After walking around Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum, we visited the Himeyuri Peace Museum which is only a 13 minute drive away. The museum is dedicated to the Lily Corps, a group of 222 students and 18 teachers from the Okinawa Daiichi Women’s High School and Okinawa Shihan Women’s School who served as nurses for the Japanese Imperial Army during the Battle of Okinawa.
I learned about the Lily Corps for the first time when I read Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird, a fiction book inspired by life in present day Okinawa and life during the Battle of Okinawa. If you like a good history/fiction book I really recommend it! Anyways, I was driving in Itoman with friends a long time ago and saw a sign for the Himeyuri Peace Museum. It clicked instantly that it was honoring the same group I read about in the book and I vowed to visit it someday.
Sadly I didn’t get any photos of inside the museum, but just go ahead and add it to your Oki bucket list.
Mobilized to the Battlefield: Following the U.S. landing operation that commenced in March 1945, Okinawan students – both boys and girls – were called out to the battlefield. On March 23, groups from Himeyuri student corps were assigned to the Okinawan Army Field Hospital in Haebaru.
The hospital on the battlefield was essentially a large cave that connected numerous small caves dug inside the hill. The hospital facilities were very plain, with only shabby beds installed in each of the smaller caves, which they called wards. The students engaged themselves in their duties: assisting doctors and nurses by tending to wounded soldiers, getting water, delivering orders, and carrying food into the caves. These duties often endangered students, requiring them to go outside the caves, where bombs and shells were constantly bursting.
As the landing of the U.S. military on April 1 intensified the battle and the number of wounded Japanese soldiers increased, three additional clinics were opened.
Retreat to the South: At the end of May, the advancing of the U.S. military reached Shuri, where the Japanese headquarters was then located. Following the Japanese military’s evacuation order, the students, barely surviving in a deluge of shells, fled on rough roads and managed to arrive in the southern part of Okinawa. They broke into 6 groups, and each group hid itself in a separate cave. Even after the caves lost their function as hospital wards, the students continued performing their duties, such as delivering messages, securing water and food for the caves.
Deactivation of the Student Corps: As the battle intensified and conditions worsened, on the evening of June 17, a “deactivation order” was issued, and the Himeyuri students were suddenly discharged from their duties. On the fierce battlefield, wounded students were barred from the caves, and students who were thrown out of the caves had to seek their own escape in a storm of bursting shells. Many ended up losing their lives, not knowing where to find a path to survival.
The Senbazuru are always my favorite part of Japanese peace memorials! They are a group of 1,000 paper cranes held together by string. It is believed that whoever folds a thousand paper cranes will be granted one wish by the gods. Each of these have been donated in order to add a prayer for world peace.
〒901-0344 Okinawa Prefecture, Itoman, Ihara, ６７１−１
Open daily from 9:00AM – 5:30PM
Adult ¥310 / High school ¥210 / Junior high and elementary ¥110