Archive | History RSS feed for this section

‘I Cannot Forgive Myself for What I Did’: One Man’s Recollections of His Work on the Manhattan Project

6 Aug


My blog article, “I Cannot Forgive Myself for What I Did” was published on The Huffington Post USA, UK, Italy, Spain, German, Korea, and Japan:

English →


Spanish →





“I cannot believe that war is the best solution. No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt


The Last Wish of a Woman Who Survived The Battle of Okinawa

21 Jun

ハイビスカス“I have one regret,” said Tokiko one day.

“I wish I had written down my story. ”

I was surprised to hear that, because Tokiko, a survivor of The Battle of Okinawa, had lived her life without telling her past even to her son.

I met Tokiko in the summer of 2009. At 79 she suffered from heart disease and was recently diagnosed with depression. When she suddenly stopped eating and talking to everyone including her family, she was admitted to hospice care. It seemed that Tokiko had lost interest in everything, and no one knew why.

A hospice nurse referred her to music therapy, hoping that it would help ease her depression. The nurse also knew that I, too, was Japanese. Over the course of therapy that lasted for 3 months Tokiko revealed her past to me in a way I had never imagined.

While I sang Japanese folk songs such as “Hamabe no uta,” she listened with a calm expression on her face, but she was hiding a painful past.

“My life was complicated. I was…I was the only one who survived the war.”

She looked at me with her piercing eyes.

Through musical therapy I learned that her father and younger brother were killed in Okinawa, and that her sister was killed in the Nagoya raid. At 15 Tokiko became an orphan.

After the war she fell in love with an American soldier, even though she initially had anger toward Americans. She got married and moved to the US. The marriage brought her the happiness she had longed for, but her husband was sent to Vietnam twice, and by the time he came back he was a “different man.” He became alcoholic.

Tokiko’s life was affected by wars, yet she never complained or expressed anger toward anyone. The only thing that haunted her was a question: Why did I survive?

By the time she had finished her story, her condition began to improve. She started eating again and talking to people. In the beginning of fall she was removed from hospice care.

On our last session we sang “Hamabe no uta” together. She liked the song very much, since it reminded her of Okinawa. Even though it was the place where unimaginable horror had taken place, it remained a special place in her heart. The song brought back to her memories of the blue sky and the wide, beautiful ocean.

“I wish I had written down my story. ”

She said when the song ended.

“I haven’t told my story to people, because I didn’t think anyone would want to know it. But I’ve realized that it is important to share it.”

I promised her that I’d write her story one day. More than 5 years later I’ve written her story in my book, “Last Song.”

June 23 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of The Battle of Okinawa. I wonder what comes to your mind on this day. As for me, I’ll be remembering Tokiko and all those who perished in Okinawa.

“Not to trasmit an experience is to betray it.” ~Elie Wiesel

Iyomante: Sacred ceremony of the Ainu ~ forgotten indigenous people of Japan, part 4

27 Jan
By Kaze no ryu (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kaze no ryu (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

In my previous post on  “Ainu and Spirituality” I wrote about the overview of spirituality of the Ainu people.  They had many ceremonies throughout the year, and one of the most important ones is called “iyomante.”  It’s a ceremony to send back the spirits of bear cubs to the divine world, an intricate ceremony involving many steps and extensive preparations.  Iyomante represents the essence of their spiritual life, but its complex nature has also caused outsiders to misunderstand the spiritual traditions of the Ainu.

The Ainu people believed that gods took on the forms of animals and visited the human world.  The bear god was highly regarded, since it provided many things to humans, such as fur and meat.  During iyomante the soul of bear cubs was sent back with abundant offerings, such as foods, sake, treasures, or ornamental arrows.

But what does it mean by sending a bear cub to the divine world?

Iyomante took place between January and February when the snow was deep on the ground.  The bear cub, captured in a hibernation den during winter, had been kept in a cell next to the house. The Ainu people often raised the bear as a part of the family and developed a deep bond.

It took nearly a month to prepare for iyomante.  Two weeks prior to the ceremony they began making sake and dango (dumplings).  A few days before they started making inaw, important spiritual icons of the Ainu (click here for more about inaw).  On the day before the ceremony they offered a prayer to the fire goddess.  This was done prior to all ceremonies because communication with other kamuy (deities and spirits) was impossible without her divine intervention.  After the prayer people celebrated with dance, song, and story telling, which sometimes lasted until the midnight.

Prayer for god of fire

Prayer for god of fire

Next day iyomante took place.  It began by offering prayers to the god of fire once again, which followed by placing inaw in certain ways to make an altar like structure.  After lunch they took the bear out of the cell and tied him/her to a post with a rope.  The bear cub would play while people offered a prayer.  Women would line up in front of the house, clapping and dancing “rimuse,” the last dance to show God that this was in the form of animals called “bear” on this earth.  Here is a video of iyomante rimuse:

Eventually men would shoot arrows and kill the bear.  Then the prayers were offered again to the bear.  Some men would place dango (dumplings) and kurumi (walnuts) next to the body while others drop dango from the roof of the house.  It was believed that the bear would take those things to the divine world.  Once the dango was scattered, a young man  would shoot an arrow into the sky toward the East, a sacred direction to the Ainu.

Even though the bear was ceremonially killed, he was not a sacrifice to god.  Instead the Ainu believed that a god spirit came to the people, disguised as a bear, and that the death of the bear released the spirit, allowing it to return to god’s land.

Iomante3 (524x362)

Picture of iyomante

Iomante (iyomante) (459x318) (2)

Picture of iyomante

Iyomante2 (640x311)

Picture depicting the Ainu and the bear cub during iyomante


Related articles

%d bloggers like this: