Irei Sai – For the 12 Who Never Came Home

Irei Sai – For the 12 Who Never Came Home

The Okinawa delegation gathered for a group photo after the Irei Sai service at Jikoen Hongwanji.
Hawai‘i resident May (Kakazu) Oshiro and her cousin Susumu Kakazu from Okinawa hold the sanshin that Oshiro’s father, Kamesuke Kakazu, gave to Kakazu’s POW brother, Seisho, in Hawai‘i.

Hawai‘i resident May (Kakazu) Oshiro and her cousin Susumu Kakazu from Okinawa hold the sanshin that Oshiro’s father, Kamesuke Kakazu, gave to Kakazu’s POW brother, Seisho, in Hawai‘i.

Memorial Service Brings Some Measure of Closure for Two Former POWs

Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

For the first time in nearly three-quarters of a century, 12 Okinawan prisoners of war who were captured during the bloody Battle of Okinawa in World War II and who died while imprisoned in Hawai‘i were honored in several memorial services held earlier this month.

Mawa Yoshida from Okinawa dances “Hamachidori.” Yoshida’s maternal grandfather, Mansuke Nakada, was among the POWs who were imprisoned in Hawai‘i.

Mawa Yoshida from Okinawa dances “Hamachidori.” Yoshida’s maternal grandfather, Mansuke Nakada, was among the POWs who were imprisoned in Hawai‘i.

But for two of their fellow POWs — retired businessman Hikoshin Toguchi, 90, and retired Okinawa politician Saneyoshi Furugen, 87, who survived their incarceration and returned home to Okinawa in 1946 — the quest to find the remains of the 12 will continue, along with their desire to end “senseless wars.”

To that end, Choko Takayama, co-chairman of the Hawaii Deceased POWs Memorial Service Committee in Naha, hopes the governments of Japan and the United States will cooperate in the search for the remains. According to Okinawa’s Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper, a law passed last year in Japan requires that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare conduct the search and complete it by 2024.

A memorial service is held every June 23 in Okinawa Prefecture only to remember the more than 200,000 Okinawans who perished in the Battle of Okinawa. Known as “Irei no Hi,” it is held on the anniversary of the day the fighting ceased in Japan’s southernmost prefecture, the site of the only land invasion of Japan in the Second World War.

But, noted Takayama, “There is none to remember the 12 deceased POWs. This is the first time a memorial service for the 12 POWs was held in Okinawa or Hawai‘i,” he said of the Buddhist “Irei Sai” ceremony that was held at the Jikoen Hongwanji temple in Kalihi on June 4.

“It was the first time in 72 years,” Takayama said. “It was very important that we did this.”

Choichi Terukina, 85, a living national treasure of Japan in Ryükyüan classical sanshin, traveled to Hawai‘i with the 72-member delegation to perform the memorial song, “Janna Bushi.” He played the song on the sanshin that Okinawan issei Kamesuke Kakazu had brought to Hawai‘i as an immigrant in the early 1900s and passed to his POW cousin, Seisho Kakazu, after seeing the POWs plucking out Okinawan tunes on a kankara sanshin fashioned from a discarded metal can, scrap lumber and wire. Kamesuke Kakazu’s sanshin was a beautiful one, made from real snakeskin. It had consoled the homesick prisoners far away from home. When Seisho was allowed to return home to Okinawa, he took the prized sanshin with him. More than 70 years later, after Seisho had passed, younger brother Susumu felt it time to return the sanshin to their cousins in Hawai‘i and joined the Hawai‘i Irei Sai delegation.

Saneyoshi Furugen (left) and Hikoshin Toguchi prepare to scatter flower petals at Honouliuli as Brandon Ing plays “Hamachidori” on his sanshin. (Photo by Gregg Kakesako)

Saneyoshi Furugen (left) and Hikoshin Toguchi prepare to scatter flower petals at Honouliuli as Brandon Ing plays “Hamachidori” on his sanshin. (Photo by Gregg Kakesako)

Saneyoshi Furugen and Hikoshin Toguchi were teenagers when they were conscripted into the Japanese army in 1945 and then captured as prisoners of war just before the end of the 82-day battle. The two men said they lived in constant fear of being executed, even in Hawai‘i. The few bright spots during their imprisonment were their occasional contacts with local Okinawans who gave them food and emotional support.

The delegation’s nearly weeklong visit to Hawai‘i allowed them to meet with Hawai‘i Uchinanchu whose families had befriended the POWs while imprisoned here.

There were 13 prisoner of war camps in Hawai‘i — on O‘ahu, at Sand Island, Honouliuli, Schofield Barracks and Fort Hase in Käne‘ohe; and in Hilo and at the Kïlauea Military Camp on the Big Island. In all, 8,489 Japanese soldiers, Okinawan conscripts and civilians were housed in the Hawai‘i POW camps from 1943 to 1946.

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