Memories Shaken - Not Stirred (part 2)
A former prisoner of war returns to Japan
At 9.30 next morning after breakfast and a chat, we gathered outside and were led along a walkway the guided on to a ship, which ferried us across the river to Mukaishima. Whilst crossing Lena mentioned that she had spoken to Martha, a very devout Spanish lady who was accompanying us, of our predicament with our suitcase. The dear lady had prayed then promised to come she would come to our hotel room that evening to pray over the case. I must confess, I wasn't looking forward to this. Disembarking at Mukaishima we walked into town, coming upon a square where children were waiting to greet us waving British flags and the town fire brigade band were playing a selection of Japanese and western tunes. Very good they were too. In the centre of the square were two large obelisks draped with flags.
We were directed to some covered seating; facing us on the other side of the square were seated rows of school children. The ceremony began with speeches from the diplomats, who had attended the dinner the previous evening, followed by the town mayor. He spoke of the people who had contributed to the construction of the memorial and their hopes for the future and for friendship with the British people. This was followed by the unveiling ceremony; one monument inscribed with the names of the PoW's who died here, the other a symbol of friendship. The children then stood and sang a song about friendship; they were fantastic, so was the tune. I just wish it had been recorded. After more speeches, the diplomats planted an English oak tree.
Photos were taken, then farewells to new friends. I would have liked to have spent some time looking around; somehow I felt released and at peace there. But, we had a plane to catch so we climbed aboard the waiting coach. Some well-wishers followed us onto the coach and accompanied us to the airport, plying us with strawberries, cakes and drinks.
Arriving at Hiroshima airport, they followed us into the building, giving us little presents before saying goodbye. Our flight to Okinawa was announced so we proceeded to the departure lounge. At the entrance were three policemen with the case. I was asked to open it as two metal objects had been detected. We had no idea what these could be so I suggested that they force the lock. But no! We were not going anywhere until we had opened it. Lena suddenly suggested that we find Martha who would be able to explain our dilemma. The dear lady came rushing up telling us to lay our hands on the case. She then prayed fervently before standing up to tell me to open the case. I must say that by then the three policemen standing by were looking rather bemused and I was feeling very embarrassed as I went through the motions. I had tried so many times and it hadn't budged, so once again I put in the code and this time it opened. Needless to say Martha and Lena were hugging each other and laughing delightedly whilst I just stood looking in disbelief. Smiles and handshakes and we were ushered through. The two metal objects were Harrods Tea Caddies in a presentation box, which we had completely forgotten about. The flight to Okinawa took 2 hours and10minutes.
Boarding our coach we were informed that Okinawa had severe traffic problems but once out of town, progress became easier. Our guides also told us that the Manza Beach Hotel, where we were to stay, was favoured by the Japanese holiday makers; that is if they could afford it. Our apartment overlooked palm trees and gardens, which led down to sand and then the sea. After an excellent dinner we sat on the balcony enjoying a nightcap watching the sun set over the sea. It was very restful and idyllic after another hectic day. Unfortunately, we couldn't linger; we had to pack our cases and put them out for collection before we retired!
We were up in time to take an early morning stroll along the seashore before breakfast. Our coach was leaving at 10.00a.m. for our next destination where we had been invited to lunch with Rotary Club members.
Arriving at our hotel, the Bay View, we had another hast scramble to freshen up and find our way to where our hosts were waiting for us. We enjoyed the meal and the company immensely. The Okinawans seemed so much more relaxed and friendly; no stiff formalities. There were a couple of speeches before the meal, to welcome us, but that was all. We were given several business cards and asked to keep in touch. We had already collected others along the way and were finding it difficult to remember who was who, so Lena started making notes on each card to jog our memory.
Then it was back to our room for a quick change and then onto the coach, which was to take us to Naha city centre for sightseeing and shopping. Before being dropped off we were warned to be back at the pick-up point at 5.00 pm as the coach would not be allowed to wait for us.
So off we went. A beautiful day with so much to see and so much to buy. There were some very ornate carvings but they were much to heavy to carry home. Too late, I glanced at my watch and realised we would not make it back to the coach by the designated pick-up time so we carried on with our shopping! Then we suddenly remembered we had to be ready to leave at 6.30pm to dine at the Ocean View hotel. Luckily we managed to find a taxi to take us quickly back to our hotel and it was back to our room for a quick shower and a change for dinner and down to the coach where we were immediately bombarded with questions. Where had we been? Why weren't we on the coach returning from town? How did we get back? It seems that Lena and I were the only people who missed the coach!
Arriving at the Ocean View hotel we were welcomed and served with a super meal and we enjoyed a pleasant evening. Back to the hotel and, before retiring, I watched the American Forces Network news on TV; the first English speaking news since leaving England. I understand that the American forces are unwelcome guests there.
A hot and humid day, we left our hotel soon after breakfast travelling through the countryside for about an hour or so before arriving at a small museum. Just inside the gates, looking down, we could see an entrance to a cave over which was placed a memorial stone. The interpreter told us it was typical of many caves dotted around the island where residents sheltered during the fighting. At this particular one, the starving women and children had been given poisoned milk to drink by the Japanese soldiers. Inside the museum it was mainly a shrine to the Okinawans who died during the terrible battle, which took place in that area.
There was a large souvenir shop nearby where many Japanese tourists were milling around. Rather surprisingly most of the wares we looked at were made in China! I did buy a bottle of sugar cane spirit. The sample I tried was sweet and pleasant tasting. The writing on the label I didn't understand but the 50% I did! One offer I did refuse was the return of youthful vigour if I drank a measure of spirit from a large jar which contained a rather large coiled snake. I didn't buy a bottle either as I didn't know anyone who would be desperate enough to drink it.
We lunched at a beach restaurant, then took another coach ride, this time to the Okinawa Peace Museum. I will describe this visit in my next instalment.
To be continued...
Frank Planton (Joe Japan)