Remembering the Battle of Okinawa: 3 Places Every Visitor to Okinawa Should See


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1 April marked the seventy-second anniversary of the start of the Battle of Okinawa.  This two-month long battle was recently revisited in Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge, which offered only a glimpse of the horror and tragedy of the Battle.  What the movie could not show was the toll that the battle took on the Okinawan people themselves.  Before the fighting on Okinawa, the Imperial Japanese government determined that they would fight such a bloody battle on Okinawa that the Allied powers would lose their appetite for advancing any further into Japanese territory.  The policy of gyokusai (death without surrender) mandated that not only would every last Japanese soldier fight to the death, every Japanese man, woman, and child would follow suit.  Those who wouldn't by choice were pushed to do so by radical followers of the Imperial order.  Before the shelling of the island, the Japanese on Okinawa, both civilian and military, took to caves and underground passages and waited for the American invasion to begin.  And so the stage was set for one of the bloodiest battles of World War II--one that would claim the lives of 1/3 of Okinawa's civilian population.
While there are many places that remember the Battle of Okinawa, there are three places important to visit in order to understand the toll of the Battle of Okinawa on the civilians.  If you are able to visit Okinawa during your travels, take a moment away from the delicious food, beautiful beaches, and exquisite culture to stop by these places and gain a better understanding of the important battle that shaped the culture and history of Okinawa and led for the Okinawan people to call for Okinawa to become the world's Cornerstone of Peace after the emerging from the ravages of war.  

1) Okinawa Peace Memorial


The Okinawa Peace Memorial is a large complex with both monuments to the lives lost in the Battle of Okinawa and a museum that details Okinawa's history from the time of Japanese annexation to present day.  The museum provides essential context for the conditions that shaped present-day Okinawa, while offering detailed insight into the Battle of Okinawa.  The most important monument on the grounds is the "Cornerstone of Peace," or the stone walls that bear the name of all of the Okinawans who dies in the Battle of Okinawa.
The memorial is located in Itoman city.  Visit the website for more details.

2) Himeyuri Museum

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(Photo courtesy of CNN)
The Himeyuri Museum details the special nurse unit "Himeyuri" and their tragic story.  Enlisted by the Imperial Japanese military, this group of high school girls and teachers treated Imperial soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa.  Some were killed in the battle, but a great number of them killed themselves rather than surrender to the American soldiers based on propaganda spread by the Japanese military that the Americans would rape any woman they encountered.  Of course, the Himeyuri were just one example of civilians who were enlisted to support the military in the Battle of Okinawa.  Their representative story is told in the museum, and the iconic Himeyuri monument stands just outside. 
Visit the website for more details and information on how to get there.

3) Abuchiragama

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Some of the caves where the Imperial military and Okinawan civilians sought refuge during the Battle of Okinawa are still open to the public.  The best option to visit is the Itokazu Abuchiragama in Nanjo city.  There, you don a hard hat and a flashlight and enter the caves where many resided for months.  Relics of the lives once sustained there still remain, including earthenware and other household supplies.  The cave is also marked so you could see where people slept, where the "hospital" was located, etc.  It is a moving experience to see for yourself the conditions which the Okinawan people endured for the sake of the Japanese Empire. 
For more information and an interactive web-tour, visit the Abuchiragama website.  

Mike B