Growing up, I shamefully admit that I never gave history the time of day (unless I was watching Euro-centric WWII documentaries with my dad which I always loved doing.) In my high school history classes, I'd remember historical dates/people/events only just long enough to take my tests and then I'd immediately purge all of this information from my memory. Although I'd like to blame this lack of appreciation/interest on my immaturity at the time... Realistically it was just plain ignorance on my part.
Fortunately, my historical renaissance began when I crossed paths with my husband. From the moment we met, not a day would go by where I didn't hear Ben share a new historical fact or quote a famous figure of the past. For Ben, history is not only just an interest but a passion. After several years of witnessing his in-depth, personal studies of historical superstars like Julius Caesar, Alexander Hamilton, and George Armstrong Custer (our bookshelf is packed with their biographies), I slowly began to find myself becoming more interested in history as a whole. I went from complaining about being drug to another Civil War battle site (we've been to practically all of them) to actively seeking out historical sites and places of significance. Who knew that history was actually kind of cool?!
Fast forward several years, and Ben and I found ourselves on the most historically significant island of the Pacific Theater during WWII. I won't claim to be as fanatical about history as my husband, but I can say that I was (and still am) extremely excited to dive head first into all of the historical events -both of ancient and modern times- that Okinawa has experienced. So far we've seen a variety of sites from the extremely popular Naval Underground Headquarters to lesser known sites like the Nakabaru ruins and the location where Lieutenant General Simon Buckner was killed during the Battle of Okinawa. Not everyone needs to be as interested in history as my husband and I, but It drives me CRAZY that so many of our peers in Okinawa forgo learning about the history of Okinawa and the reasons why any of us are even here! The beach is great and all, but having all of this Japanese culture and history at our finger tips is priceless.
This weekend we were able to absorb a little more education about Okinawa's past at the Himeyuri Peace Museum. Situated in the town of Itoman, this museum is a long drive away from our base but one that was well worth it. Himeyuri Peace Museum is dedicated solely to the school girls and teachers from the Okinawa Daiichi Women's High School and the Okinawa Shihan Women's School who were forced mobilize as nurse unit during the Battle of Okinawa. These high school aged girls worked in dark, treacherous caves where conditions were appalling and supplies were minimal. Amputeed limbs, dead bodies, and bodily fluids quickly filled these make shift hospitals but the high schoolers had no choice but to endure these horrors and continue to work. Although the girls did their best to support the injured and dying Japanese troops with their minimal knowledge, skills, and supplies, they suffered from verbal abuse and were accused by their patients of failing to serve their country proudly.
At first, these pupils were protected and supported by the Japanese Army, however once it became clear that Japan would lose this battle they were immediately abandoned and left to survive on their own. They found themselves located in the middle of the "Typhoon of Steel" (a nickname for the ferocity of the fighting) and escaping the hellish battle that raged on around them was virtually impossible. It was unbelievably disturbing and heartbreaking to learn how so many of these young girls tragically met their demise.
The last room of this museum is covered wall-to-wall with the faces of the 194 school girls and their 17 teachers who perished at the end of this battle. The memorial is simple, but it's safe to say that memory of these victims will never be forgotten.
Admission: Adults 300 yen, high school student 200 yen, elementary and middle school students 100 yen
Open Hours: 9 am - 5 pm
Address: 671-1 Aza-Ihara, Itoman, Okinawa
We're Kara, Ben and baby Zoe also known as the Lesniaks. We’re a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Yorktown, Virginia after a three year tour in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together!
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