YOMITAN, Okinawa Prefecture--Memorabilia and symbols of peace were destroyed in an act of vandalism at a cave here where dozens of civilians committed suicide during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.
The Chibichiri cave, a natural cavern located in thick woodland, is one of the best-known reminders of the suffering and tragedy experienced by the islanders in World War II.
Shoichi Chibana, a Buddhist monk and a former assemblyman of Yomitan village, noticed the vandalism on Sept. 12, when he guided foreign journalists to the cave.
“(The cave) is not just a grave for people who have suffered a sense of guilt for years for surviving the tragedy,” said Chibana, 69. “(The vandalism) is an act of killing the victims again and deriding the excruciating history of Okinawa.”
On April 2, 1945, 83 villagers took shelter in the cave but found themselves surrounded by U.S. troops who had landed on Okinawa’s main island the previous day.
Although they were noncombatants, the villagers had been instilled with the imperial Japanese military precept that equated waving the white flag with disgrace.
Instead of surrendering to U.S. forces, the villagers committed suicide or asked other evacuees in the cave to kill them.
Their remains still exist in the cave. Jugs and glass bottles that the villagers had brought with them were also left in the cave as reminders of the battle.
The vessels were found shattered and their pieces scattered on the ground on Sept. 12.
Junior and high school students who visited the cave on peace programs left piles of origami cranes as symbols of hope and healing.
Half of the origami cranes were ripped apart and strewn near the mouth of the cave.
A group of bereaved families has banned entry to the cave, but its entrance was not blocked by a fence or other barrier.
A sign prohibiting entry was discovered on a slope more than 10 meters from its usual position at the mouth of the cave.
Relatives of the dead who paid their respects at the site during the Bon holiday on Sept. 5 did not report any irregularities at the cave, according to the Yomitan village government and police.
This is not the first time the cave has been hit by vandalism.
In 1987, “the statue of peace connecting generations” was installed at the cave entrance in honor of the dead. It was built by local sculptor Minoru Kinjo, with the help of bereaved family members. Later that year, a right-winger destroyed the statue.
Kinjo and the bereaved family members in 1995 rebuilt and installed the statue at the mouth of the cave. A sign bearing a poem about the tragedy was set up outside the cave. It was apparently placed on the statue during the vandalism.
Chibana said the latest attack was “more malicious” than the one in 1987.
Masaie Ishihara, professor emeritus of sociology at Okinawa International University, said he was more “terrified” than “outraged” by the vandalism.
“The cave is a symbol of Okinawans’ sufferings in the battle, in which they were indoctrinated to share the same fate with the Japanese military,” he said. “The (vandalism) act appears to have been motivated by a desire to suppress Okinawa’s peace movement.”
Norio Yonaha, who heads the group of bereaved families, said he has no idea why the cave was vandalized.
“We should not tolerate this,” said Yonaha, 63, who lost five relatives in the mass suicide, including his mother’s parents. “But we are determined to restart sending out messages for peace.”