Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum

  - darkometer rating:  8 -
The museum is the part of the large Okinawa Peace Memorial Park and by far its most worthwhile and informative element. It can rightly be regarded as one of the best war museums in Japan and the whole of the Pacific region – and for the dark tourist it's the main reason for coming to Okinawa in the first place. It is also incredibly popular with tourists generally, though it's probably Japanese school trips that form the largest proportion of the place's clientele.  

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


What there is to see: By the ticket counter and museum shop is a display of unexploded bombs and shells in the ground, covered by glass floor plates, which serves as a kind of "taster". Upstairs is the museum's main permanent exhibition. And let me say it straight away: it is excellent, and caters for foreigners exceptionally well too, for Japan! (Although not as well as the outstanding Peace Museum in Hiroshima) Audio guides are available (for free) at the ticket counter (in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish). But they are actually quite unnecessary – in fact they could be a hindrance. The exhibition is cutting-edge modern and uses multi-media displays and video footage with English subtitles, plus numerous documents, photos and text panels, in Japanese and almost (though not quite) consistently in English too, the quality of which is mostly good.
Thematically, the museum moves more or less chronologically, starting with the build-up of tensions before the war and the rise of fascism ... included are pictures of Hitler and Mussolini. So the scope is wide, even though the fact that imperial Japan also formed part of the Axis Powers as an ally of those European fascists is rather glossed over.
The Japanese invasions of China, Indochina, Indonesia and beyond are also outlined. In fact, the war is called here the "15 year war" – counting 1931 as the starting point with the beginning of Japan's involvement in Manchuria, China.
Here, the presentation gets quite slanted, however, e.g. when the influx of Japanese into China is referred to as "emigration". There is no mention of the atrocities committed by the infamous Kwantung Army (cf. also Nanjing). And the Japanese invasions of Indonesia, the Philippines and Indochina are referred to as "liberation from European and American colonization" for the goal of "mutual prosperity". Though this particular highly inadequate description is marked as a quotation, you still have to wonder what impressions the many Japanese school trips that come here take home with them… All in all, however, the museum's coverage of the politics behind and during the war, though occasionally slanted, is nowhere near as revisionist as at the notorious Yushukan in Tokyo.
What is noted, interestingly, is the enforced japanization of Okinawa in the imperial period. This is consistent with Okinawa's awkward identity problem: not really originally Japanese, but partly Polynesian, though the days of independence are a distant memory, and then of course the heavy American influence … it's all a very complex mixture.
However, the museum's main focus is, obviously, on the WWII Battle of Okinawa itself. Apart from outlining the various military aspects in quite some detail, special emphasis is placed on the suffering of civilians, and this also covers the atrocities committed by the Japanese military against Okinawa’s civilian population. This included stealing their food provisions, pressuring them into committing suicide, and even actively massacring them if they were vaguely suspected of being "spies" or when they appealed to reason and called for surrender.
Particularly good coverage is given to the use of Okinawa's caves, called "gama" (cf. Todoroki cave), as both defensive bastions and hideouts for civilians to take refuge in. These were places where so many Okinawans died, either committing suicide (with hand grenades), or being killed in the US mopping-up operations after their landing on the island. Here, some of the pictures displayed get quite graphic: fly-covered corpses of children, soldiers charred to death by flame-throwers, groups of dead civilians blown-up in "gama" caves, etc.
In the next section of the museum, testimonies from Okinawan eyewitnesses of the battle are displayed on laminated sheets in large folders (similarly at Himeyuri). Most are in Japanese, but there's also a small section with two folders providing English translations. Some of these personal stories are quite gripping indeed.
The final section of the museum, entitled "Keystone of the Pacific" covers the post-war developments in Okinawa and beyond: American occupation, the establishment of huge military bases, American cultural influence emanating from these bases – but also the deployment of nuclear and chemical weapons on Okinawa during the Cold War. The Vietnam War, during which B-52s took off from Okinawa on their carpet-bombing missions, gets a mention here as well, including some of the more gory photos that are also on display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
The local resistance against the prolonged US presence on the island is covered too, including e.g. the violent Koza riots of 1970. Obviously, the eventual 'reversion', i.e. the USA's "handing back" of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, is celebrated, though the problems of the continued US military presence is lamented. Coverage of more recent incidents in which US troops were accused of gang-raping a local girl, which lead to mass demonstrations in Okinawa, finishes off the museum's main exhibition.
On the ground floor, there's an additional "children's exhibition", which is a bit kitschy and naïve in comparison to the main parts of the museum. Furthermore there are study rooms, a library, and access to the observation tower. The latter is well worth going up to as it provides a good view over the great expanse of the whole Okinawa Peace Park complex, the coastline and the ocean beyond.
The museum shop in the lobby has several publications in English as well as Japanese material. The main one to look out for is the museum's own (bilingual) catalogue, which is exceptionally detailed – basically representing the entire museum's contents! Its nearly 200 A4 pages with lots of good-quality photos, as well as documents, charts and texts, is almost as good as visiting the museum itself. At 1500 Yen I found it a bargain.
Location: at the very southern end of Okinawa Island, 12-15 miles (ca. 20-25 km) south of Naha (exact figures vary for some reason – according to the museum it's "22 km"), just off highway 331 between Itoman and the theme park of "Okinawa World" aka "Culture Kingdom Gyokusendo".
Google maps locator: [26.0965,127.7251]
Access and costs: not too easy to get to, but the museum itself is good value for money.
Details: for access see Okinawa Peace Park. The Museum charges 300 Yen admission for the permanent exhibition upstairs only, which is cheap for what you get! The observation tower and extra exhibitions on the ground floor are free.
Opening times: daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (some sources say "except Mondays, unless Monday is a public holiday" but the museum's signs and own brochure do not make this qualification any longer). Closed between 29 December and 3 January.
The museum is reasonably accessible for wheelchairs.
Time required: the permanent exhibition of the Peace Memorial Museum alone warrants about an hour, more if you want to study everything on offer in greater detail, and a bit more time could be allocated for the observation tower and the extra exhibitions on the ground floor (which can be done fairly quickly, though).
Combinations with other dark destinations: see Okinawa Peace Park – and more generally: Okinawa.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Okinawa.
  • Okinawa Peace Museum 1 - buildingOkinawa Peace Museum 1 - building
  • Okinawa Peace Museum 2 - original battlegroundOkinawa Peace Museum 2 - original battleground
  • Okinawa Peace Museum 3 - insideOkinawa Peace Museum 3 - inside
  • Okinawa Peace Museum 4 - exhibition installationOkinawa Peace Museum 4 - exhibition installation
  • Okinawa Peace Museum 5 - extent of Japanese expansionOkinawa Peace Museum 5 - extent of Japanese expansion
  • Okinawa Peace Museum 6 - entering the tough picture galleryOkinawa Peace Museum 6 - entering the tough picture gallery
  • Okinawa Peace Museum 7 - gruesome imagesOkinawa Peace Museum 7 - gruesome images
  • Okinawa Peace Museum 8 - into the American ageOkinawa Peace Museum 8 - into the American age
  • Okinawa Peace Museum 9 - B-52s stationed on OkinawaOkinawa Peace Museum 9 - B-52s stationed on Okinawa

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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