Nathan and I headed out with my friend Jennifer to explore some caves near Yomitan in Okinawa. The first cave we came to was Chibichiri Gama. It was tucked away off of the main road in the community. Emotions were stirred as I read the names and ages of the people that died/committed suicide in that cave. It was heartbreaking to see entire families with small children listed. Of 140 people huddled in the cave, 84 people died. A monument is built in their memory. It’s kind of a haunting sculpture too with heads of children in the stone, and mothers twisted in pain holding babies as they reach towards heaven. Mothers trying to comfort small children. Apparently in the mid to late 80’s a nationalist group took sledge hammers to the original sculpture and smashed it saying it dishonored the emperor. It has since been restored a bit and encased in stone.
Survivors of the cave say that the Japanese government had told them so many horror stories about what the US would do if they were captured, that when the soldiers found the cave they were afraid. Some civilians fought with bamboo spear and were killed. Others drank poison after stabbing their children with knives, or used had grenades to commit mass suicide. It was really a heartbreaking scene.
Nathan loved the small trickling waterfall and stream by the cave. He was very content to gather stones and splash them in the stream!
Next stop was an Okinawan style village and coral farm.
We stopped at an adorable Okinawan bread bakery called Suien at the base of the Zakimi Castle Ruins. The atmosphere of the bakery was so fun and the bread and soup was AMAZING! Nathan especially loved the carved out wooden spoons and tin cups! So fun, and yummy!
just up a small path to the side of the restaurant we were able to go and visit the donkey that is the mascot of the restaurant. Nathan was a bit leery and made sure to keep his distance. It was fun, but a little random!
With our bellies full, we headed out to find the next cave in the area. Luckily the story of Shimuku Gama is quite different.
The cave is near where the US forces landed on April 1, 1945. More than 1,000 civilians took shelter there while the fighting went on around them. It was only with the calming words of 2 men who had once worked in Hawaii that all of the people did not kill themselves with the hand grenades the Imperial Japanese Army issued them. The Okinawan’s were terrified of the American’s, so when they arrived at the cave armed with machine guns, the people freaked out! One man spoke out saying that he had worked un the sugarcane fields in Hawaii and knew that the American’s weren’t the monsters they were made out to be. He called on his nephew to back him up. His nephew told the people he had been a bus driver in Hawaii and knew that the Americans would not kill unarmed civilians. The people in the cave calmed down and were lead out of the cave to a safe zone.
Survivors of the cave built a monument at the mouth of the cave to these 2 great men on the 50th anniversary of the battle. The contrast between the caves was eye opening! You could get a real sense of the urgency and fear the people felt.