Dai Sensei and the Kume Jima Massacre

By Sean Wong
Updated February 25th, 2015

During WWII, Dai Sensei and his family were stationed on Kume Jima (island). This was while sailing ships risked being bombed in the seas that surrounded Okinawa. When Dai Sensei received his orders to transfer from Okinawa to neighbouring island of Kume.  He protested stating that sailing the waters were dangerous for his family during war time. His superior officer responded that leaving Okinawa might spare his life. History would prove that this conversation would become a grimacing foreshadow of what was to come on Okinawa.

Dai Sensei accepted the position to be a police chief on Kume Island and took the dangerous boat trip across. They landed on Kume safely but on the return back, the boat (now empty of passengers) took a direct strike from a bomb and was destroyed. The event would mark a devastating time in Dai Sensei life.

dai-Seansei-policeDuring the theatre of the Battle of Okinawa, sounds of bombings could be heard from Kume. The threat of losing the war was becoming evident and Japanese soldiers on Kume Island were becoming increasingly paranoid of locally embedded spies. Already, some of the Japanese military mistreated the Ryukyuans as less than “Japanese”. This mixture of elitism, desperation, paranoia, and military power was a perfect storm for tragedy.

Kume Jima had a Japanese base set up and led by Master Sergeant Kayama. During this time, Dai Sensei had taken the position as a police officer. He had heard of some of the atrocities that took place. In time of war however, Kume was under martial law and Dai Sensei’s influence over the military was minimal. It wasn’t until the end of the war that the treatment of Kayama camp towards the locals made a tragic turn. Kayama refused to accept that Japan had lost the war and started to accuse the locals of being spies and traitors. The soldiers murdered anyone of suspect. Executions ranged from being publicly beheaded to being burnt alive. Dai Sensei witnessed the worst of war.

Dai Sensei was in a very difficult moral position between loyalties. Does he choose to be loyal to the Emperor (soldiers) or his Ryukyu heritage (locals)? Finally, he decided on the direction of humanity and began to research a way to stop the Kayama company from committing these atrocities. Meetings were held but the topics were kept secret from the public. Dai Sensei has noted they were in regards to strategies and recruitment to form an organized resistance. However the challenge of finding enough strong, able, and skilled young men proved it impossible.

Finally, the terror inflicted on a community that he was sworn to protect was too much to bare. Thus Dai Sensei pondered on the possibility of venturing into the mountains do it alone. Because he had limited firearms available, if he couldn’t negotiate an agreement, he probably would have to rely on the unarmed combat of Karate. (One person who tried to negotiate with the Master Sergeant disappeared and was never to be found again.) He went to bed one night finally accepting that this would likely be the only way.

On the day that he made up his mind to confront the Kayama company, the US army had arrived. One of the first sight he saw of them were of African-American soldiers. I am not sure if Dai Sensei recognized the irony. Since the African-American faced similar human rights issues in their own country. He later found out that the Americans had dealt with the Kayama company.

Dai Sensei’s is mentioned in the annals of the Kume Jima documents during the massacres. His secretive role and plans were never divulged publicly until his book. In his autobiography, Dai Sensei mentions that these memories has etched such a stain on his impression of humanity that he was often saddened by them. Although he did not witness the Battle of Okinawa, he was not immune from the tragedy of war. Personally, I am thankful that Dai Sensei never had a chance to put his loyalty to a deadly test.