Okinawa on Thursday marked the 77th anniversary of the end of a major World War II ground battle between Japanese and U.S. troops, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida the first Japanese leader in three years to attend the memorial service due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki in a "peace declaration" said Russia's invasion of Ukraine evoked memories of the conflict in the southern island prefecture while pledging to "continue efforts to abolish nuclear weapons and renounce war, so that Okinawa will never become a battlefield again."
The 1945 battle, during the final phase of World War II, claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians and soldiers from the Japanese and American militaries. Fighting took place from March through June of that year.
Tamaki in his speech stressed the burden Okinawa continues to bear from hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in the country, a role that continues even though on May 15 the island marked 50 years since its reversion from U.S. rule.
Tamaki also called for the central government to abandon the controversial ongoing project to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to another location in Okinawa.
Kishida in a speech said that "little by little, we will gather visible evidence of reducing the burden of the bases."
The prefecture constitutes around 0.6 percent of Japan's total land area but hosts 70.3 percent of U.S. military installations in the country by acreage.
The event held at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, the site of the final stage of the battle, was downscaled for the third consecutive year due to the pandemic and was attended by 327 people including guests and organizers.
"Thinking of that time brings tears to my eyes," said Seiko Akamine, an 83-year-old resident of the prefectural capital Naha, who said his father was killed in action during the battle and his sister was killed in front of him when she was hit by a shell.
The Battle of Okinawa was a fierce ground war that took a heavy toll on the local civilian population, with one in four of the prefecture's residents dying.
The names of 55 people were added to the list of the war dead inscribed on the Cornerstone of Peace in the Itoman park this year, bringing the total to 241,686. The list covers all the war dead, irrespective of nationality or their civilian or military status.