One of every four Okinawan civilians lost their lives during the Pacific War. Most of the cultural assets of the nation also faced devastating damage during this time. One example of this is the framed photo that you see before you. The characters here, “chiwa”, were written by the Ryukyuan King himself. If you look closely at the edges of the vermillion-lacquered frame, you will find the traces of a dragon ornamentation. However, this important treasure has a large hole in it. It seems as if a soldier who mistook it for a normal plank of wood used it as a toilet at one point.
Located next to this frame is a national treasure which has been preserved from before the war, the “Chōsen-shō” or “Korean Bell.” There is something you may not have noticed about this treasure. The loop at the top of the bell, referred to as the “ryū-zu,” has been partially destroyed.
Even damaged, it is a miracle that this bell can be displayed in a museum like this today. After the war, when people returned to their hometowns, they began to gather the fragments of their cultural heritage without incentive or request. These cultural assets were collected and the first Shuri Municipal Folk Museum was opened in March 1946. This was only a year since the people of Naha and Shuri returned to the capital. It was a time when they couldn’t even predict what tomorrow would bring.
There were even some people in the American military who worked to preserve the cultural heritage sites before the end of the war. In August of 1945, Major Hanna, who was in charge of Naval training, had the Bridge of Nations Bell carried to Ishikawa Higashionna (Modern day Uruma City), and opened the Okinawan Exhibition Hall. These two museums were the foundations for what would become the Okinawan Prefectural Museum & Art Museum.