Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
Near the southern tip of Okinawa Main Island are several war memorial sites commemorating the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. One of those is the Himeyuri Monument and its accompanying museum.
While the various battles in the war were fought by men, females played a very important part in the Battle of Okinawa - more specifically, 240 high school girls. The Himeyuri Peace Museum depicts the tragic lives of these students during the war.
The museum features several exhibits, videos and photographs of the Himeyuri students and their involvements in the events leading up to the Battle of Okinawa and after it ended. The good news is, there are several signs in English, so anyone who doesn’t know Japanese can still understand and empathize with what the Himeyuri students had gone through.
There are a total of 6 exhibition chambers in the museum. The first one, entitled “Youth of Himeyuri”, explains that the name “Himeyuri” refers to the nickname for the Okinawa Women’s Normal School and First Women’s Prefectural High School. The students were ordinary girls with their own hopes and aspirations, until the war changed their lives. The schools were militarized, and the young students were indoctrinated in war-related education. This education system eventually robbed them of their innocence and youth.
The second chamber is called “Himeyuri Students at the Front”. The mobilized students were assigned to work as nurse assistants in dark caves that were connected to each other via tunnels. The living conditions were horrendous, as one might guess. Here, the Himeyuri students had to perform their medic duties on wounded soldiers, enduring the gruesomeness of it all. Medical tools used back then are on display here, and visitors can watch the Himeyuri survivors’ accounts of their experiences on video.
The third chamber is named “Deactivation Order and Roaming toward Death”. Due to propaganda, the Himeyuri students had believed that the Japanese would win the war easily, and that it would end early. Hence, in spite of the tough duties they had to do, they had remained optimistic, looking forward to the end of the war and resumption of normal life. Unfortunately, reality couldn’t be further from the truth. One night, an order was issued to dissolve the Himeyuri unit. The students were thrown out of the caves, at the mercy of the approaching U.S. military. Most of them perished in the days after that – they were either killed by the enemy, or committed suicide due to fears of rape (they were told by Japanese military officers that the U.S. soldiers would rape them, and were given grenades to blow themselves up). This tragedy is recounted in films and survivors’ accounts, which can be viewed in this chamber.
The fourth exhibition Chamber, titled “Requiem”, features photos of the Himeyuri students, and visitors can read survivors’ accounts of their experiences. There’s also a full-scale, reconstructed model of one of the clinic caves here – a somber sight to behold.
There’s not much to see in the fifth chamber, “Memorial”. It comprises of a flower garden, and visitors can write their thoughts on the museum exhibitions here. The last chamber, “The Passage to Peace”, can be viewed in a matter of minutes. It contains messages emphasizing the importance of peace and encourages activities promoting peace.
The Himeyuri Memorial Museum is easily accessible by bus from central Nago, and definitely worth going. It’s not exactly full of sunshine, and it might make you cry, as it does some Japanese visitors.