ABC News | 16Feb23

On an island paradise in Japan’s remote south-west, a new military base is opening a rift in a small community still haunted by war.

Setsuko Yamazato was seven years old when her family left their home to live in the jungle. They joined the other villagers, some with food on their backs and crying children in their arms, and filed into the green hills of Ishigaki, an island at the south-west end of the Japanese archipelago. Many never returned.

It was the dying days of World War II and the Japanese Imperial Army was preparing for a last stand in the Okinawan islands. US troops were sweeping through the Pacific, and an invasion of Ishigaki looked imminent.

Fearing the islanders might help the Americans, Japanese soldiers ordered them to abandon their homes and shelter in the jungle. Officially, it was to hide from the air raids. But residents found no sanctuary there. Starvation and malaria were rife.

Setsuko Yamazato’s experiences of World War II made her an anti-war activist.

Now 85 years old, Setsuko sits in the swaying grass just beyond the shadow of the trees. “I don’t even want to come here and think back of those days,” she says. “I’d rather forget.”

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