Toward the end of World War II, Okinawa Honto became the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war. When U.S. forces captured and occupied the island. An estimated 200,000 people, including more than 100,000 civilians and 12,500 Americans. Were killed in the battle, which lasted from April to June 1945.
The devastating effects of the war had a profound impact on Okinawans, and there are several monuments and museums on Okinawa Honto that relate to the period. The worst fighting occurred in the south, and some of the most significant monuments were built there.
The prominent memorial to the Battle of Okinawa is Peace Memorial Park, located near the island’s southern tip. Its main attraction is the Peace Memorial Museum, which provides a sobering overview of the lead-up to the battle. The battle itself, and the reconstruction of Okinawa.
Other monuments in the park include the “Cornerstone of Peace”. A collection of large stone tablets with the names of all the fallen. Soldiers and civilians, including Koreans, Taiwanese, Americans, and British. There’s also an area with monuments donated by 46 other Japanese prefectures.
A few kilometers west of the Peace Park stands the Himeyuri Monument (Himeyuri no To) with an adjacent museum. It commemorates the fate of high school girls who worked in caves in army field hospitals under appalling conditions. Most of them didn’t survive the war.
The girls from Okinawa First Girls’ High School and Okinawa Women’s Normal School had been admitted to the Okinawa Army Field Hospital in Haebaru village, about 3 miles southeast of Naha. The name Himeyuri comes from the nickname for the Okinawa Women’s Normal School.
The cave and the Himeyuri Peace Museum are located on the site, with photos, videos, survivor accounts, and other exhibits explaining the lives and sacrifices of the schoolgirls. The girls suffered their fate not only inside the cave but also outside under American fire. Others committed suicide with shells or grenades.
The miserable conditions in the interconnected caves, which served as hospitals, are recreated with dioramas. The museum has a very strong anti-war message. A visit here’s a moving experience.
Another thought-provoking war-related site is the former underground naval headquarters, consisting of several hundred meters of underground corridors and rooms that served as Japanese Navy headquarters. Visitors can see a room whose walls are riddled with shell fragments in one area. Many sailors committed suicide in these tunnels after their situation became hopeless toward the end of the battle.
Take bus number 89 from Naha Bus Terminal to Itoman Bus Terminal (糸満バスターミナル, 60 minutes, 580 yen, departures every 10 minutes), change to bus number 82 and go to Heiwakinendō-iriguchi (平和祈念堂入口, 20 minutes, 480 yen, departures every 1-2 hours). By car, it takes you about 50 minutes from downtown Naha.
Take bus 89 from Naha Bus Terminal to Itoman Terminal (糸満バスターミナル, 60 minutes, 580 yen, departures every 10 minutes), transfer to bus 82, 107 or 108 and get off at Himeyuri-no-tō-mae (ひめゆりの塔前, 20 minutes, 330 yen, 1-2 busses/hour). By car, it takes you about 45 minutes from downtown Naha.
From Naha Bus Terminal/Asahibashi, take bus line 55 or 98 to Tomigusuku Minami (とみぐすく南, 15 minutes, 260 yen, 3-5 busses/hour), from where the former Navy underground headquarters is a ten-minute walk up the hill. You can reach it in about 10-15 minutes from downtown Naha or Naha airport by car.