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Ravages of war meet The Cornerstone of Peace

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2004-07-10

The fighting was bloody as the Battle of Okinawa was waged in Spring 1945.

Referred to as the “Typhoon of Steel,” the three-month battle between American forces and the Japanese claimed more than 200,000 lives in the only ground combat to be fought on Japanese soil.

Of those, more than 100,000 were civilians, victims caught between the adversaries. More civilians died in the Battle of Okinawa than did military personnel. Just over 14,000 American GI’s died in the March – June 1945 campaign.

Okinawans remember too well the horrors of that long Spring, and have taken strong measures to remind the world there should never be a repeat performance.

Okinawa Memorial Park, more commonly called Peace Prayer Park, is dedicated to reminding all peoples of the world that war should be rejected as a solution to opposing ideologies.

The Battle of Okinawa ended June 23, 1945, and is commemorated each year by both Okinawans and Americans. The ceremonies take place at the Peace Prayer Park, with the brief American ceremonies at the Cornerstone of Peace preceding the Okinawan ceremonies several hundred yards away.

Peace Prayer Park was created in 1975, and has been continually updated with its Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and grooming of the grounds. The historic lessons of the three-month battle are depicted in tableaus, exhibitions, maps and documents situated in five separate exhibition halls within the museum. There is also a children’s exhibition room with the explanations of wartime activity tailored to the young minds.

Reference rooms and an information library are available for those seeking a more in-depth study and understanding of the World War II events on Okinawa. The spacious museum offers an insight into the Okinawa culture, and the mindnumbing outcome of fierce battles that decimated mountainsides and cities alike, ruined significant cultural relics and figures, and turned a quiet island into a firestorm.

The Cornerstone of Peace is an outdoor memorial to the Battle of Okinawa, erected to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the battle in 1995. It was designed with three concepts in mind:

*Remember those lost in the War, Pray for Peace
*Pass on the lessons of war learned from war
*A place for meditation and learning

The names of all who died in the Battle of Okinawa, regardless of nationality or military or civilian status are engraved on the 116 monuments. The monuments—69 five-leaf and 47 three-leaf—are spread out in a fan shape around Peace Plaza. The monuments have space for 250,000 names to be engraved.

Currently, there are 148,289 Okinawans honored on the tablets, 75,219 Japanese from other prefectures, and 14,006 Americans. Eighty-two British soldiers are honored, as are 28 from Taiwan, 82 from North Korea and 263 from the Republic of Korea.

Listed are those who died from air raids or accidents involving requisitioned ships, those evacuated and who died from malaria or malnutrition, and those who died from war-related causes within one year after the end of the war.

The Costs

Peace Prayer Park and its museum are open daily 9am to 5pm, with last entry at 4:30pm. It is closed on Mondays, and also from December 29-January 3. Entry fee to the museum for adults is ¥300, and ¥150 yen for children. Group rates are available. Entry to the Park itself, and the grounds, is free.

Getting There

By car: From the bases travel south on Highway 58, which becomes Highway 331 after passing through Naha City. Remain on the highway as it travels through Itoman and to the southern edge of the island. The Park entrance is clearly marked. Travel time from Naha to the Park is approximately one hour.

By Taxi: Approximately 22 kilometers from the Naha area. Fare is ¥3,000-3,500 one way. Ask the driver to take you to “Heiwa-n-Ishiji (The Cornerstone of Peace).

By Bus: (a) Naha-Itoman Line (from Naha Bus Terminal to Itoman Bus Terminal.) Get off at “Himeyuri-no-tou mae (Himeyuri no tou War Memorial. Bus numbers 32, 89, 33 and 46. Fare ¥500 one way. Bus leaves ever 20 minutes. Then switch to (b) Itoman-Gyokusendo Line (from Itoman Bus Terminal to Gyokusendo Cave). Get off at “Heiwa-Kinen-Kouen mae (entrance to Peace Memorial Park). Bus 82. Fare is ¥400 one way, and leaves every hour.

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