Okinawa: Polish Woman Guides Students Through Battle of Okinawa’s Tragedy; Giving Lessons in Darkness

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Izabela Ishikawa explains the history of Nunumachi Gama cave to students on a school trip in Yaese, Okinawa Prefecture, in January.

YAESE, Okinawa — Izabela Ishikawa, a Polish woman, guides students on school trips around natural caves where residents and soldiers hid during World War II.

In Okinawa, there are many caves called “gama,” which are known as tragic locations from the Battle of Okinawa. Driven into a corner, many people committed mass suicide in the caves one after another.

Ishikawa, 54, moved to Japan after marrying and has lived in Okinawa Prefecture for 24 years. She has guided students on school trips more than a dozen times.

On Jan. 23, she guided second-year junior high school students from Fukuoka Prefecture to Nunumachi Gama in Yaese, near the southern tip of Okinawa Island. The gama was used as a field hospital during the war. Descending through a hole in the mountain face using a ladder, the students found themselves in a dark space. Ishikawa spoke to the astonished students.

“During the battle, 1,000 people were hiding here, including residents and soldiers. Children around your age were helping to get food and treat the injured.”

After listening to her lecture, the students turned off the lights and observed a moment of silence in the pitch-black cave.

A year ago, an acquaintance asked Ishikawa to be a guide. Since then, she has listened to people who were intimately familiar with Okinawa’s wartime history and read books to deepen her understanding of the past. Her homeland of Poland also has a tragic history of being divided during the war. She said she wants to pass on knowledge of the tragedy of Okinawa, regardless of her nationality.

Ishikawa often tells children, “It’s important to accept each other’s differences and not fight.”