1. A View of Where the Americans Landed (Kerama Islands direction)
An observation tower in Shurijo Castle Park (Iri no Azana) offers a sweeping view of the Kerama Islands.
On March 26th, 1945, the American army landed on the Kerama Islands and used them as the anchorage for its warships and their bombardment of the main island of Okinawa, as well as for logistical support and auxiliary troops after they came ashore. This was the beginning of the Battle of Okinawa.
The American army had approximately 550,000 troops, while the Japanese army had about 100,000, an unmistakable gap in power.
1. A View of Where the Americans Landed (Yomitan Village direction)
On April 1st, 1945, when the American army began to come ashore on the coast of Yomitan Village in the central part of the main island of Okinawa, they subdued the area up to the east coast all at once and divided the island into northern and southern parts. Then, the main troops began advancing south toward Shuri, the headquarters of the Japanese army. The Japanese troops cleverly used the island’s hilly topography to their advantage, digging long stretches of trenches and using other tactics in their preparation for a long, drawn-out battle. To protect the Shuri headquarters, the Japanese fought the American forces in a back-and-forth battle to the death.
・Battle of Kakazu Plateau (April 5th - April 23rd)
・Battle of Maeda Plateau (April 24th - May 6th)
・Battle of Sugar Loaf (May 12th - May 18th)
However, the Japanese forces were gradually driven back due to the overwhelming gap in military strength.
2. The 32nd Division Headquarters Shelter (Located in the castle town of Shuri)
The ruins of Shuri Castle were registered as a World Heritage Site in December 2000.
Shurijo Castle Park bustles with sightseers from all over the world.
Not many know that a Battle of Okinawa site is located in the castle town of Shuri.
The Japanese army headquarters (32nd Division) was initially located in Tsukazan, Haebaru town, but a change in military strategy saw it relocated to the high ground of Shuri, and a headquarters shelter was erected in the castle town of Shuri.
2. The 32nd Division Headquarters Shelter (Retreat from Shuri)
At the end of March in 1945, the intensifying naval bombardment and air raids caused the headquarters to be relocated from high ground to an underground shelter.
Inside the shelter were approximately 1,000 officers and soldiers, including General Mitsuru Ushijima and Officer Isamu Cho, as well as civilian personnel and members of the student corps. It was a damp environment with poor conditions. After the American forces landed on the main island of Okinawa, they defeated the Japanese forces in fierce battles and continued to advance, eventually arriving in front of Shuri. However, on May 22nd, the Japanese army headquarters decided to relocate to Mabuni in the southern part of the main island.
Rather than fight at Shuri, the strategy was to buy time before the final battle on the mainland by dragging the war on for as long as possible.
3. Haebaru Military Hospital (Shelter No. 20)
The Japanese military hospital was initially located in Kainan Elementary School in Naha City, but the school building was burned down in air raids in October 1944, so it was transferred to Haebaru Elementary School. In addition, approximately 30 hospital shelters were erected in a hilly area known as Kugani Forest. The military hospital was divided into surgical, internal medicine, and infectious disease wings, but with the dramatic increase in wounded soldiers after the war started, these were repurposed into the First, Second, and Third Surgical Units, respectively.
In late March, 1945, 222 students from Okinawa Primary Women's High School and Okinawa Women’s Normal School were placed under the guidance of 18 instructors and were recruited by the military hospital as army nursing assistants. These women were known as the “Himeyuri Student Corps.”
Nobu Madanbashi also joined the Second Surgical Unit (Internal Medicine) of the hospital shelter as head nurse. Shelter No. 20 was the main shelter for the Second Surgical Unit.
In late May, when the 32nd Division headquarters decided to retreat to Mabuni, it ordered the military hospital to retreat to the south as well.
3. Haebaru Military Hospital (Meshiage Road)
One of the tasks of the Himeyuri Student Corp assigned to the hospital was “meshiage.”
“Meshiage” referred to transporting provisions for the troops.
The road from the cooking station in village at the foot of the hill to the hospital shelter was called “Meshiage Road.” The female students would form pairs and make several round trips per day carrying 18-liter barrels of rations and water along the steep, uneven road.
“Meshiage” was dangerous and harsh work performed as gunfire and artillery rained down from above. These women were literally risking their lives.
In 1990, Haebaru designated the First and Second Surgical Unit shelters as cultural properties in order to convey the horrors of the Battle of Okinawa.
On June 18th, 2007, Shelter No. 20 was opened to the public and is used along with the “Meshiage Road” as locations that teach the value of peace.
Link: Haebaru Tourism Association website
4. Todoroki Trench (The last site of the Okinawa Prefectural Government)
In October 1944, Naha was reduced to ashes due to air raids, and the Okinawa Prefectural Government building was burned down as well.
In late May 1945, the state of the battle grew worse, and the 32nd Division headquarters retreated from Shuri to the southern part of the island.
Governor Akira Shimada opposed this plan because he was afraid that civilians that had taken refuge in the south would be drawn into the battle, but he was unable to oppose the military order and the retreat to Mabuni went ahead. At the beginning of June, Governor Shimada arrived at the “Todoroki Trench” along with several prefectural government officials. There, he disbanded the prefectural government police force and instructed them to survive. Afterwards, the governor along with Police Commissioner Arai left the trench and headed to Mabuni.
4. Todoroki Trench (Where soldiers and civilians lived together in tragedy)
Todoroki Trench, located in Ishiki in Itoman City, was a natural trench approximately 100 meters long, and many civilians took refuge here at the start of the war. However, because Japanese soldiers retreating south came here as well as the battle worsened, soldiers and civilians found themselves mingling with each other.
Groundwater flowed through the trench, and it was a humid and harsh environment, but once the governor left, the Japanese army took over the entrance and forbade the civilians from coming and going as they pleased. On June 25th, a Japanese soldier from Okinawa that had been taken prisoner called for surrender, and approximately 600 civilians made it home alive. On the other hand, many have testified that infants were slaughtered and that many people starved to death, among other tragic stories.
5. Okinawa Military Hospital’s Second Surgical Unit Shelter
After Haebaru Military Hospital retreated south, those in the Second Surgical Unit (Internal Medicine) entered the natural trench in Itosu, Itoman City.
This was also known as the Itosu Second Surgical Unit Shelter. At present, the shelter is buried and its interior cannot be verified. On June 18th, records state that after the order to disperse, the Second Surgical Unit Shelter suffered a gas canister attack by the American troops, and approximately 20 people died. Nobu Madanbashi, head nurse of the Second Surgical Unit, was taken prisoner by the American troops several days after the order to disperse was given and she left the shelter. This small shelter is full of many unknown stories involving the courageous nursing crew.
5. Okinawa Military Hospital’s Second Surgical Unit Shelter (The suicide mission)
“When the battle intensified in late June, the army surgeon, before giving the order to disperse, called the soldiers serving under him and ordered them to relay the dispersal order to the nearby shelters. However, the soldiers returned in fear, saying that the American troops were tossing gas canisters into the shelters and that they couldn’t relay the message. When Nobu saw them, she told the army surgeon that she and Kanagi would volunteer to relay the message. The two young nurses crawled along the ground as artillery and machine gun fire rained down upon them, successfully delivering the message to the nearby shelters.” They wanted to save as many lives as possible. Kanagi could feel Nobu's noble Red Cross spirit and her magnanimous virtue through her devoted actions as head nurse. As the nurse who delivered the message along with Nobu, Saeko Kanagi reminisced about this episode in the Okinawa Nursing Association Magazine's 30th Anniversary Issue.
6. Okinawa Military Hospital’s Third Surgical Unit Shelter (Himeyuri Tower)
After Haebaru Military Hospital retreated south, those in the Third Surgical Unit (Infectious Disease) entered deep natural caverns in Ihara, Itoman City. This shelter is called “Chiburaa Abu” in the Okinawan dialect.
On June 18th, the American army began assaulting the shelters with gas canisters, and 87 of the 96 people inside the shelter succumbed to the gas. Among the shelters, this one experienced the heaviest loss of female students in the Battle of Okinawa.
The April after the war ended, the Himeyuri Tower was built by the residents of the community, and in 1989 the Himeyuri Peace Museum was completed and a large memorial monument erected.
6. Okinawa Military Hospital’s Third Surgical Unit Shelter (Himeyuri Peace Museum)
The Himeyuri Association established the Himeyuri Peace Museum on June 23rd, 1989 to share the stories of the Himeyuri Student Corps who were enlisted as assistant nurses during the Battle of Okinawa.
Exhibits include portraits and articles that belonged to Himeyuri students who lost their lives, as well as video testimonials, personal notes, and other items.
There is also a replica of the Third Surgical Unit shelter in Ihara, allowing visitors to experience what it was like inside the shelter for themselves.
This facility teaches visitors about the nobility of peace by telling future generations about the conditions and tragedies of the Battle of Okinawa through the stories of these female students. Many visit the Himeyuri Tower and museum nowadays and offer their prayers for peace.
Link: Himeyuri Peace Museum website
7. The Two Chiefs of the Island (Shimamori)
In Peace Memorial Park in Itoman City, there is a tower called Shimamori Tower that honors the prefectural officials who died during the Battle of Okinawa.
There is also a monument that was erected as if to watch over the tower. On it is an inscription that reads, “The Resting Place of Okinawa Governor Akira Shimada and Police Commissioner Taizo Arai.” Shimamori Tower was erected on June 25th, 1951 to enshrine 458 prefectural officials, including the 27th governor of Okinawa Prefecture, Akira Shimada, and Police Commissioner Taizo Arai. While the epitaph at the rear says “resting place,” the whereabouts of Governor Akira Shimada and Police Commissioner Taizo Arai are unknown, and their remains have yet to be discovered. When the Battle of Okinawa ended in June 1945, Shimada was 43 years old and Arai was 44. What kind of people were they?
Akira Shimada, Appointed the 27th Governor of Okinawa Prefecture
Akira Shimada was appointed governor of Okinawa Prefecture by the Ministry of Home Affairs and assumed office on January 31st, 1945, succeeding his predecessor Governor Izumi. While he knew that taking up a post in Okinawa as war loomed on the horizon would be tantamount to a death sentence, Shimada, who was serving as a government official in Osaka at the time, accepted the position of governor even though he could have refused. “If someone has to go no matter what, then I'm in no position to refuse the request. I may not want to die, but that doesn’t mean I can ask someone else to die in my stead,” he said. In Okinawa at the time, the air raids by the American army’s planes and the naval bombardment continued day and night, and it was believed to be only a matter of time before the troops came ashore. Despite this, during his approximately five-month tenure from his assumption of office to the dissolution of the prefectural government, Governor Shimada worked hard to formulate evacuation plans for civilians and secure provisions, and he fought until the end to protect the lives and safety of Okinawa residents.
Taizo Arai, Okinawa Police Commissioner
Taizo Arai was born in Utsunomiya City in Tochigi Prefecture and relocated to Okinawa Prefecture around the same time as Shimada’s predecessor, Governor Izumi.
As the prefectural government found itself in a state of confusion with the governor being replaced right before the battle began, Arai actively supported the government and its relief measures all while leading the police force. While working as police commissioner, he readily consulted with government officials, military personnel, and others, demonstrating the high degree of trust Arai garnered with those around him. After Governor Shimada transferred to Okinawa, they worked together to push ahead with civilian relief measures and saved many residents, earning them the title “The Chiefs of Okinawa” and the deep appreciation of the people that continues to this day.
8. The Site of the Final Battle (The Tower of Dawn)
The Tower of Dawn is a war memorial built in June 1952 on the western tip of Mabuni Hill to commemorate Commander Mitsuru Ushijima and Chief of Staff Isamu Cho of the 32nd Division. It is said that it was named the Tower of Dawn in reference to the dawn of peace, as well as the desire for the light of dawn to visit the land. It is located directly above the Mabuni headquarters shelter where the two committed suicide, and as the name implies, it is also the location of the Japanese army’s final stand in the Battle of Okinawa.
8. The Site of the Final Battle (32nd Division)
The 32nd Division Headquarters shelter was located between the Tower of Dawn, located at the very top of Mabuni Hill, and the cliff it rested on.
Before dawn on June 23rd, 1945, Commander Mitsuru Ushijima and Chief of Staff Isamu Cho committed suicide within this shelter. Before taking his own life, Commander Mitsuru Ushijima said, “Fight until the end, that you might live for the everlasting cause.” These words entreated everyone to never surrender and keep fighting until their last breath. With these orders, the Japanese army kept up its resistance even without its commander, and many civilians and scattered troops were mopped up by the American army in various locations. On July 2nd, the Japanese and American forces declared an end to the Battle of Okinawa. The Japanese army signed the instrument of surrender on September 7th.
9. Peace Memorial Park/Peace Memorial Museum
The southern area of Itoman City, where the Peace Memorial Park is located, is also called “Mabuni Hill,” and this is where the Battle of Okinawa came to its conclusion.
The park is approximately 40 hectares and contains not only the Peace Memorial Museum, but also the Okinawa Peace Hall, the Okinawa National Cemetery, the Cornerstone of Peace, the Tower of Dawn, and other monuments to those lost in the battle that also emphasize the nobility of peace. The Peace Memorial Museum functions as a facility where visitors can reflect on peace by learning the facts behind the courageous feats of the Battle of Okinawa. Okinawa Prefecture celebrates Okinawa Memorial Day on June 23rd every year, and a memorial service for all those lost in battle in Okinawa is held within Okinawa Memorial Park.
Link: Peace Memorial Museum website
10. Cornerstone of Peace
The Cornerstone of Peace is a memorial monument that was erected on June 23rd, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa.
The names of those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa are engraved on the monument regardless of nationality or whether they were military personnel or civilians, and the number still continues to grow.
Number of engraved names: 241,525 (as of June 1st, 2018)
11. The Peace Flame
The “Peace Flame” is located in the center of Peace Square and is a combination of fire taken from Zamami Village on Aka Island, where the American troops first came ashore in the Battle of Okinawa, and fire from the Peace Flame in Hiroshima City and the Flame of Commitment in Nagasaki City, which were struck by atomic bombs. The ripples from the water that flows down from Sazanami Lake reach the inscriptions on the Cornerstone of Peace, which represents the desire for peace to ripple out into the world.
12. The Dawn of Peace (Rising Sun of Mabuni)
The “hurricane of steel” that rained down unabated from land, sea, and air during the Battle of Okinawa
The fierce battle that lasted approximately 90 days took the precious lives of about 200,000 people on both sides, military personnel and civilians included. What does this tragic history mean, and what can we learn from it and pass on?
Each of the people who lost their noble lives during the war had a life, a family, and dreams. We are the living embodiment of their hope, and this hope might very well be what keeps us going. This island, this nurse of peace, quietly continues to tell its tale.