For 93-year-old Kyoko Ohira, a resident of Chichijima Island in the Ogasawara chain, World War II did not end in 1945. It ended in 1968, when her ethnic Japanese school friends were at last allowed to return to the remote Pacific island.
Ohira, born in 1921 as Edith Washington, is a descendant of Western settlers on Chichijima, the largest of the Ogasawara Islands and located some 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo.
Americans and Europeans first arrived on the island in 1830 and later became Japanese citizens after the archipelago’s roughly 30 islets were internationally recognized as Japanese territory.
Ohira said she changed her given name to Kyoko during the war on government orders. She moved to Osaka prior to her marriage, two years before the beginning of the Pacific War.
She returned to Chichijima in 1943, but was forcibly relocated by the military with all the other 6,800 civilians on the island following U.S. air raids.
During that period she lived in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, where she worked at a local munitions plant.
After Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, the Ogasawara Islands, also known as the Bonin Islands, were placed under U.S. rule. Only descendants of American and European settlers, some 130 people in all, were permitted to return there.
Life under the Allied Occupation was relatively easy, she recalled, with food and other daily necessities available free of charge in the first few years.
Still, communication with Japan and the thousands of islanders who were not allowed to return was banned. She could not even send them letters.
“I missed my old island friends so much,” Ohira said.
Many former islanders were eager to return to their former home. Ohira quoted a friend of hers as saying, “I don’t mind dying on the day of my return if allowed.”
In 1967, the United States announced that it was handing the Ogasawara Islands back to Japan. Ohira was elated when she heard the news on the radio.
“I have no words to describe how happy I was when my old classmates arrived back” following the islands’ return in June 1968, she said.
“My loneliness of more than 20 years dissipated then, and in my mind the war had finally ended,” she said.
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