Himeyuri Memorial & Peace Museum, Itoman
Located at the southern end of the Okinawan mainland, in the city of Itoman, stands the Himeyuri Memorial and Peace Museum. The site is dedicated to the local citizens who fought and died in the area, in particular the 222 female students and 18 staff that were drafted as nursing staff from two of the local all girl’s schools in the area.
As the Battle of Okinawa commenced in 1945, local citizens were encouraged to take part in the war effort. The 222 girls and 18 teachers from Okinawa Daiichi Women’s High School and Okinawa Shihan Women’s School were mobilised into a nursing unit and sent to the frontline to perform surgery, take care of the wounded and remove the dead. As the US forces progressed further south, the Japanese Army was instructed to dissolve the unit and in response abandoned the girls to care for themselves. By the end of the battle, at least 80% of the girls had either died during the fighting or had committed suicide out of fear of being raped or killed by the American soldiers.
One year later in 1946, the Himeyuri Memorial was constructed next to the entrance of one of the caves the girls hid in throughout the US attacks. The stone cenotaph was erected by many of the survivors still living in the area. Over 40 years later, the Himeyuri Peace Museum was erected adjacent to the memorial.
Comprised of six exhibition rooms, the museum outlines the events leading up to the Battle of Okinawa, the reasons for the girls' involvement, the duties they had to perform whilst nursing and the eventual tragic loss of life. Written in both English and Japanese, the interpretative panels are paired with a moderate collection of objects from the period and a series of black and white photographs, including portraits of almost 200 of the schoolgirls and the caves in which they worked and died. Audio-visual footage and written survivor testimonies further amplify the emotional impact on visitors, as well as push the museum’s mission of global peace.
It is estimated that almost 600,000 people visit the Himeyuri Memorial and Peace Museum every year. Special services are held on the 23rd of June to commemorate those who died throughout the Battle of Okinawa. Many of the survivors’ families attend the service to pay their respects.