HAGATNA, GUAM – Private tour guides, officials and residents of Guam are encouraging Japanese tourists to check out the Pacific island’s wartime memorial sites and not just spend time on its pristine beaches and shopping destinations.
“History is so important for all who visit Guam . . . (as) you learn from history,” Gov. Eddie Calvo, said in a recent interview.
Guam, a U.S. territory that Japan occupied from 1941 to 1944, has been holding war memorial ceremonies since the start of the month to underscore the message of forgiveness and peace.
Disclosing his administration’s plan to complete a large museum next year and citing the ongoing repairs at many historical sites, Calvo said, “We try to get our tourists more immersed in our culture because the more you, our neighbors in the Asia-Pacific, learn about (our) people, that builds closer ties and appreciation of the uniqueness and specialty of every one of our people in the . . . region.”
For several years now, Japan has been Guam’s largest source of tourists, outnumbering all other overseas travelers to the island combined. Even after the tragedy in February, when a local man stabbed to death three Japanese tourists and wounded nearly a dozen others, Japan has maintained its top spot for Guam’s tourism industry, on which its economy heavily relies.
The second-biggest source of foreign visitors is South Korea, followed by Taiwan and the U.S.
“It was in the mid-1960s, and that just happened almost by accident, I guess, that Pan American airlines needed a flight to Japan, and for whatever reason, Japanese tourists decided (to start) coming,” Calvo recalled. “There weren’t even hotels, so some of them were living in tents. And it just started happening: More Japanese started coming.
“I think time heals,” he added, referring to the high anti-Japanese sentiment in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Kazu Aoki, manager of a local resort and an officer of the nonprofit South Pacific Memorial Association, said Japanese tourists should visit World War II memorials to learn about, or refresh their memories of, Japan’s past.
Meanwhile, the operator of the U.S. Explore and Study tour service, Ken Haga, said he takes Japanese guests to the island’s various wartime memorial sites, noting, “it is important for them to know (about) the war, either the Japanese side or the locals’ side.
“It’s not just the Japanese that did wrong during the war, but also their opponent — the Americans. America is not right,” he said after accompanying three Japanese tourists to sites where Imperial army troops died during the war. “They also killed our people and bombed many of our historical sites. And of course, they killed our civilians, too.
“So unfortunately, because of America, that’s why we came here. But again, war is not about which one was right or wrong,” he said. “War is hell. So no matter what, you have no choice but to kill innocent people. “There’s a kind of madness. People don’t use their common sense.”