Okinawa, Japan FEB 24 2024

We arrived at the port in Naha, the capital of the island of Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa, the birthplace of karate, has a population of 1,384,762 and is 66 miles long and 7 miles wide.  There are 160 islands that make up Okinawa, with the island of Okinawa being the largest and main island. Okinawa is an important, strategic location for the United States Armed Forces. There are around 26,000 US military personnel stationed in Okinawa today.  There are 32 military installations that cover about 25% of the island.  The main economy is tourism and the US military presence. It has a fast growing population and a low unemployment rate. Okinawans have the longest lifespan in the world.

Typical Japanese Small Vehicles


Okinawa was the location of the bloodiest ground battle in the Pacific, taking place from April 1 to June 22, 1945.  Around 95,000 Japanese and 20,195 Americans were killed. Approximately one fourth of the civilian population of Okinawa were either killed or committed suicide. Very few Japanese were in POW camps because the Japanese chose death rather than surrender.

Shuri Castle Falls, The American Flag is Raised

From 1945 to 1952, the American military occupied Okinawa and then it was under the control of the Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands until it was returned to Japan in 1972.

Our tour guide told us some interesting information. He said the Okinawa citizens feel that Japan deserted them after the war. Because of this, they do not fly the Japanese flag, only the Okinawa flag. They do not teach the Japanese national anthem to the school children. He also said that for many years the young people on Okinawa resented the American military presence in Okinawa today. But when North Korea started launching missiles over Okinawa and China started threatening Taiwan, the young people began to appreciate the US presence. We got the feeling that the people of Okinawa would like to be their own country rather than under Japanese rule. 

We were in Okinawa for two days. The first day we took an excursion and was fortunate to have an excellent tour guide. The first place we went was the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters led by Japanese Rear Admiral Ota. The tunnel complex was dug in 1944 by 3,000 men using pick axe.

The Walls Show The Pick Axe Strikes

It is 65 feet deep, 1,476 feet long and built in the shape of an arch with concrete.

It was left untouched for years after the war ended. After the recovery of soldiers’ remains, 820 feet of the tunnel was restored and opened to the public in 1970.  This was done by the Okinawan people in the hope that “future generations would see the futility of war and instead pursue world peace”. 

As the end of the Battle of Okinawa approached, Japanese Rear Admiral Ota sent a telegraph to the vice minister of the navy saying that the Okinawan people did their very best in the battle and deserved special recognition. Later, he and his remaining men committed suicide in the tunnel rather than be captured. Approximately 4,000 men committed suicide or were killed. Holes and scars on the walls from his suicide, and others, by grenades are evident on the walls throughout the tunnel. 

We descended a series of steep steps into the tunnel where tall people had to really watch their heads. The passageways were low and narrow in places.

Next up was the Himeyuri Peace Museum, where we learned the unbelievably sad story of 222 female students from ages 15 to 19, and 18 teachers, who were ordered to go to a Japanese army hospital. The Himeyuri Monument was built in 1946 and The Himeyuri Peace Museum was opened in 2009. No photography is allowed in the museum. For a time the surviving students, over 90 years of age, served as curators and tour guides at the museum until they could no longer travel to the museum.

Graduating Class From

They became known as the Himeyuri Student Corps and worked in several  underground hospital caves made of limestone. The working conditions were deplorable. They were originally told they would be working in hospitals away from the fighting but instead they were placed on the front lines. The museum is located where five teachers and 46 students hiding inside Ihara third surgery cave were killed during an attack by US forces. The only access to the cave was by ladders down a hole. Injured soldiers were carried down the ladder on the backs of other soldiers.

In the dark cave for three months they had to help with crude surgery and amputation, often done without anesthesia. They had to care for the gravely ill, help bury the dead, transport ammunition and supplies to front line troops under life threatening conditions. 

The girls endured disease and malnutrition, often giving their daily food rations to the suffering soldiers. Before June 19, 1945 only 19 students had been killed. They were ordered to “go home” on June 19, 1945.  Many then died in crossfire and a few died by suicide using grenades and cyanide given to them by Japanese soldiers or by jumping from cliffs. They had been convinced by the Japanese if they were captured by the Americans they would be raped and killed. By the end of the battle, 211 students and 16 teachers had died.

Our guide told us a harrowing story of his grandmother and members of her village hiding in one cave. His grandmother gave birth to her first child in the cave, a son who was our guide’s uncle. She constantly held the baby, afraid he would cry and make noise. Nearby Japanese soldiers would kill any babies who made noise because it would alert American soldiers of their location. Inside the museum was a painting of a threatening Japanese soldier standing over a woman and her baby with a sword.

Another painting showed a child reaching for a pamphlet and the mother holding him back. Our guide told us that Americans sent pamphlets down from planes telling the citizens if they brought that pamphlet to an American soldier they would be safe and not hurt. If the Japanese soldiers found a Japanese citizen with one of those pamphlets in their possession, they were killed. 

Our last destination was the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum which was opened in 1975.

It was built next to the “Suicide Cliffs” where the Battle of Okinawa ended.

Nearby is the Peace Prayer Park with a semicircular path of stones engraved with the names of those who died by nationality, including a section for Americans.

American Soldiers

Japanese Soldiers

There was a Peace Flame and Fountain with a map of the Pacific. The flame is lit up when important people visit or during special occasions.

The museum did a nice job describing the island of Okinawa and the events leading up to the battle. Information on the battle as well as life for the Okinawan people after the war was also detailed. No photography is allowed in the museum.

Peace Hill Monument, Okinawa (Japan). Represents a naturally formed cave, in which many citizens of Okinawa hid and fended for themselves.

Peace Hill Monument

We took an elevator up to an observation deck. A flight of stairs led further up with beautiful views of the ocean and park.

The only other people up there were a couple with their two young children. We struck up a conversation with them. They were fascinated by our cruise and had lots of questions about the places we had been and were going. Turns out he is in the Marine Corps, serving in Okinawa. They said they like living in Okinawa, with the wife saying she loved their own little world there. Bill thanked him for his service before we went our separate ways.

Okinawa Peace Hall

The excursion had been a day full of overwhelming sadness. Our hearts felt heavy as we reflected on it on the way back to the ship. 

Our second day in Naha, Okinawa we decided to explore on our own. We walked from the ship to Kobusai Street, a popular area with stores, malls, souvenir shops, hotels and restaurants. The port had provided a free shuttle back and forth from the ship to Kobusai Street. After walking around, we were more than happy to take the shuttle back to the ship.

That evening the ship had “The Great Fun Fair”. The inside pool deck had been turned into a carnival atmosphere with carnival games, prizes and food such as popcorn, candied apples, ice cream, appetizers and drinks. It was loud and very crowded so we didn’t stay long.

Next up: Two days in Tokyo 

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