Battle For Okinawa: World War II home
"The Perfect Pillbox"
Religious and almost indestructible Pillbox; sort - of...
Just When Things Couldn't Get Worse...
Imagine. Your mission is to get on the Beach; past the machine-guns over-the sea wall, past the caves, thru the jungles, up the ravines and around the corner you run into
"The Perfect Pillbox"
Kamekobaka is the typical style of tombs in Okinawa.
(Some of these Tomb Photos credited to Dave and Cindy Lovelace but I have no idea which ones)
Okinawan Tomb and Japanese Defensive Position
Trees and shrubs were planted in-front of nearly every tomb
which helped camouflage them from the ground and the air.
These types of tombs are called "kamekobaka"(turtle-back tombs) and the
resourceful Japanese Army made good use of their defensive and tactical value.
War Battered and more recessed Tomb probably fronting
a Cave entrance
Around every corner; on the side of every ravine and
dug into the hillside of every hill; Concrete reinforced pillboxes
Battleship shells are said to have glanced off their tops
unless they took a direct hit at the entrance.
Here is a Tomb that took an almost direct hit during the war
A little too high and to the left;
the round only left little more than a dent...
I judged the thickness of these tomb 'fronts' at about 3 foot
of quarried stone or cement rock with reinforced re-barr in some cases
American Tank on Okinawa supported by members of an infantry Company
The Japanese on Okinawa would strap high explosives to their bodies and throw
themselves under the fronts of the tanks in suicidal waves and the tanks were used
in knocking out bunker and tomb areas used by the Japanese; the tanks equipted with
with flame-throwers were quite effective. (US Army Photo)
Miniature last stand fortress
The picture above shows a wall around the outside of the Tomb called a "hinpun".
The Hinpun serves as a screen between the tomb and outside observers and was the first line of defense for Japanese Infantry. Locals told me that the Japanese would use the Tombs as housing; tossing out the remains of ancestors; and they would often take 'wheeled' .37mm Cannons apart (or the Japanese equivalent) and they would
reassemble the weapons inside with only the barrels sticking out. The tombs were
ready-made air-raid shelters, and a last ditch defense network.
In more peaceful time; these tombs store the remains of relatives in urns; and the
relatives spirit is honored on Tanabata.
On Tanabata, people used to clean their family tombs, airing the entrance and washing the bones or Senkotsu (washing of the bones) means taking bones out from tombs and washing it. Times have changed. You will notice incense burners before most entrances and people light senko (incense sticks) before the tomb and offer Sake' wine to welcome back the spirits of their ancestors and guide them to the family altar.
(If you have ever had too much Sake' you might begin to see your own ancestors as well...)
Today in some instances, people only go outside their homes and pray in the direction of their family tombs. Every home has an alter and pictures of the deceased. Some light the senko on the family altar, letting their ancestors know it's Tanabata.
Note the Incense burner in front of the entrance
and the small trees and shrubs planted outside
In many homes, people leave tea on the altar everyday from the beginning of Tanabata until the end of Obon. Obon is celebrated with many parades, dancing and colorful
Also, the sun's rays are the strongest in the time of Tanabata and is called "Nanka-tida". So, this time is used as a time to air out clothes and houses and to open up grain storage bins. Rarely-worn ceremonial costumes are also taken out and aired. It is the Okinawan version of seasonal cleaning. Nanka Tida means July's sun rays, Tida meaning sun in Okinawan language.
Only the very old remember these tasks. They are hardly seen or even remembered by the younger generations There is a Tanabata celebration called "Nanka-soron" which is similar to the Tanabata held in the Kinki area of mainland Japan. This is on the island of Yaeyama, not the main island of Okinawa. In Okinawa, Tanabata is observed on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. It is thought of as part of Obon Festival, not as a Star Festival or Sea God Festival like in mainland Japan. Nanka means 7th day of the month and Soron means spirits in Okinawan language.
More and More of the modern tombs sport the Christian Cross
Residents told me the tombs sold for around $10,000 in 1974
and that the land they sat on cam cost even more.
There are hardly any religious observances on Tanabata, it is one of the special annual events for children from nursery school to the 1st grade. They write their wishes on small colored strips of paper and tie them to bamboo hoping these wishes will come true.