Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Yamada entered the Tokyo Art School in 1906 and majored in sculpture. After graduating in 1910, he went to the Beijing Art School to take an instructor position and worked there for two years. Upon his return to Japan he lived and worked mainly in Tokyo and became a celebrated member of the Japanese art community.
He returned to Okinawa in 1940 and remained here for the rest of his life. The Battle of Okinawa fought in the spring of 1945 and known locally as the “Typhoon of Steel,” was the largest and most devastating land battle of the Pacific theater and claimed an estimated quarter-million lives. It was in this battle that Yamada lost his eldest and third sons, an incident that would change him forever.
In 1957, at the age of 72, Yamada announced that he would finally pursue his long cherished dream of building a statue dedicated to the prospect of peace, “so people would never have war again.” Though he did have a little help with the fund raising, he worked mostly on his own to construct the massive statue. The entire project took him eighteen years to complete. Construction was halted several times due to lack of funds as well more than a few times when he fell from the scaffolding and was injured, two times very seriously.
The statue, completed just two years before his death at age 92, stands twelve meters high and spans eight meters across. It is made entirely from lacquer using the Tsuikin lacquer technique and weighs in at a whopping 3.5 tons! Though it resembles a statue of Buddha, it is said that this one differs from other statues in that this one is non-religious.
The Peace Hall is now part of the massive Peace Prayer Park (Okinawa Heiwa Kinen Koen) and open daily from 9:00 – 17:00 year round. It serves as one of the focal points for the Seimei festival in April, Children’s Day Festival (May 5), the Okinawa Memorial Day Eve service (June 22) and the Fire and Bell Festival (Dec 31 – Jan 1).
While the rest of the park is free, admission to the Peace Hall where Mr. Yamada’s masterpiece is on display is 450 Yen for adults, 350 Yen for Junior and Senior High School students and free for elementary school students. There are discounts for groups of twenty or more. To get to Peace Prayer Park from Naha, head south on highway 331through downtown Itoman City and follow the signs to Peace Prayer Park.