Okinawa, Japan 25: WW2 Peace Memorial
Written & Directed by James Knott
If you do not see a video box here, then this video can be seen on YouTube.
The Battle of Okinawa in WW2 devasted the island. Over 100,000 Okinawan civilians were killed in the fighting. Today a very fitting peace memorial sits in southern Okinawa.
Okinawa is Japan's southernmost prefecture. Over 1.25 million people are scattered across nearly 150 islands.
Okinawa has a unique culture that goes back several hundred years to when it was an independent country known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. This kingdom was known to trade frequently with China and as a result adopted much more from the Chinese than the rest of Japan.
The main island, Okinawa-honto, is surrounded by vivid, bright blue ocean and coral reefs. It is densely populated and urbanized in the south, while the the mountainous northern part of the island consists of just a few fishing villages and dense forests.
The beautiful, sub-tropical setting combined with historical roots that are more intertwined with China than Japan, have created a wonderful culture that is distinctly Okinawan.
Okinawa, Japan 25: WW2 Peace Memorial
IN THE SPRING OF 1945, OKINAWA WAS HIT WITH A “TYPHOON OF STEEL” AS THE U.S. MILITARY LAUNCHED ONE OF THE LARGEST AND DEADLIEST AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULTS OF WW2. THE JAPANESE LOST OVER 90,000 TROOPS AND THERE WERE OVER 100,000 OKINAWA CIVILIANS KILLED IN THE FIGHTING.
AS THE AMERICANS TOOK CONTROL OF THE ISLAND, DESPARATE JAPANESE SOLDIERS NOT ONLY FORCED OKINAWANS TO FIGHT, THEY ALSO FORCED THEM TO COMMIT SUICIDE WHEN DEFEAT WAS INEVITABLE.
THE ISLAND, THE PEOPLE, THE CULTURE WERE ALL TORN TO PIECES AND LIFE IN OKINAWA WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME.
TODAY AT MABUNI HILL, THERE IS A MEMORIAL OF THIS EVENT – NOT JUST TO REMEMBER THE PEOPLE WHO DIED, BUT ALSO TO ENCOURAGE FUTURE GENERATIONS TO LIVE IN PEACE AND AVOID THE TERRIBLE TRAGEDY OF WAR.
THE OKINAWA PREFECTURAL PEACE MEMORIAL MUSEUM TELLS THE STORY OF THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA – FROM THE OKINAWAN PERSPECTIVE – WHAT LEAD TO THE WAR - THE ATROCITIES THAT THE ISLAND FACED - AND LIFE AFTER THE WAR.
PEACE MEMORIAL HALL IS AN EASILY RECOGNIZED LANDMARK. IT STANDS HIGH ABOVE THE HORIZON, HAS A SMALL MUSEUM AND CONTAINS THE LARGEST LAQUERED BUDDHA IN JAPAN.
FOR ME, THE CORNERSTONE OF PEACE WAS MY MOST MOVING MOMENT IN OKINAWA. ROWS OF STONE WALLS SURROUND A SMALL, PLACID FOUNTAIN AND ON THESE WALLS ARE THE NAMES OF OVER 240,000 PEOPLE WHO DIED IN THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA. BUT, THESE AREN’T JUST THE NAMES OF JAPANESE SOLDIERS. THEY HAVE LISTED EVERY OFFICER, CONSCRIPT AND CIVILIAN THAT DIED - REGARDLESS OF NATIONALITY.
THE CORNERSTONE SITS ON THE COAST ABOVE A SERIES OF BLUFFS – KNOWN AS “THE SUICIDE CLIFFS” – THE STORY OF WHY THEY ARE CALLED THE SUICIDE CLIFFS IS DISPUTED, BUT ONE VERSION SAYS THIS IS WHERE JAPANESE SOLDIERS AND OKINAWAN CIVILIANS JUMPED TO THEIR DEATH BECAUSE THEY WERE AFRAID THEY WOULD BE TORTURED BY THE ENCROACHING AMERICAN G.I.S. – A BELIEF THAT JAPANESE MILITARY LEADERS HAD INSTILLED IN THEM.
ON A HILL ABOVE THE CORNERSTONE, IS A MEMORIAL PATH WHERE EVERY JAPANESE PREFECTURE HAS ERECTED A MONUMENT TO THEIR SOLDIERS THAT DIED. THE SIZE, SHAPE AND ORNATENESS OF THE SCULPTURES VARIES GREATLY, BUT THEY ALL ADD UP TO A VERY MOVING TRIBUTE.
BEYOND THIS IS A CAVE USED TO HIDE IN DURING THE WAR AND A SPECTACULAR PANARAMIC VIEW OF SOUTHERN OKINAWA. LOOKING OUT, IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE THAT THIS BEAUTIFUL SCENE WAS ONCE THE CENTER OF SUCH A HORRIBLE TRAGEDY.
THERE IS SO MUCH TO TAKE IN AT THE PARK, IT’S REALLY NOT SOMETHING THAT YOU SHOULD RUSH.
BEING AT THIS MOVING MEMORIAL IS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO APPRECIATE THE RELATIVE PEACE AND COMFORT THAT WE HAVE TODAY AND A GOOD MOMENT TO HOPE FOR A MORE PEACEFUL FUTURE BASED ON THE LESSONS OF THE OKINAWA’S PAST.