The year 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A uranium gun-type atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki was decimated by a plutonium implosion-type bomb on August 9, 1945, leading Japan’s surrender on August 15. On September 2, Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on board USS Missouri, effectively ending World War II. In Japan, August 15 is known as Shusen-kinenbi (終戦記念日)/ shusen no hi (終戦の日), a day of mourning for the war dead and praying for peace.
Toward the end of WWII, Okinawa became the site for one of the war’s bloodiest battles. It is estimated that 200,000 people including more than 100,000 civilians and 12,500 Americans perished during the battle which lasted from April to June of 1945. The devastating effects of the war had a profound impact on the Okinawans and there are a number of monuments and museums relating to the period throughout Okinawa. The worst fighting took place in the south and that is where some of the larger monuments have been erected.
The Peace Memorial Park located in Itoman City is the main memorial dedicated to the Battle of Okinawa. This park stands on the site where the Battle of Okinawa came to a bitter end and where the most bloodshed ensued. The Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum established on June 11, 1975, serves as the main attraction.
Divided into five separate areas, the museum’s main purpose is to promote an idea of ever lasting peace to the world. The first area contains exhibits, which cover the history of Okinawa leading up to WWII. The second area is devoted to the progress of the battle itself and the harsh realities of war as described from a people’s perspective. The third area covers the atrocities faced by the Okinawans during the battle, everything from hiding out in caves to wondering the killing fields. The forth area displays personal testimonies preserved in print and video recordings. The fifth area focuses on postwar Okinawa, drawing attention to the refugee camps and the 27-year US military occupation. There is also an exhibit designed specifically for children to teach them about the importance of human life and to try and cultivate a desire for peace in the future.
An important stopping off point for visitors is the Cornerstone of Peace (Flame of Peace), which is fed by flames from both Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as a flame from Zamami, where US forces first landed on Okinawa in 1945. The flame is in the center of a circular pond and it is where visiting heads of state often come to pay their respects to the dead.
The Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It is closed between December 29 and January 3, in observance of the New Year holiday.
The museum is a 40-minute journey by car from Naha Airport (via highway) and 3 minutes on foot from the nearest bus stop (Heiwa Kinendo Iriguchi). You can also take one of the readily available taxis from Naha Airport.