(Sept. 16, 2008)
by Katsumi Maedomari, Curator
On March 23, 1945, U.S. forces entered Okinawa, turning the main island into a battleground that drew in its residents and claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. The Himeyuri Student Corps, comprised of 240 students and teachers of the Women’s Normal School and the First Prefectural Girls’ High School, was ordered to provide support to the medical units of the Okinawa Army Field Hospital by attending to wounded soldiers on the battlefields. Among the Corps, 123 students and 13 teachers lost their lives amid the fighting.
With the wish that “conveying the reality of war can console the souls of the dead,” surviving students initiated an effort to establish a peace museum. On June 23, 1989, the Himeyuri Peace Museum, adjacent to the Himeyuri Monument, opened to the public.
The Himeyuri Peace Museum is a private museum administered by the Himeyuri Alumnae Association Foundation, comprised of alumnae of the Women’s Normal School and the First Prefectural Girls’ High School. The total number of visitors to the museum surpassed 15 million in September 2007. 2009 will mark the 20th anniversary of the museum’s founding.
The museum presents the reality of the war through such exhibits as an introduction to the two schools, developments which led to the conflict, and conditions on the battlefields. Museum materials include students’ belongings that were retrieved from caves, films describing the war in Okinawa, testimonies by the survivors, portraits of the deceased, and a life-size diorama of the cave used by the field hospital. Since its opening, surviving members of the student corps have served as volunteers to share their experience of that time. In 2004, the museum renewed its exhibits so they would communicate more effectively to the next generation. As the survivors of the student corps are now over 80 years of age, the museum is implementing ideas to develop successors who can continue to hand down the reality of the war in Okinawa.
The survivors warn that “The sound of footsteps leading to war can again be heard.” At the same time, they believe that the momentum toward war can be stopped if each person reflects seriously on issues of war and peace. The Himeyuri Peace Museum strives to be a place that inspires people to think more deeply on these matters.
Address: 671-1 Ihara, Itoman City, Okinawa Prefecture
Days closed: Open throughout the year
Admission: Adults: ¥300; High School Students: ¥200;
Elementary and Junior High School Students: ¥100.
(Group discount is available)
(Originally published on September 8, 2008)
The museum displays portraits of the deceased and testimonies by the survivors. This room serves as a place of repose for the souls of the departed students. (Photo by Satoshi Taira / Himeyuri Peace Museum)
This section of the museum, entitled “Eve of the Battle of Okinawa,” describes the gradual militarization of the schools, due to the protracted war which began in the 1930s. (Photo by Satoshi Taira / Himeyuri Peace Museum)
This section, entitled “Battlefield of the Himeyuri Corps,” presents the conditions of the Himeyuri Student Corps members on the battlefield with a diorama showing the interior of the cave hospital and survivors’ testimonies. (Photo by Satoshi Taira / Himeyuri Peace Museum)