About two years ago, I saw on TV that Tatsuya Ichihashi, who was on the run for two and a half years after killing a British woman, was hiding in one of the Okinawan islands, next to Kume island—my home. I suddenly got curious about how he spent the days there, so I read his diary, Taiho sareru made [Before I was arrested].
Oha Island, a tiny island that Ichihashi chose as his hideout, is located next to Ou Island, which is connected to Kume Island by bridge. There is no bridge that connects Ou and Oha but they are only 200 meters apart, separated by a calm strait. From the quiet beach of Ou, I could see the white beach and deep forest of Oha island. There used to be a village on the island decades ago, and back in the days children went to the school in Kume, walking across the shallow strait on bamboo stilts. But when I was a child, adults told me that there were only a few families remaining there. I always wanted to go to the island but never could. My curiosity aside, there was simply no reason to go there. The currents of the strait were stronger than they seemed and even when the tide was low I didn’t think I could swim to the other side with my poor swimming skills. The beach of Ou Island has been a favorite place of mine. The sand was white, the water was clear, and there was no one around. I was not good at swimming and hated to be in the water—be it a hot spring, a pool, or an ocean. However, I enjoyed being on the beach of Ou, I even swam there once in a while, alone. I always visited the beach whenever I returned home. After the earthquake, I got a bit scared to be near the water, but the place remained special to me. Whenever I was there, I took pictures of the photogenic island on the other side of the strait, wondering what is hidden in the forest.
That was a boundary that I couldn’t cross. Yet, it is an outsider who always defies the boundary. What did Ichihashi see on the island?
After he committed the crime and lost his everyday routine, he seemed to be trying desperately to regain the routine of life. Temporal day jobs in Osaka, then hiding on the Okinawan island for a while, then back to Osaka for more work. He obsessively repeated the simple cycle. In the diary he even mentioned that he decided to die on the island . . . a routine towards death. Ichihashi read Salinger when he was on the island, which seemed as out of place as me reading On the Road on the beach of Kume Island. During his brief stay on Kume, he befriended an old man who told him about the situation of the island during the WWII era.
Unlike mainland Okinawa, where Naha is, the island didn’t experience a field battle. At the time, there was no car on the island. It was after the Americans landed on the island that he saw a car and later a movie, brought by the Americans, for the first time in his life. The islanders were scared of Japanese soldiers hiding in the mountains, but the Americans seemed friendly. The old man told me.
Tatsuya Ichihashi, Taiho Sarerumade [Before I was Arrested] (Gentosha, 2011)
This part made me realize that I had rarely heard of the situation of the island during the war. I vaguely remembered hearing that there was some incident—a massacre—which was not executed by the Americans. What happened on the island during and after the war? I began to wonder. It never occurred to me to ask my grandparents about those times. Now that they were gone, there was no way of finding out.