This is Ben signing on for this post. Over the weekend, Kara and I visited two caves up in the Okinawan village of Namihara. On an island spotted with caves, these two are noteworthy for their World War II significance. The history behind these natural sights truly is a "Tale of Two Caves," so I will start here with the story and our experience of Chibichiri Gama, often known colloquially as Sad Cave.
During the Battle of Okinawa, the Okinawan people used the hundreds of caves and tombs that dot the landscape to shelter not only from the merciless bombardments but also from American troops. Prior to the battle, the Japanese Imperial Army instituted a vigorous propaganda campaign aimed at the local populace. The propaganda stated that Americans were beastly in their ferocity toward civilians. Local Okinawans were told that if they fell into the hands of the American troops, they could expect horrible torture, rape, and death. They were instructed by the Japanese army to avoid this fate at all costs. Women, children, and elderly were given grenades, poison, and in some cases guns to commit suicide with rather than fall into American hands.
This relentless propaganda set the stage for the tragedy at Chibichiri Gama. The cave itself is not far from the beach. it took Kara and I only three minutes drive there from the coast. The cave was directly opposite a stretch of what was called the Hagushi Beaches, an eight mile stretch of coastline on Okinawa's western shore where the American forces landed. On 2 April, a day after the landing, the American forces came upon sad cave.
The cave itself is in a hollow. Oddly enough it is legitimately right next to a main road and a junkyard, however even today when you make your way down the stairs it feels more like a secluded grotto than you would ever expect. It was here the Americans set up outside the cave and prepared to search it for enemy troops.
Sources indicate that young boys charged with bamboo spears and were killed. It was then that the true tragedy unfolded. Rather than surrender and fall into the hands of whom they thought were savage monsters, 83 of the 140 hiding in the cave committed suicide. Among them were 47 children who were killed by their parents and grandparents in the desperate hope to save them from rape and torture.
The site today really does have the feeling of a grotto. There is a remarkable natural canopy of leaves and branches that completely covers the sky, and a small creek gurgles through. A memorial dedicated to those who died stands next to the cave entrance. There are also hundreds of colorful 'paper cranes' at the sight. These were originated by a young girl who folded paper cranes as she died of leukemia from the Atomic Bomb. They have come to be a symbol of world peace and are common throughout Okinawa.
As we stood next to the entrance of the cave, it was truly impossible to imagine the horror that took place on that very spot. All we could do was pay our respect to the spirit of those who died, the sacrifice of the Okinawan people and remember the true cost of war.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Happy Cave!
GPS Coordinates: (26.4065105,127.7241000)
We're Kara, Ben and baby Zoe also known as the Lesniaks. We’re a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Yorktown, Virginia after a three year tour in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together!
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