Himeyuri Peace Museum marks its 25th anniversary

Himeyuri Peace Museum marks its 25th anniversary

On June 23, at Ihara in Itoman, visitors of the Himeyuri Peace Museum read testimonies by people who experienced the Battle of Okinawa.

July 18, 2014 Eriko Tamaki of Ryukyu Shimpo

The Himeyuri Peace Museum in Itoman marked its 25th anniversary on June 23rd this year. In March 2014, the total number of visitors over the last 25 years was 19,801,496 people. Many students on school trips and tourists from outside Okinawa visited the museum. The national government during the war made students go to the battlefields. The museum presents war as it is through its exhibition, and tells the stories of the dangers to Okinawan school children during the battle of Okinawa. It also highlights how precious peace is.

In fiscal 2013, 2,242 schools and 317,554 students visited the museum on school trips and the total annual number of visitors was 660,374 people. Although the total annual number of visitors has dropped about 300,000 from a previous spike in visits, it is the biggest number out of all the museums in Okinawa.

Himeyuri Peace Museumi is known above all for its oral-history approach where visitors hear directly from survivors of the war who tell them about their experiences and share their thoughts on peace. Lectures by survivors have been held continuously at the museum for 25 years and their words have aided visitors’ understanding of the museum displays. In the past, a person who intended to commit suicide, listened to war experiences from a former Himeyuri student, and decided not to do so.

Another feature of the museum is that they have never accepted financial support from the Japanese Government or the Okinawa Prefectural Government. By securing money from its alumni association and foundation, they have avoided political interventions to change the exhibitions. They have kept working to pass on war history to the next generations in a consistent way.

The museum, established and maintained by survivors, has held various events since its inauguration. The survivors involved in the museum asked themselves many times how best to describe the nature of war to people. As well as visiting battle sites, they organized the “Exhibition of all students in the Battle of Okinawa” as its 10th anniversary project. For this project, all former students who worked at battlefields in the war, gathered at the museum and female students set up a group called the “Association to Tell Days of Our Youth.”

Since 2000, with many survivors ageing, the museum has been tackling the challenge of how they should hand down their memories of war and the running of the museum to the next generation. They started the “Project for Next Generations” in 2002. Three people who have no experiences of war, have since been telling stories of the Battle of Okinawa to visitors. Also, three curators and six staff members who have not experienced war, have been interviewing survivors and then telling their stories.
Special exhibition starts with new testimonies

On July 18, Himeyuri Peace Museum started a special exhibition for its 25th anniversary entitled “Testifiers of Himeyuri: 25 years to tell the story of the Battle of Okinawa.” For the special exhibition, they filmed new testimonies from survivors and presented them in the exhibition. The film features the period in which the survivors could not tell others their war experiences in the past 25 years since the museum opened. It also screens the survivors’ views on the Constitution’s pacifist Article 9.

Although there have been many records of war experiences, the film is one of the few glimpses into how the survivors felt when they told their stories of war to others. In the last half of the film, the testifiers expressed their wish to hand a peaceful world onto the next generation.

(English translation by T&CT and Lima Tokumori)

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