Okinawa Prefectural Peace Park & Memorial Museum, Itoman

The Battle of Okinawa was the last and only land battle to take place on Japanese soil. By the end of the intense three month battle that started in March 1945, over 200,000 people had been killed, half of those being local civilians. In 1972, a peace park was constructed on Mabuni Hill, the site of the last battle on Okinawa. Three years later in 1975, the Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum was built on the same site as a facility to remember the victims of war, teach future generations about the battle and promote global peace. In the years following more memorials and monuments were erected throughout the park.

The museum was redeveloped in the late 1990s and was expanded to include four stories of exhibitions and a resource library. Displaying a large collection of objects linked to the people of Okinawa, along with a series of photographs, audio-visual testimonies and archival documents, the museum outlines the history of Okinawa leading up to the Battle of Okinawa, the experiences of local civilians throughout the battle and the postwar history of Okinawa, including the refugee camps, US military occupation and the reversion movement.

In an effort to emphasise the need for global peace, a children’s exhibition space is also featured. Focusing on global issues that affect all children and the common factors that unite people regardless of their nationality, children are encouraged to interact with the exhibits and question the ideas presented. A small library, open to the public, further encourages the message of peace, featuring books, magazines, teaching materials and audio-visual eyewitness accounts on the topic.

External to the museum, at the eastern end of the park on Mabuni Hill stands the National War Dead Mausoleum. Following the Battle of Okinawa, the remains of those who died were collected by local residents, cremated collectively and transferred to a central repository. In 1970, the Mausoleum was constructed as a final resting place for the 180,000 individuals who were cremated. Winding past the Mausoleum is the memorial path – a walkway featuring 32 monuments, each representing a prefecture in Japan. Varying largely in style, each monument reflects a different aspect of war, in particular the aggression and carnage that stems from battle.

At the western end of the park, The Cornerstone of Peace memorial lists the names of over 240,000 individuals. Unveiled in 1995, the 116 black granite walls feature the names of all Japanese, American, British, Korean and Taiwanese soldiers who died in the Battle of Okinawa, as well as the local Okinawan civilians who died throughout World War II and the Japanese occupation (1931-1945). Each year, more names are added to the memorial at the request of the victims’ families. Two other significant sites located within the park grounds include the Peace Memorial Hall, which inside has a 12-metre tall lacquered Buddha, and the eternal flame of peace located outside the museum.

Each year on the 23rd of June, a ceremony is held to commemorate Okinawa Memorial Day. Large numbers of Japanese and American veterans and their families attend the ceremony to pay their respects to those who died during the Battle of Okinawa. After the sun goes down, five searchlights used during World War II shine pillars of light into the sky to represent the war dead from Japan, American, the UK, Korea and Taiwan.