Himeyuri Monument & Peace Museum
- darkometer rating: 6 -
Another popular part of the memorial trail on southern Okinawa
. This one commemorates in particular the tragic fate of schoolgirls who were mobilized towards the end of WWII
to work in a Japanese
underground army field hospital. Here their duties included disposing of soldiers' amputated limbs and burying the dead.
forces pushed southwards in the Battle of Okinawa the Japanese military retreated and the girls were simply abandoned by the Army. So with nowhere to go under US siege, they either committed suicide (as they were instructed to do by Japanese war propaganda – see Okinawa) or were killed in the battle that was raging around them. Out of 240 in total, only 14 survived.
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
What there is to see: The Himeyuri monument outside the museum isn't that much to look at – a slab with Japanese inscriptions mounted over a gaping hole in the ground – part of the cave the schoolgirls were hiding in at the time, apparently.
The museum next door, however, is more captivating. It consists of a series of six exhibition rooms set out around a courtyard. Explanatory texts and exhibit labels are bilingual, in Japanese and English (the quality of which is generally very good, except for the odd glitch here and there).
The overall tone of the exhibition is mournful (even when school groups clog up the rooms), and the politics noticeably less slanted compared to parts of the Peace Memorial Museum
, let a lone the revisionist, nationalist slant at the infamous Yushukan
. This is in line with the Himeyuri museum's quite explicitly stated mission of being a strictly pacifist institution; and in contrast to, say, the Chiran Kamikaze Museum
in Kyushu, Himeyuri really does manage to live up to that goal.
The first room's exhibition, "youth of Himeyuri", serves as a kind of introduction, setting the scene by explaining the situation the girls found themselves in during the war and what the propaganda of the time was.
The functioning of the military underground hospital, using narrow cave passageways, is outlined in the next exhibition chamber, including the display of various artefacts. The next exhibition room focuses on the tragic fate of the girls when they were left behind by the Army.
The fourth chamber is entitled "requiem". Here 200 photographic portraits of the schoolgirls line the walls, while the main area space of the room is filled with lecterns holding survivors' testimonies in laminated folders, including a couple with translations into English. This is very reminiscent of the same set-up at the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum
at the Peace Memorial Park
. Of course here at Himeyuri, the testimonies are all part of the narrower perspective of the schoolgirls, but the emotional qualities are very similar. I saw Japanese visitors literally moved to tears.
Adjacent to this room is what the museum calls a "cave georama", a life-size (reconstructed) section of one of the clinic caves, one in which many were killed by concentrated tear gas.
This basically concludes the exhibition proper, although a new annexe provides extra museum space. This was added in 2004, when the whole museum was given a general overhaul and modernized. At the time of my visit in April 2009, this bright and airy room (in contrast to the rather gloomy dark main part of the museum) was largely bare, only a few panels lined a wall. These mainly provided information about other associated institutions with similar aims as the Himeyuri Peace Museum, including the Anne Frank House
, the Anti-War-Museum
and the State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau
In a connecting room there is a newly added display of an Okinawa school lapel button, together with photos of other such buttons, which was found in the ground nearby only recently and is presumed to have been part one of the Himeyuri girls' garments. I only know this because my guide on that day of touring the south Okinawa
war sites told me so – the explanatory texts at this exhibit are in Japanese only, at least for the time being.
The museum also has a small shop – here you can buy a museum book in English (65 pages, ca. 600 Yen), which is a combination of a description of the museum's content, historical background, and reprints of a selection of those survivors' testimonies. Well worth getting. (Since it doesn't have an ISBN number, it's presumably only available at the museum.)
The museum is a very popular stop on school trips to southern Okinawa
, and as it's not very big, it can get rather crowded. It's also part of the tourist round trips by bus operating out of Naha, and is the second stop after the former Navy underground headquarters
… when getting here on an independent basis, coming early, first thing, could help avoiding the crowds.
Access and costs: can be a bit tricky and long-winded to get to, but is not expensive.
same as for the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park
, only a bit closer to Naha – 45 mins. by car on route 331; or by bus: from Naha terminal bus No. 89 (or 31, 33 or 46) to Itoman terminal (every 20 minutes), then change to the Gyokusendo Line No. 82 bus to Heiwa-kinen-koen-mae (hourly) and get off at Himeyuri-no-To-mae, from where the museum/memorial is a short (three-minute) walk; pure travel time (without transfers) ca. 50 mins +.
Himeyuri is also part of the tourist excursion bus trips from Naha, but the time they leave you to look around can be a bit tight at only 30 minutes.
A look at the Himeyuri memorial doesn't take more than a couple of minutes, but the museum requires at least half an hour, possibly more, up to or exceeding a full hour if you really want to take everything in. Plus transport time, of course. The bus round trips of southern Okinawa
which take in the war-related sights of the area also stop at Himeyuri for about 30 mins., which may just about be sufficient (though still somewhat rushed), unlike at the Peace Memorial Park
, where the time allocated on these tours is totally inadequate.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
– Himeyuri is just a few miles north-west of the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park
, and thus combines best with this (also thematically and stylistically); a more exotic experience can be found (with help from a guide) near Himeyuri in the form of Todoroki cave
. En route back to (or from) Naha, the former Japanese Navy underground HQ
makes for a suitable extra stopover.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: