After a week of enjoying the sun (when it wasn't cloudy or rainy), sand and reefs of Okinawa Prefecture 沖縄県, my last full day there was a more somber one. Okinawa, of course, was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, and visitors to the main island 沖縄本島 owe it to themselves to take a little bit of time away from the beaches and shops, and pay a visit to one of the war-related memorials. Which is why, following breakfast on the morning of my final day in Naha 那覇, I walked over to the Naha Bus Terminal 那覇バスターミナル and caught the No. 89 bus going to Itoman 糸満.
It was an uninteresting ride through Naha's seemingly endless suburbs to the Itoman Bus Terminal 糸満バスターミナル, where I transferred to the No. 82 bus. It wasn't long before I was being dropped off at the Memorial Peace Park 平和祈念公園, located on Mabuni Hill 摩文仁の丘, where the final battle of the Okinawa campaign took place. Upon entering the park, the first building of note to be seen is the Peace Memorial Hall 平和記念堂.
Despite its striking white tower, there apparently isn't much to see inside according to my guidebooks, so I skipped going in, and instead saved my money for the Okinawa Prefecture Peace Memorial Museum 沖縄県立平和記念資料館.
The museum covers what happened during the Battle of Okinawa 沖縄戦 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Okinawa), but its main focus is on the suffering the people of the island endured during the fighting. Up to a third of the civilian population perished in the invasion, and the museum's displays place much of the blame for that on the Japanese government and military. Okinawa was sacrificed in order to forestall an American attack on the home islands, and men, women and children were forced to shelter in caves with the Japanese troops in appalling conditions. Babies were smothered to keep them quiet, people were shot for speaking the local dialect 沖縄方言 and not Japanese and, of course, many were killed or severely injured by bullets, shells and grenades. Most tragic of all, however, were the stories of civilians committing mass suicide under the urging or coercion of Japanese soldiers, who told the Okinawans of the terrible things that would happen to them if they surrendered to the Americans.
Other displays in the museum cover the postwar period, when Okinawa was under American administration, and paints a less-than-rosy picture of how the U.S. did little to live up to its democratic ideals while governing the people of the Ryūkyū Islands 琉球諸島. It makes it very easy to understand the resentment Okinawans feel toward the Japanese and American governments over the continuing U.S. military presence on the islands.
The view overlooking the park from the roof of the peace museum.
After taking in all the displays in the museum, I went outside and walked over to the Cornerstone of Peace 平和の礎 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornerstone_of_peace). Here there are granite monuments inscribed with the names of the over 240,000 people who were killed during the fighting on Okinawa Island. To the park's great credit, the names of all the dead - Japanese and American military and Okinawan civilians - are listed. Here and there, people could be seen laying bouquets of flowers in front of some of the monuments, a very touching scene on this still and humid morning.
Ernie Pyle was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American war correspondent (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernie_Pyle). He was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on April 18, 1945.
The Memorial Peace Park, with its peace museum and Cornerstone of Peace, is most definitely worth a visit. After nearly three hours there, I boarded a No. 82 bus heading back toward Itoman. Before reaching the bus terminal, however, I made one more stop, where, after a tendon 天丼 lunch, I visited the Himeyuri-no-tō ひめゆりの塔. Whereas the Peace Museum describes the suffering of the people in a broad sense, the Himeyuri-no-tō brings it down to a more personal level, telling the tragic tale of the Himeyuri students (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himeyuri_students), high school girls who were mobilized as nurses at the start of the American invasion. The students dealt with the wounded in gruesome circumstances, as they moved from cave to cave, and many were killed by bullets and shells. The worst came after the nursing units were dissolved on June 18, 1945. Even more girls died after being left to fend for themselves in the caves, with some getting caught in the crossfire, and others committing suicide after believing the propaganda that was fed to them about how they would be raped and killed by American troops. In all, 227 students in the Himeyuri corps did not survive the war. Their story is told in a well-laid out museum, complete with photographs and excellent English language captions.
Of all the photographs of the girls who died, this one touched me the most. Most of the pictures were taken from formal school portraits, with the girls looking serious or shyly grinning. This one, however, showed an image of a much younger girl with a sweet smile, who shouldn't have suffered and died the way she did (and of course none of them should have - they were just students, and as the museum points out, mobilizing them for military service was against all codes of international law). May you rest in peace, Ranko Kokuba 国場蘭子.
What a senseless waste of life it all was - soldier and civilian, Japanese and non-Japanese.
It was quiet bus ride from the Himeyuri-no-tō back to the Itoman Bus Terminal. It wasn't long, however, before I found myself back in the present world, i.e. Naha. Before returning to my hotel for a rest, I visited the F.C. Ryūkyū ＦＣ琉球 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FC_Ryukyu) soccer team store, and picked up a T-shirt and a key holder. I'm a sucker for stuff like that.
On my last evening in Naha, I explored once more Kokusai-dōri 国際通り. Starting out on foot from the Tōyoko Inn 東横イン, I walked the other side of the road from the night before, heading east this time.
Bottles of Habushu ハブ酒, containing the bodies of deadly Habu snakes 波布 being soaked in the local awamori 泡盛 firewater (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habushu).
The view I had of Kokusai-dōri from my restaurant table. My final dinner in Okinawa consisted of rib steak and Orion Beer オリオンビール. Not a bad life, eh?
I pulled up a bar stool at a brewpub called Helios ヘリオス (www.helios-syuzo.co.jp/alcohol/beer/index.html), and sampled four of their craft beers for ¥900 ($11.15/NT320). From left to right, I tried the Wiezen バイツェン; Lager 酵母入りラガー; Pale Ale ペールエール; and Porter ポーター. As none of them were anything at all like T'áiwān Beer 台灣啤酒 (for one thing, they all had flavor), it was hard choosing which one was best.
At the end of Kokusai-dōri, I came across a neighborhood festival taking place on the grounds of a local Shintō shrine 神社. It's images like these that I always treasure from the times when I was living in Japan.
Instead of hopping on the monorail and returning to my hotel, I decided to walk around some of the adjoining streets. It was while doing so that I came across the Sōgen-ji Ishimon Stonegate 崇元時石門 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C5%8Dgen-ji), the only survivor of the mausoleum for former kings of the Ryūkyū Kingdom 琉球王国. Another reminder of the senseless destruction the Second World War brought down on Okinawa.
Because it was my last night in Naha, I kept on walking, all the way back to my hotel via Kokusai-dōri again. One final look back at the beginning of the thoroughfare...
...and then it was time to pack my bags, and turn in for the night. The next morning I had breakfast, checked out, rode the monorail to the airport, then flew from Naha 那覇空港 for all of one hour and ten minutes back to T'áiwān 台灣. I was reunited with my wife and daughter by the early afternoon.
A few mementos from the trip: some brown cane sugar 黒糖 candy, a miniature bottle of awamori and some packets of Okinawa Soba 沖縄そば.
It had been 18 years since my last visit to Okinawa, so you could say this trip was long overdue. Of all my recent vacations in Japan, this has probably been the best one so far. From swimming in the reefs at Yonehara Beach 米原ビーチ to meeting some really friendly people on Ishigaki Island 石垣島, I came back from Okinawa with a lot of great memories that I will treasure until the day I'm gone. Hopefully, one day I can make it back - there are still more islands left to explore!
沖縄んかいめんそーれー! Until the time I can hear those words again...
Bye-bye Okinawa バイバイ沖縄 - Sadao China 知名定男