June 23rd, Okinawa’s Peace Memorial Day
June 23rd is ‘Irei-no Hi’. This is Okinawa’s Peace Memorial Day. It is a prefectural holiday formally recognized in 1961. It is to memorialize the many lives lost during the Battle of Okinawa, but it also serves as reminder for the future in its endless search for peace. Many historians consider June 22, 1945 as the final day in the Battle of Okinawa. However, the Okinawan government deems June 23rd as the official last day. Every year, Okinawans take a moment of silence to pay tribute to their ancestors who were lost during this very dark period.
The Government of the Ryukyu Islands, which at that time was still under U.S. military occupation, declared the day as a holiday for the Okinawan people to remember and to pray for family members and relatives who were killed during the war. The day disappeared from the calendar when Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, but it was later restored in 1974 by the Okinawa Prefectural Government and is now observed as a prefectural holiday.
Perhaps the most highlighted event on this day takes place at the Peace Memorial Park in Mabuni, Itoman, where thousands of people, including dignitaries and politicians from Tokyo, gather at the peace ceremony to pay their respects.
Among the dignitaries attending are the Okinawa Governor, members of the Prefectural Government, Japanese government ministers from Tokyo, including the Prime Minister, and foreign diplomats, including the U.S. Ambassador and U.S. military commanders.
The Okinawa Peace Memorial Park is located in the Mabuni district of Itoman City, on the site of the last ground battle in Okinawa. It was named a national park in 1972, the same year Okinawa returned to Japan.
Scenically, Mabuni is strikingly powerful. Known for its harden rugged cliffs, the natural coral high-rise against the ocean waves is likely to leave one in awe. It is difficult to imagine that this place was once subject to the bloodshed and horrors of a fierce battle that raged more than 70 years ago.
Within the park is the Peace Memorial Museum which displays chronological information, historical artifacts, and pictures related to the Battle of Okinawa.
The cornerstone of the peace monument is lists the names of the people who died during the battle, regardless of their nationality. Today, there are more than 240,000 names engraved in granite slabs at the monument. New names are added every year as remains of victims are found and identified. These names serve as a reminder of the deadly human cost of war and at 12 o’clock, on the 23rd of June, Okinawans island-wide will give a moment of silence as they pay tribute to the deceased. Irei-no-Hi is a day that is meant to reflect upon the tragedies of war and at the same time, spread the message for peace to future generations. It marks a new page for a new beginning for the Okinawan people, It is a day that will live with them forever.