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The White Witch.

22nd November 2023 | 5 Views

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In the early 80’s I lived in Okinawa, Japan. My dad thought that seeing the world would be an adventure that would help my brother and I become better men and I have to say I think he was right. Being in the military showed me cultures many would never get to experience and I am thankful for every experience that that life gave to me. Even the scary ones.

While we lived in Japan my father wanted us to have a fully immersive experience so he chose to move us into a small Japanese neighborhood off base. We lived in a little house at the top of an enormous hill in a cul-de-sac that overlooked, I kid you not, part of a huge zoo and on one side a fairly large cemetery. Our particular house was set far above the monkey habitats about a mile downhill. Between us and those habitats was nothing but thick Indiana Jones style jungle. Jungle the neighborhood kids and I would tromp through endlessly, ignoring the local warnings about poisonous snakes and ancient untripped mines from World War 2.

We were the only American family living in that cul-de-sac, completely surrounded by Japanese families and it was amazing. The kids loved us and although we couldn’t communicate through language very well, we understood each other perfectly, well, most of the time. Opposite us was an older couple with a lush garden surrounding their property. The older woman wanted us to call her Mama-san and she had us helping her garden whenever she could coax us over with green tea and chocolate/banana cookies. We loved her. She was so welcoming and generous. As was everyone else, actually. We lived in a wonderful neighborhood. The only drawback to Mama-sans home, however, was that she directly overlooked the cemetery. And that cemetery was unlike any cemetery I had ever seen before.

Because Okinawa is an island, burials don’t happen very often. Instead above ground crypts are built. Many of them built into the sides of the hills that make up the island. The crypts are large, made of huge arcs of polished stone set over a large square of that stone which has a square insert cut into the middle of it for the coffin to be placed inside. Once inside the square is inset with another piece of polished stone just inside, leaving a kind of shelf on the outside so offerings could be made to lost love ones. Yen, food, flowers, incense are some of the offerings given. Below Mama-sans house was a valley that swooped back up into another hill opposite her home. That valley and both hills were covered with these crypts and spiderwebbing up and down through the crypts were various stone step pathways that were old and badly maintained. It was quite a site.

One evening Mama-san asked me to come visit with her alone. She had something to show me but it was only for me as the older brother. Intrigued and a bit proud, I agreed. She took me to the back of her garden and sat me on a thick wooden bench that was carved with scenes of fisherman and men with swords and told me she a had a story to tell. Mama-san then disappeared for a few minutes and soon returned with a tray that held hot green tea and sweet rice cakes. Sitting next to me she smiled and commented on the colors of the evening sky as the sun began to lower.

Mama-san said she had seen me, my brother and some other kids daring each other to follow a stairway path down into the cemetery. You have to understand, the path from our little home area down to the cemetery consisted of hundreds of steps, many broken or cracking, in and out of bushes and at a steep incline. It would be dangerous for anyone but the real test was seeing how long we could take walking through the crypts at night. Mama-san wanted to explain why that was a bad idea.

Many years ago, during the war, Americans were thought to be devils. Monsters that would murder innocent citizens for no reason other than to kill. That fear was the product of wartime propaganda used to encourage young men to military service and farmers to fight along side them. But many didn’t. Many ran. And with nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, hundreds of Japanese citizens hurled themselves off of a cliffside rather than face torture at the hands of their perceived enemy.

I was terrified at hearing this. I had no idea this had happened. I was mortified and hit with such sadness I started to cry. The sun was setting and the sky went from pink and blue to a deep orange and red. Mama-san reached out and held my hand telling me not to worry, this was in the past and the past is something we must always remember so we never go back. She went on with her story.

One young woman had followed through with this sacrifice with her two children. But she survived the fall. She was in a coma for months. When she did regain consciousness she was horrified to realize she was not with her children. They had been buried somewhere in that cemetery below. In an unmarked crypt that held many others. The woman would spend days and nights searching the cemetery, crying in pain, the torment of her loss unbearable. Until the day she threw herself into the ocean to hopefully be reunited with her lost family,

But they say she never found her children. Her act of suicide doomed her to purgatory. She would remain tortured for eternity.

The sun had disappeared , the cemetery drowned in inky blackness, the main path dotted with dim broken lights feebly illuminating small areas.

Mama-san continued. She still wanders the cemetery, she said, looking for her kids. You can hear her crying.

And then she pointed down.

I didn’t want to but I did. I looked. In the back of the cemetery, in the darkness, there was a white figure. At first a bright, white shimmer. Moving slowly, kind of shaking. It moved from side to side, like it was moving among the crypts and you could, actually, hear the crying. Softly at first but then low moans and whimpers of pain as it got closer. I was terrified. I wanted to run but Mama-san held my hand and whispered that she wouldn’t come up here. We were too far. But that is why we shouldn’t go down there after dark. She said many don’t know her story and call her the White Witch which angers her. Its best to stay away. It’s best to pray for her. Mama-san said she comes out to see her often, hoping one day she will find her salvation.

Needless to say, I never went down to that cemetery. Not once. And I never sat back there with Mama-san again either. That was enough for me. I did, however, visit Suicide Hill, it’s called Peace Prayer Park now out of respect. I cried the whole time we were there. I prayed for all the souls and for forgiveness. So many Japanese citizens spoke to us, welcoming us, telling us stories, sharing with us. I didn’t feel worthy and my love for the country and its people was overwhelming. I’ll never forget my time there. I’d like to go back. To see if she’s still there.

Wandering the graves, looking for her children.

Faceless

sounak senapati

@faceless

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