Former Himeyuri student delivers final lecture at museum
March 23, 2015 Ryukyu Shimpo
The Himeyuri Peace Museum is known for its unique, oral-history approach to educating people about the Battle of Okinawa. Since its opening in 1989, the museum has been giving visitors, including students on school trips, a chance to hear directly from survivors of the war, who tell them about their experiences. Lectures by former Himeyuri students, female high school students who joined nursing units in the Imperial Japanese Army during the Battle of Okinawa have come to end. As the war survivors are aging, it is difficult for them to deliver the pre-booked lectures. Eighty-seven-year-old Yoshiko Shimabukuro, the director of the museum, delivered her final lecture in front of 146 high school students who visited Okinawa for a study trip. Shimabukuro said, “Once war has started, you cannot stop it. We have to be cautious because Japan is heading in the direction of changing the peace constitution and engaging in wars.” While the survivors’ special lectures will end, they will continue to relay their war experiences to visitors to the museum after April.
On the evening of March 23, 1945, the Imperial Japanese Army sent the “Himeyuri Student Corps” consisting of female Okinawan school students and teachers to the Haebaru Imperial Japanese Army Hospital Cave. In the cave, they treated injured soldiers, retrieved water from outside the cave, and worked as military messengers. Among 240 people, including teachers and students, who were sent to the battlefields, 136 died.
In her final lecture, Shimabukuro said, “Before going to the army hospital, I thought what we learned from training would help, and we could come back after one week.” However, the students were on the battlefields for about three months amid shellfire. Shimabukuro talked about treating seriously injured patients in the cave, and her experiences of being unable to help injured friends. She repeatedly said, “We never knew what war really was before it.”
Shimabukuro said, “Human life is more valuable than earth. Wars deprive it. Although you cannot stop natural calamities, you can stop causing wars. We have freedom of speech. I would like you to become a person who can vocally declare never to engage in wars.”
A 17-year-old female student said, “I thought I knew what war was after studying it, but I realized that I did not know anything about it until I listened to the story of the war survivor. We need to value human life.”
At its peak, war survivors delivered lectures over one thousand times annually in and outside the museum. However, the museum stopped delivering lectures outside of the institution in the fiscal year of 2013 because of health concerns for the lecturers. The museum had 27 lecturers when it first opened, but this number has decreased to nine due to death and illness. Staff and family members of the speakers are now aged between 86 and 89. Concerned about their age and health, the staff at the museum can no longer accept advanced bookings .
(English translation by T&CT)
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