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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Banzai Cliff

This is an image of Banzai Cliff - well, from the top of it anyways - in Saipan. l took it back in 1992 Christmas when I traveled there from Tochigi-ken, Japan with my buddy James "Jimmy Jive" Dalton from southern Ontario (Stoney Creek). We were both assistant English teachers (AETs) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme at that time.

So nicknamed by the locals - the cliff - because rather than surrender when the island was being recaptured by Allied troops at the end of WWII, the Japanese committed suicide by throwing themselves off the cliff shouting "Banzai" as they fell to their gruesome, but "glorious" death.

Banzai (Kana: ばんぜい, Kanji: 万歳), in case you are wondering, is the same as saying "Long live the Emperor", but directly translates to "10,000 years." It is a term of respect to shout with regards to the Emperor of Japan.

On August 3, 2015, U.S. President Obama declared Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a disaster area following the typhoon Soudelor, which destroyed homes, toppled trees and snapped utility poles over the July 31st weekend on the 48-square-mile island of Saipan.

Saipan is the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean, and had, as of 2010 a population of 48,220.

It's a sleepy island, as far as I was concerned. I had wanted to go fishing for marlin and sail fin, but didn't realize one needed at least $500 to do so. So I spent most of the time wandering around the rocky isle looking for starfish (found a large blue-rayed one about 16-inches across - no photos, but the starfish did inspire two short stories of mine), playing with blue and green gecko lizards - they are a pest but keep the bugs away... I didn't get bit once.
A Hermit Crab wondering when the hell he moved into such a crappy neighborhood.
I recall that the islanders on Saipan were built like the typical Polynesian... big, thick - and, I hate to say it, overweight men. The women... they were svelte.

My fondest memory on Saipan was one day when I was walking downtown and a woman screamed out to me "Hey Joe!", which would have given me flashbacks to my days in Vietnam, but I wasn't in that war - so whew!

I have no idea how she knew my surname, anyhow... followed by "Want a date?!" Followed by a verbal description of what superb skills she had to offer, with each word ending in an 'ucky-ucky'. Apparently prostitution is everywhere, which should not come as a surprise to anyone on the planet.

Needless to say, despite being on vacation, I really had no interest in paying for something I was getting for free and pretty regularly back in Japan. Besides, I mentioned I was short on cash.

The best site I saw was upon Banzai Cliff... and all you need know about that is to glance at the photo above where I was about 150-feet (45.72 meters) up over the ocean.

Saipan was strange in one regard...

There were plenty of Japanese World War II relics - tanks and guns et al - all over the place... and the Japanese tourists were climbing all over themselves to take pictures of themselves in front of them.

We may have lost the war, but we won the battle of irony.
To me it was strange that the 'modern' Japanese would think it cool to pose in front of relics from a war on a strange island far from home that they had invaded... and had lost in dramatic fashion. It was like they had no concept that they should feel some shame.

I found it interesting that the Saipan natives created a tourist trap for the Japanese and the Japanese like gullible flies fell in to the web with tremendous ease.

Here, too... the Saipan folk hated the Japanese for their role in WWII, but could put that distaste aside while they fleeced them in their tourist traps created just for them.

Before WWII, Japan considered Saipan as part of the last line of defenses for the Japanese homeland, and thus had strongly committed to defending it. The Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy garrisoned Saipan heavily from the late 1930s, building numerous coastal artillery batteries, shore defenses, underground fortifications and an airstrip. In mid-1944, nearly 30,000 troops were based on the island.

The Battle of Saipan from June 15 - July 9, 1944 was a major campaigns of the war. The three-week battle cost the U.S. 3,426 killed and 10,364 wounded.

Of those nearly 30,000 Japanese on the island...well... only 921 were taken prisoner... so you can do the math for how many killed.  There were also about 20,000 Japanese civilians on the island... while most died during the battle, some 1,000 died jumping from the aforementioned Banzai Cliff, and "Suicide Cliff" nearby - as all Japanese feared what the Allied Forces might do to them if they were captured.

Obviously nothing... but that was the propaganda Japan itself fostered amongst its population and military... that the Allies would torture them... of course, it was the Japanese who were infamous in many instances for their poor treatment of POWs (Prisoners-of-war).

Before we go... here's one of my favorite photos... a classic empty lifeguard chair on a beach... with the storm clouds gathering for a tremendous rain.

A lonely beach in Saipan with a typhoon on the way.
I am Japan's Ame Otoko (Rain Man) after all... and any time I traveled in and outside of Japan in Asia... it rained.

It was very windy on Saipan, but the beer was good and helped combat my wind burn and excellent tan.

Kanpai,
Andrew Joseph

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