On 1 April 1945, US Army and Marine forces spearheaded the invasion of Okinawa, a battle lasting nearly three months that claimed the lives of close to half the pre-war population of the islands. Taking shelter in the cave systems, the civilian population were co-erced and instructed to take their own lives rather than surrender to the Americans. And so many of them did. Far more died this way than actually in the fighting.
And then a young guy from Yamanashi Prefecture, an hour outside Tokyo towards Fuji, visited the island and saw the impact for himself. Emerging from one of the tunnels, he was struck by the clear air and open skies and saw the stark contrast to the suffocating tunnels underground. And he wrote a song about it, part in Japanese, part in the native Okinawa language. His aim, to make people aware of how and why these people died.
Shima Uta, The Island Song, is a haunting, hypnotic melody that talks about the divisions created by the conflict and how the people were caught in a time they neither wished for nor understood. Although the English translation conveys the meaning of the song, the Japanese carries the emotion and intensity. It's one of the most accessible songs for a non-Japanese speaker. And its message is a heartbreaking one to hear.