A Day at Heiwa (Peace)

I haven’t done a lot of exploring in the past couple of months. January had quite a few dreary, rainy cool days. January also saw a spike in COVID cases after the new year holiday. I do not want to be infected, so I tend to treat COVID like the zombie apocalypse and try to avoid as many people as I can.

But February has entered with magnificent weather. The past couple of days have seen sunny weather near 70° F/21° C. And COVID cases have gone down in the last couple of weeks. And I received my first vaccination this past week. So today I decided to have a mini-adventure to get out and enjoy the weather.

My plan was to go see some cherry blossoms. Okinawa is a sub-tropical island, and so the cherry blossom season starts in early January with its peak during the first of February. Of course, all the festivals have been cancelled this year. But there are still plenty of beautiful blooms to see.

Since I have ventured north for previous mini-adventures, I decided top head south this time. Yaese Park, gorgeously lined with up to 500 cherry trees, is one of 5 must-see cherry blossom sites in Okinawa. And so I headed to Yaese Park, approximately 24 km south from my residence in Ginowan.

What I hadn’t considered was everyone else. When I reached Yaese Park, I found it really crowded. Hoards of people climbing the steps and parking was almost non-existent. So I swiftly turned around and headed back down the hill, only stopping my car long enough to take one photo of the blossoms.

I started to head back home but decided to first stop at a Lawson’s to get a snack. Since I stopped, I took a moment to look at the map to figure out the most scenic way home. That’s when I realized I was fairly close to the Peace Memorial Park. Since cherry blossoms were a bust, I decided to try the Peace Park.

The Peace Memorial Park (Heiwa Kinen Koen) is located in the Mabuni area of Itoman City, which is considered as the Land of the Final Battle in Okinawa. It is estimated that more than 200,000 people, military and civilian, lost their lives during this battle. With the Okinawan’s wish of No More War, the Peace Memorial Park was initiated by the former Government of the Ryukyu Islands. When Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, the construction of the park began.

The Park has 3 basic principles: (1) to mourn war casualties and pray for peace, (2) to pass on the lessons of war, and (3) to provide a place to learn and repose. The Principles are mirrored in the Park’s 3 main areas: (1) the Peace Zone with the Peace Hall, War Memorial to the Koreans, and the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum; (2) the Peace Ceremony Zone with the ceremony ground, Peace Hill, and Cornerstone of Peace; and (3) the Sacred Grounds Zone with the various prefectures and other monuments.

The Peace Hall opened on 1 October 1978 as a symbol of peace for all people regardless of race, nationality, belief or religion. The entrance contains an art gallery, including a series of paintings entitled War and Peace by Keiyu Nishimura. Inside the polygonal roof with septilateral pyramid representing the seven seas and the shape of hands joined in prayer, the Peace Prayer Statute, who prays for the souls killed in war and for everlasting peace, stands 12 m tall. In a space below the statute, a collection of consecrated stones from all over the world collected by the artist, Shinzan Yamada.

The Cornerstone of Peace include inscription monuments listing 234,183 names of those killed during the Battle of Okinawa, including American soldiers, sailors, and marines. There are 118 stones arranged in a folding-screen shape arcing out from the Peace Plaza and the Flame of Peace. These monuments were erected on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa. The Flames were taken from Aka Island in Zamami Village, the first landing place of U.S. forces in Okinawa and from Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the atomic bombs were dropped.

The Sacred Grounds area features a memorial path to wander and visit the monuments of the 32 prefectures. And the views are simply stunning.

I highly recommend visiting this incredible Park. I was surprised that it was not crowded at all. In fact, I saw few people and was easily able to maintain more than the recommended social distancing. And the view of the ocean from the southern tip of Okinawa is incredible

On the journey back to Ginowan, I detoured to stop at the Peace Forest Park, which is a lovely green space with multi-purpose fields, a commemorative forest, walking trails, and a great lookout over the ocean. There were a few more people at this park but still easy to maintain a good social distance.

At the lookout, I spotted several clans of surfers enjoying the gorgeous day. (Are surfers a clan? Maybe a herd or mob or pack?)

Such an amazing day. I had a lovely drive around the southern end of Okinawa and had my windows down to enjoy the fresh air and sun.

I ended my day with this balcony view.

Until next time, 和楽 (waraku = peace & harmony).

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