Grandchildren of former residents of the war-torn Pacific island of Iwo Jima, formally Ioto, are making efforts to preserve the history of the island, which used to be rich in seafood and agricultural products.
The grandchildren formed a group in 2018 to work on keeping the history and the culture of the island from fading away.
On Saturday, former Iwo Jima residents commemorated the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, without being able to return to their home island after their forced evacuation during the war.
Iwo Jima became part of Japanese territory in 1891. The island, together with Kitaiwo Jima, had a population of some 1,200.
After the U.S. military occupied the Mariana Islands and a battle on Iwo Jima became inevitable, residents of the island were forced to evacuate to mainland Japan in July 1944. Iwo Jima became the site of a fierce battle between Japanese and U.S. forces in February 1945, with the number of casualties on the Japanese side reaching around 21,900.
Iwo Jima was returned to Japan after the war, but the government has not allowed the former residents to go back there, saying that settling down in the island would be difficult because of intense volcanic activities and the absence of industries. The entire island is now under the jurisdiction of the Self-Defense Forces and entry is restricted for civilians.
According to materials compiled by former residents, Iwo Jima’s economy relied upon sulfur mining and sugarcane farming. The island had a rich environment, with mangoes and pineapples growing and sea bream and tuna caught in the sea.
The late grandmother of Ryoma Nishimura, chairman of the group of third-generation Iwo Jima islanders, lived on the island until she was 21 years old. She used to recall that she never suffered from hunger in Iwo Jima, according to Nishimura, 38.
When Nishimura accompanied his grandmother to Iwo Jima, now part of the Tokyo village of Ogasawara, for a grave visit, he saw papayas and bananas growing in the wild.
Some former residents said people in Iwo Jima used down quilts made with gooney bird feathers, which were expensive back then, while there is a photograph of Iwo Jima baseball team members in uniform.
Meanwhile, the horrible battle of Iwo Jima has been depicted repeatedly in movies and books.
“We now have an image of Iwo Jima as the island of war or a hell-like place where there is no water,” Nishimura said. “Someone has to pass on the lives and the history that used to exist in the island or they will be lost.”
The group of third-generation islanders has put on display the photographs of grave visits to Iwo Jima by former residents. It plans to hold interviews with people who know about Iwo Jima before the war and hopes to disseminate information about the island’s history and culture in the future.