Today, Okinawa is a place many foreigners think of as a place with a beautiful ocean side area with great weather and beautiful beaches, but despite how beautiful it is, Okinawa has had a hard history during World War II. A great number of people, both military and civilians lost their lives in the heated battles of World War II and there are many historical spots that tourists can visit to learn about Okinawa’s role in the war. From museums to memorials, there is something for history buffs or anyone interested in World War II History. Here are nine World War II history spots in Okinawa to visit.
1. Okinawa Peace Memorial Hall
The only battle on Japanese soil and the bloodiest battle in the east during World War II was known as the “Typhoon of Steel.” The 90-day battle claimed the lives of 200,000 people–100,000 of which were civilians. The high number of civilian casualties was a significant point of this battle, thus a memorial was made in memory of the lives that were lost. The battle destroyed much of the landscape and cultural monuments as well. The Peace Museum aims to teach the lessons of war, teach to have pride in culture over war, and shares information about peace so the people would not experience such loss again.
2. Okinawa Peace Prayer Park
The Peace Prayer Park overlooks a cliff and a beautiful view of the ocean. Before taking a look at it, take a look at the many prefectural monuments resurrected by each prefecture of Japan in an effort to promote and accept peace. A total number of 50 monuments dedicated to peace rest in the park and their representation of people standing together in peace is quite moving. Visitors can also visit the Cornerstone of Peace at the park which reminds people to pray for peace and learn from the past. It features names of those who were lost from both sides.
3. Himeyuri Monument and Museum
Located in Itoman, Okinawa is the Himeyuri Monument and Museum dedicated to the Himeyuri Students also known as the Lily Corps. The group was made up of 18 teachers and 222 students from Okinawa Shihan Women’s School and the Okinawa Daiichi Women’s High School. This group essentially served as a nursing unit for the Japanese military. They worked performing many tasks including surgery. Many of them began living in caves filled with injured and dead soldiers. Out of 240 of the Himeyuri unit, 237 lost their lives. This monument and Museum commemorates them and tells their stories.
4. Tsushima Maru Memorial
Tsushima Maru, a passenger ship and a cargo vessel, was transporting hundreds of children from Okinawa to Kagoshima in an effort to evacuate from the battlegrounds until the USS Bowfin submarine sunk it during World War II. Out of 834 of the children, about 775 died and 45 survived. The Tsushima Maru also carried 827 to 954 other civilians. The USS Bowfin sank the Tsushima Maru near the Akusekijima island and the wreck was located in 1997. After 20 years, the operators of the USS Bofin learned that the vessel was carrying school children.
5. Tomari International Cemetery
The Tomari International Cemetary is located at the Tomari port in Naha, Okinawa. It is the resting place of 22 foreigners from the 19th to 20th century and locals who have passed away, but it is where mainly foreign people are buried, especially Americans who lost their lives in World War II and the Korean War. There are about 300 graves from the postwar time period. It was destroyed in the war but rebuilt and reopened in 1955. Visitors can go here to see the names of those who fought in the war.
6. Sugar Loaf Hill
There are many sites upon which the battles in Okinawa took place that tourist can visit. Sugar Loaf hill is one of those places. Despite the looks of the small size of Sugar Loaf Hill, it served as the site of one of the key battle areas in Okinawa. Sugar Loaf Hill was one of three points that the Japanese set up to defend Okinawa against American soldiers. The hill was essentially a system of caves and tunnels with firing areas disguised so well that they were undetectable and tanks succumbed to mines and antitank fire. It took 11 tries for Sugar Loaf Hill to be captured and it resulted in a lot of bloodshed.
7. Chibi Chiri Gama and Shimuku Gama
Chibi Chiri Gama, also known as the 1000 Man Cave, and Shimuku Gama are located in Ie Shima. Gama, meaning “cave” in the local dialect, is where civilian people took shelter from the war with more than 1000 people in each cave. Influenced by the idea that if captured, they will be killed or raped, many people killed themselves with grenades and poison to escape such fate, but in Shimaku Gama, a man named Higa talked to the America soldiers and assured the Japanese civilians that they would not be harmed. Visitors can go to the caves and learn about the tragic story of these Okinawan people.
8. Underground Headquarters of the Japanese Navy
The Underground Headquarters is where Rear Admiral Ota commanded the Japanese Navy. It is where Rear Admiral Ota and his men committed suicide upon the end of the Battle of Okinawa after saying the Okinawan people did their best. The heartwrenching stories of the war are etched into the walls of the many tunnels that make up the underground headquarters. The Japanese government later opened parts of the tunnels to the public in hopes to encourage them to choose peace instead of war. Visitors can see the headquarters just how it was in 1945.
9. Nakagutsuku Observation Post
In Nakagutsuku, there is a place called Kouchi Jinchi or “High-ground Position.” It served as an observation post for the Japanese military. In addition to the trenches and underground tunnels especially around the post, the observation post was a part of the intricate defense system that the Japanese built to defend Okinawa. The post stands at 161.8 meters above sea level and it is built from cement reinforced with rebar. It also features 4 holes used to look over the island and sea. Visitors can look out of the holes and feel the realness of the war that took place.
The war has taken thousands upon thousands of lives including innocent men, women, and children. It is something that many people wish not to repeat. Okinawa has made many of the battle sites all around the prefecture into memorials and areas for the public to pray for and remember those who lost their lives and to reflect on the devastating costs of war and the lessons that are to be learned from the war. These sites are great places for history buffs and anyone to visit and learn about Okinawa’s past.
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