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Himeyuri Peace Museum

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2003-01-24

Of all the fighting that took place during World War II, the Battle of Okinana involved some of the fiercest. The "Typhoon of Steel," as it has been called, lasted more than 90 days, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 Japanese and American as well as some 120,000 Okinawans. In the course of battle, the most of the island, having been mercilessly pounded with bombs and shells, was turned into a scorched wasteland. Many of Okinawa's great cultural items, artifacts, buildings, and locations were destroyed, but it was, without a doubt, the local citizens of Okinawa who suffered the most! The Himeyuri Peace Museum is a testament to the heavy cost paid by the Okinawans, and it tells an awful, saddening story must absolutely be heard.

During the course of World War II, the U.S. invaded the island of Okinawa to secure it as a jump-off spot to be used in the upcoming invasion of mainland Japan. However, to delay the invasion of mainland Japan, the Japanese military planned to wage a "war of attrition" and adopt the tactics of fighting to the last man. An all-out mobilization of the Okinawan locals was planned for this purpose, and many of the locals were forced into fighting with or serving the Japanese military. The Japanese forces stepped up nurse training at girls' high schools, and when the U.S. troops finally landed, formed them into the Student Nurse Corp and sent them into the battlefield. Though there was no legal basis behind this mobilization for a military purpose, the Japanese army enforced the program. On March 23, 1945, 222 students and 18 teachers of the Okinawa Women's Normal School and the First Prefectural Girls' High School were ordered join the medical units of the Haebaru Army Field Hospital and 79 students and three teachers were sent to medical units in other areas. In the midst of raging battle, these girls attended to the wounded, removed dead soldiers from caves, and carried medical supplies, food, water, and other needed items to and from the underground hospital.

Towards the end of May, the Japanese forces retreated south from Shuri, and the medical units at the Haebaru Field Hospital and other areas also withdrew. Nearing defeat, the Japanese forces issued orders to disband the nurse corps in the midst of heavy fighting at the southernmost end of Okinawa on June 18. The young, defenseless nurses were forced to fend for themselves while trapped in the middle of intense fighting. Five days later, on June 23, organized resistance by the Japanese army finally ended, but unfortunately, during the five day period between the time the order was issued and the actual end of the battle, most of the students serving in the Student Nurse Corp had been killed. All in all, 219 students and teachers were sacrificed.

The Himeyuri Peace Museum tells the complete story of the Battle of Okinawa and the events that led up to it. There are four chambers in the museum. The first chamber, "Eve of the Battle of Okinawa" describes how Japanese schools were being militarized, how Okinawa was seen by the mainland as an island worth sacrificing to save the lives of other Japanese citizens, and how female high school students were put into service. The second chamber explains the organization of the Haebaru Army Field Hospital, and the Third Chamber goes into detail on the Japanese army's retreat to the south. By far the most important chamber in the museum, Chamber IV is a requiem. Exhibited in the room are the portraits of all of the Himeyuri victims who died during the retreat from Shuri into the Kyan Peninsula as well as 28 books of testimonies left by the 90 survivors and a life-size diorama of Himeyuri Cave. Though most of the testimonies are written in Japanese, there is a book or two in English with more than enough stories to describe the type of hell these girls witnessed.

Without a doubt, the Himeyuri Peace Museum is one of the most somber places you could ever visit on Okinawa. However, it is necessary that the stories of the survivors be told to prevent similar action from taking place in the future. "When we think of today's international situation with increased threats of unclear war, we are determined all the more to do our best to continue to tell our stories of war, and by so exposing the brutality and insanity of war, to never allow it to happen again in the future" says the Himeyuri Alumnae Association. "A war is a war, cruel and merciless, no matter what beautiful slogans it is fought under. Everyone involved suffers, win or lose, and when civilians unfortunately get involved in a battle, it is they who suffer most" Most of the information in the museum is presented in both English and Japanese, and the museum also has a book written in English for sale for ・600 with all of the information presented in the museum.

Driving to the Himeyuri Peace Museum is very easy. Drive south on Highway 58. When you get to a split where Highway 58 branches to the left towards Itoman and to the right towards the airport, continue left. This will become route 331. Continue straight and you will see several road signs announcing the location of the Himeyuri Peace Museum. The Himeyuri Peace Museum will be on your left hand side, and free parking is in great supply. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is ・300 for adults, ・200 for high school students, and ・100 for elementary and junior high students.

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