NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Friday visited a cenotaph and museum in Naha, Okinawa, commemorating the 1,482 people who died when an American submarine torpedoed a Japanese passenger ship during World War II. Half the victims were school children.
The Imperial couple placed bouquets at the “Kozakura-no-to” cenotaph and later visited the neighboring Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum and talked with survivors and relatives of those who died. The couple looked at photos and a display of personal effects, including pencil boxes, notebooks and school bags.
Almost 70 years ago, on Aug. 22, 1944, the U.S. submarine Bowfin sank the 6,754-ton Tsushima Maru in waters near Akuseki Island in the East China Sea. The ship was taking 1,788 people from Okinawa Island to Nagasaki Prefecture, many of them school children under evacuation.
In all, more than 1,000 children drowned, including 780 of school age.
Okinawa became a battle ground in the spring of 1945 when U.S. forces landed on the main island and elsewhere, launching a three-month struggle for control that claimed more than 200,000 lives, including those of around 94,000 civilians.
The Emperor was one of the children evacuated from Tokyo during the war. He has long expressed his sorrow at the loss of young lives in the Tsushima Maru incident, telling reporters in 1997 that many of its victims were around his age.
In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allies, the Emperor and Empress visited Okinawa and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were flattened by the U.S. atomic bombings in 1945.
A decade later, in 2005, the couple visited Saipan, a U.S. territory that is part of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. All Japanese soldiers stationed there died in the Battle of Saipan in 1944.
The Imperial Couple is expected to visit other war-related sites next year, the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, palace sources said.