Resource: The Peace Learning Archive in Okinawa

Paula brought to my attention this beautiful site, which describes itself as following:

The Peace Learning Archive in OKINAWA is a culmination of the creation methods of “pluralistic digital archives” established with the workings of the archives related to Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and the Great East Japan Earthquake. Information regarding time and space are supplemented to all of the testimonials and photo materials and it allows the user to freely move about in the skies of Okinawa in the 1940s for a deeper understanding of the actual circumstances of the Battle of Okinawa. The website is devised to allow the user to view the video and text for each of the testimonials. Additionally, photo data are carefully laid out and arranged to replicate as precisely as possible the conditions at which the photos were taken. We hope that the visitors to the website will take the opportunity to view our archives and retrace the steps of the days past and walk through memories that shall not be forgotten.

I have only just begun to explore the site’s features, but, located at and organized by a branch of the Okinawan prefectural government, the site seems to primarily consist of an archive of photos and video testimonials by survivors of the Battle of Okinawa, navigable through a plug-in integrated with Google Earth. The website itself is in English & Japanese, but the Google Earth feature is, amazingly, available in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, or Spanish. You can click on a series of options in the top left to show or hide layers for a 1945 Okinawa map, photos from the Prefectural Archives, the testimonial videos, and a tactical map used in Operation Iceberg, among others.

There is also an AR (Augmented Reality) app for iPhone and Android which, if you are in Okinawa, will connect to the camera or GPS on your phone to show you photos and testimonials from the Battle related to the place you are at.

I spoke this summer to, well, quite a few people, but one in particular stands out, a woman from Yambaru, in the north of Okinawa Island, about the war. She is a bit too young to have been around at that time, but she told me how many people from Yambaru, thinking it would be safer to stay close to the Japanese Army, moved south with the armies, rather than stay in the north, as the Allied assault began. How could they have known that, in the end, the south end of the island would be hit hardest by the battle, and the north all but untouched? As Japanese citizens, they thought the Imperial Army would protect them. Roughly one-quarter of the total population of the island was killed in those few months in 1945, most of them in the south. She went on to talk about how, growing up in Okinawa after the war, even in Yambaru, a little geographically and culturally removed from the “big city” of Naha, they grew up learning little of Okinawan history, which is why she felt so strongly about working at the new Okinawa Museum of History and Folklore, as a site where Okinawan children might come to learn more about their heritage. The Museum opened in 2013 at one of the major highway rest-stops in Yambaru, and displaying the personal collection of pottery, lacquerwares, folk tools, and so forth of the CEO of Okashi Goten, a major Okinawan restaurant & sweets company.

If you are interested in the Battle of Okinawa, let me quickly suggest two more museums to visit: for those in the Tokyo area who might not get the chance to visit Okinawa, I think it quite something that the very last display in the Modern Japan section at the National Museum of Japanese History (Rekihaku) in Chiba is a video of people talking about their experiences of the Battle of Okinawa – in native Okinawan language (Uchinaaguchi), with no subtitles, Japanese or otherwise. Second, for those who might make it to Naha, in addition to the more well-known Peace Memorial Museum & Park, and especially if you can’t make it down to Mabuni to see that, there is a small, private, unofficial museum right in Naha called the Battle of Okinawa / Holocaust Photo Exhibition Hall (沖縄戦・ホロコースト写真展示館) which consists almost entirely of just photos from before, during, and after the Battle, and brings a more grassroots perspective on the place of the Battle in Okinawan memory and identity today.

Apologies for the digression from discussing the Resource at hand. The Peace Learning Archive site is really quite something, and my thanks to Paula for letting me know about it. I invite you to go take a look, explore the features, watch some of the testimonials. I look forward to perhaps making use of it in the classroom myself, if/when I get a chance to talk to my students about Okinawa, and the Battle.

About Travis

I am a scholar of Japanese & Okinawan history with a particular interest in the history of arts and culture, and inter-Asia interactions, in the early modern period. I have been fortunate to enjoy the opportunity to live in Okinawa for six months in 2016-17, and in mainland Japan on multiple occasions, including from Sept 2019 to now.
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