Progress from the War YearsVideos Testimonies of War Survivors During and After World War II

The War in Yaeyama Islands through Pictures

Mr. Masamichi Shiohira

Birth year:1933

Birth place:Ishigaki City

Yaeyama before the war intensified

I was born in Ishigaki Island in 1933. My family were my parents, grandmother, my older brother and me. My brother was called into the army soon after the war started, and he was assigned to a Japanese Army unit on the island. My father served as the head of the Yaeyama branch of the Shokuryo Eidan (food and provisions corporation), an organization in charge of storing and distributing rations.

Air raids begin

At the time of October 10th air raids in October 1944, there were air raids in Ishigaki Island as well. In the first air raid, two Japanese battleships were anchored between Taketomi Island and Ishigaki Island. All of a sudden, a U.S. Grumman fighter plane showed up and attacked the battleships. Then, the Japanese Army on Ishigaki Island provided covering fire, using anti-aircraft guns. Since it was the first time for me to see a battle, I was interested and went to the shore to watch. When they fired anti-aircraft guns from Ishigaki Island, it exploded in the air and many shell splinters dropped on Taketomi Island like a sudden shower. I heard from another war survivor that these shell splinters were not the enemy’s, but rather from the Japanese Army’s artillery. In the evening, three or four U.S. aircrafts were flying low along the shore of the urban area of Ishigaki Island from the direction of Kohama Island, firing a machine-gun towards the town from west to east. At the time, evacuations to Taiwan happened in small units called “tonarigumi” (neighborhood association). We had prepared for the evacuation to Taiwan, but the air raids took place just one week before the departure, so our evacuation to Taiwan was cancelled.

School life before the end of the war

In April 1945, I entered junior high school under the old system of education. The entrance ceremony took place throughout the fierce air raids, but it was interrupted two or three times. A bomb dropped near the school building sending splinter shells flying, which hit the thigh of my senior, who ended up bleeding. That’s the kind of entrance ceremony we had. After the principle ended his speech saying, “From today, you are all first-year students,” the head of the Blood and Iron Student Corps spoke. He began his speech saying, “You are members of the Blood and Iron Student Corps from today.” I joined the Blood and Iron Student Corps just after I entered junior high school, so I couldn’t focus on studying. I went to school with a hoe from my home, cultivated the schoolyard every day, and planted sweet potatoes. Because it was a period with very little food, I would go to the memorial playground near the school, which is where Kaisei Elementary School is now. I gathered soil from between bedrocks, piled up the soil, and planted sweet potatoes there. However, I couldn’t eat the sweet potatoes. The entire island was suffering from a food shortage so everyone looked after themselves. On my way home from junior high school with my friend, we were passing by the shrine gate of Miyatori On, and a U.S. aircraft came in front of us and started firing a machine-gun toward us. There was a row of fukugi (common garcinia) trees along the hedge of a nearby house so we hid behind one of the trees, which saved our lives. When we checked the fukugi trees after the air raid, we found a bullet mark. Without the tree, the bullet would have hit me.

Food during the evacuations

On June 1, 1945, the Japanese Army ordered us to evacuate to a mountain by June 10 because there was a possibility that the enemy would land on Ishigaki Island around June 15. The residents had made a shelter in the mountain in advance, so we all evacuated to the shelter. In the end, the U.S. military didn’t land but the air raid was severe. Before the evacuation order was issued, the food shortage had already begun. Due to the long-continued air raids, farmers were unable to work in the fields. Therefore, we dug “muiakkon.” Muiakkon in the dialect of Yaeyama means sweet potatoes left in the ground. When there were sweet potatoes left in the ground, they could grow in the ground, so we looked for them and ate them. Everyone did this, so all the sweet potatoes were dug up. We picked edible plants on roadsides and the sides of fields and ate them. There were adan (screw pine) trees on the shore. Adan are fruit that resemble pineapples. We picked each fruit stub and bit into the soft inner sides. When it rained, we went to the sweet potato fields and caught snails. They were ordinary snails, like the ones you see today. Snails were usually hiding on the underside of sweet potato leaves, but when it rained, they came to the upper side of leaves, so we caught them and put them in soup. Sometimes we caught frogs, and cooked them with salt. Frogs were the best thing to eat.

Wartime malaria

All the residents were ordered to evacuate to the mountain by the Japanese Army, and my family evacuated to a mountain in Shiramizu for three months. Most residents got infected with malaria there. I also got infected, and I had a high fever of 40.8℃. I broke out into a fever every three or four days, and every time, I put water on my forehead to cool my fever, but it persisted for about a month. After people came down with malaria, some would die in about twenty days. People now wouldn’t die that soon, but everyone was suffering from malnutrition then, so people got worse and died quickly. In the evening, some people would carry the corpses and bury them in the sides of fields near the evacuation area. At dusk, after U.S. aircrafts stopped coming, smoke from the corpses being cremated was visible.

The end of the war

When we were taking shelter in the mountain, we heard the main island of Okinawa had been completely defeated, and that the war had ended. The air-raids on Ishigaki Island had also stopped. If we had continued to stay in the mountains, we might have died of malaria. The U.S. aircrafts didn’t fire machine-guns at us even if they saw us. They were flying low, and U.S. soldiers were waving their hands toward us. So, we understood the war was over, and started to descend from the mountain. I think many evacuees went back home from the mountains after hearing the war was over. My family left the mountain before the war ended because my father had a high fever from malaria. I looked after him, putting a cold towel on his forehead. At that time, my father’s acquaintance told us that Japan had surrendered because of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We realized the war was officially over when we heard that in my father’s hospital ward. Since I was a militaristic boy at that time, I cried hard. And it wasn’t only me. Everyone was crying.

Life directly after the war

We had rations of rice and canned food from the U.S. military. Each household also kept chickens and ate them. We ate all the chickens, so we went to the fields to catch frogs. During the evacuation to the mountain, we saw wild chickens jumping from one tree to another like crows. Me and five or six classmates planned to catch them and roast them, but we couldn’t catch even one. We were all very hungry, so we descended from the mountain and went to a sugarcane field and cut down some of the sugarcane stalks. We bit on the sugar canes and drank the sap before going home. That was something I experienced. We ate up the rations from the U.S. military in about a week. I saw macaroni for the first time in one of the canned rations. There was also canned meat. The rations were assigned numbers and distributed through the neighborhood association in lottery style. I got the biggest can of meat, so my parents praised me for that. That was something else I experienced. After we ate up all the rations, we had to go back to being self-sufficient again. We went to the mountains often to gather firewood. We needed to go through a checkpoint when we went to the mountain, and staff of the healthcare center had Atebrin (medicine for curing malaria) and some water. They would force everyone who passed by to take the Atebrin.

A lasting impression

Directly after the war, what stood out to me was seeing people who died of malaria being carried to a crematory along the road in front of my house every day. People who died of malaria were carried to the crematory, and especially just after the war, many people passed by the road to it. Smoke came out of the chimney of the crematory every day. When I passed by the crematory, I saw many corpses lined up for cremation. That’s what we had to go through. My senior who was two years older than me lived in a big house, but when the war intensified, officers of the Japanese Army came to his house and drove them out, using his house as military housing. After the war, the officers left Okinawa, and my senior went back to his house. When he opened a closet, he found numerous bags of Quinine, rationed medicine for malaria hidden by the officers. His family took the medicine and cured their malaria, and gave the medicine to his relatives and acquaintances. That’s what he told me. Shortly after that, the U.S. military landed on the island, and Atebrin was distributed through the neighborhood association. Thanks to the rations of Atebrin and food such as canned food, we managed to survive.

School life after the war

Just after the war, I was sick due to malaria and absent from school for almost half a year. There were many students like me. We had hardly any classes during our first year of junior high school, but we still moved up to the second grade, and new students entered the school. Some students had the textbooks used at the junior high school under the old system of education, and two to three students read the textbooks by sharing them. Teachers had those textbooks and wrote their content on the black board for us to see and study. We hardly had paper, notebooks, and pencils just after the war, so we used unbleached brown paper called “warabanshi” (coarse paper). That was all we had. After the U.S. military landed on Ishigaki Island, goods such as paper were widely distributed. They gave us booklets of paper with green or blue vertical lines. We tore the booklet into pieces and shared them amongst ourselves. After using coarse paper, proper notebooks began to circulate. Two to three students shared a textbook for reading.

Civilian administration and the U.S. military

Just after the war, there used to be U.S. military housing where a children’s park in Arakawa, Ishigaki City is located today. It was entirely surrounded by barbed wire. U.S. soldiers would leave the housing using jeeps and head to the Yaeyama branch office and give various instructions to local people. When publishing newspapers at the time, before the editing process, the articles were censored by the U.S. military by civil administration teams. Everything had to be censored then. After the war, this situation continued for a while.

Continuing to high school to study art

Then, I went on to Yaeyama High School. Art was an elective subject, but there were three or four students who chose art, and there was no art teacher in the high school. So, an art teacher of a junior high school came to our high school on a fixed contract and taught us art and drawing. This art teacher was a very eccentric person. He told us “There’s no use in studying art now,” and gave me an art magazine to read. It was a Michelangelo book with an impressive commentary and explanations provided by a writer named Mushanokoji Saneatsu. I came to like Michelangelo and have an interest in art and thought about becoming a painter. My interest in art began then, and I started studying art. I’m still studying art, which has influenced my life greatly. So, I published an art book based on my war experiences.

A message for young people

To put it shortly, having a war is a stupid human behavior. I have told how idiotic humans have been as a storyteller in detail. Human problems can’t be resolved by having war. That has been proved through the history of humankind. I would like young people to realize that deeply.

Mr. Masamichi Shiohira contributed to peace education through art works. In addition, he has told many people about malaria in the war and the reality of the Battle of Okinawa as a storyteller.