outer islands” and the main island of Okinawa. In particular, the work of writing the Yaeyama wartime experience into the historical memory of the Battle of Okinawa has presented challenges to the dominant narratives from both the Japanese and Okinawan perspectives. The reparations campaign ultimately adopted a strategy of arguing for Yaeyama malaria survivors’ inclusion in the 1952 “War Casualty, War Dead and War Bereavement Benefits Law.” This strategy, like the conservative line in the Japanese American mass incarceration reparations campaign, placed an emphasis on loyalty and obedience as grounds for compensation. Yet the work of historical documentation also unlocked a variety of irreconcilable resentments \that continue to trouble memory in the islands.

Alan Christy is an Associate Professor of History, Director of the Okinawa Memories Initiative and the Provost of Cowell College at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of A Discipline on Foot: Inventing Japanese Native Ethnology, 1910-1945 (Rowman and Littlefield, 2012) and is currently working on a book on the Yaeyama wartime malaria incident and reparations campaign.