Himeyuri Memorial Tower ひめゆりの塔
A plea for peace amid the wonders of nature
An ancient cave twisting miles into the earth which also serves as a sobering reminder of Japan's recent past. There is much to see and think about in this eerily beautiful place.
One of the most heart-rending tales of WWII took place in Himeyuri, and the Himeyuri Peace Museum and memorial tower are fitting tributes.
- Gyokusen Cave, home to more than a million stalactites and stalagmites
- The habu museum, dedicated to Okinawa's native snake
- Traditional Okinawan dancing and drumming in Kingdom Village
How to Get There
The Himeyuri Memorial Tower is accessible by bus. Take the 89 or 34 Itoman bus from Naha Bus Terminal to Itoman Bus Terminal, a 30-minute ride. Change at the Itoman City Bus Terminal to bus number 82, 107, or 108 for the Himeyuri Memorial Tower, a 15-minute ride.
If you're driving, take Route 331 south from Naha for about 40 minutes. Turn right onto 54 and the Himeyuri Memorial Tower is just 2km along.
The Battle of Okinawa lasted 82 days in 1945
Himeyuri Peace Museum commemorates the 226 students who died in the battle
The Himeyuri Memorial Tower was built in 1978
The sacrifice of the Okinawan people
In March 1945, 222 high school girls and 18 teachers were inducted into the Japanese Army to tend to the sick, carry food and water to the troops, and bury the dead. Corps of conscripted girls were given the name of flowers, and these were named after the himeyuri, or lily.
On June 18, three days before the Japanese surrender, the girls and teachers were dismissed as the US troops advanced, and were turned out of the caves in which they'd been living.
Up to that time just 19 of them had died, but the next day, as the battle raged around them, many lost their lives in the crossfire, or committed suicide in fear of what the invasion would bring.
Memories of the Lily Corps
There are many reminders of this tragic episode in the Himeyuri Peace Memorial Park, including the Himeyuri Memorial Tower, a 12-meter high statue dedicated to world peace.
The spacious park around the tower contains memorials to the girls, and to all the servicemen and civilians who lost their lives in the battle, which is sometimes known as Tetsu no Ame (Typhoon of Steel).
As you walk through the six chambers of the Himeyuri Peace Museum, the tale of the Lily Corps is brought to life with photographs, displays, video testimonies of survivors, and thoughts shared by visitors.
No visit to Okinawa is complete without an exploration of Gyokusen Cave, the largest of its kind in Japan, and home to more than a million stalactites and stalagmites that have been forming over the past 300,000 years.
The cave was only discovered in 1967, and visitors can explore almost a kilometer of its five-kilometer length. The cave has many small streams and waterfalls. There are hand-railed walkways so you don't have to be a caver to negotiate the tour. However, the passages may be slippery in places so care is advised.
Colored lighting in some sections of the cave create startling formations, and it is easy to imagine great prehistoric monsters lurking in the shadows. In fact, the cave was used as the location for a Godzilla movie in 1974.
Snakes and their uses
Gyokusen Cave is part of a complex called Okinawa World, which also includes a recreation of a traditional Okinawan village and a museum dedicated to the habu snake. The habu is a venomous pit viper only found on the Okinawan islands. Its bite is not usually fatal but the effects can be serious if not treated.
The snakes are light olive with brown blotches and can grow to more than two meters in length. Habu snakes are used to make the traditional Okinawan rice spirit known as awamori, and visitors can sample the drink at the museum.
Some of the traditional houses in Kingdom Village are more than 100 years old and have been moved here and reassembled. At various times of day there are performances featuring traditional dancing and drumming, as well as sanshin performances. The sanshin is a three-stringed instrument similar to the Japanese shamisen, but Okinawan music is distinctly different.
The soundbox of a sanshin is light olive with brown blotches, yet another use Okinawans have found for the habu snake. Incidentally, mongoose were introduced into Okinawa in 1910 in an attempt to control the habu population. Unfortunately, habu snakes are nocturnal and mongoose are not, so the experiment failed.