Chibichiri Gama, October 22, 2015

While visiting at the Kina Banjo (bahn'-jo) a couple of days ago I asked the curator what other points of interest I might check out in the area. Of course, she talked about Zakimi Jo and the Yachimun no Sato but she also mentioned a place called Chibi Chiri Gama.

Gama, in the local vernacular, means 'cave'. She couldn't explain enough to my limited comprehension what it is or what it represents but nevertheless I decided to go there. So Zac and I set out this morning, in the rain, to find it.

I got the general drift of its location by referring to a local sites map. It's somewhere between Murasaki Mura and the Yomitan Fire Department HQ. While driving around Zac spotted the fire department so I got off on a farm road just east of Murasaki Mura and drove up a couple of those dirt farm roads. At one point we noticed a bunch of scrapped cars side by side and front to end in the midst of a field. Then we encountered a grand stench which once experienced can never be mistaken for anything but a pig farm. We drove a little further up the road till we came to what did indeed appear to be a pig farm.

There was a guy in one of the large concrete enclosures and I stopped to ask if he knows where to find Chibi Chiri. He brightened up and indicated that we were very close. I understood his directions enough to know that as we left his property we'd go to the right then we'd pass a "junk yard" (which he said in English). Zac and I knew right then where that was as we had just passed it and commented about what an unusual location for an auto scrap yard.

He further instructed that 30 meters past that I would see an 'Okinawan house' that is really a toilet. The cave would be right

....... next to that toilet. Okay, I thought. After abundant bowing and domos I began to pull away from his property. At that point a guy in a work truck honked his horn and gestured for me to stop. He pulled his truck out in front of me and gestured as if to say 'Ikimashou' - Let's go! He guided me to the public restroom which indeed looks like a tiny traditional old Okinawan house.

The first thing to greet us when we got out of the car was a sign warning us to watch for snakes. Hmmmm.... a little off-putting but I wasn't going to be dissuaded from our mission. Proceeding to the right of the warning sign is a concrete staircase leading down into a wide, lush green depression in the earth.

A large tree greeted me at the bottom of the stairs and to the left stood a tomb-like stone structure bearing what would appear to be gun slots in the wall of a fort or a castle. Atop that stone structure is a four or five foot statue of a man playing a sanshin before a backdrop of eerie mournful images of suffering souls. Upon close inspection, peering inside the structure through those portholes, one can see multiple carved images of misery and suffering equal to the musician's backdrop. The main cave is low and quite wide at its entry point. A large sign stands in the middle of the entry path and although it's all in Japanese it is clear that one is not to proceed past that point. Many multi-colored streamers are attached along both sides of the cave's entrance. It is clearly apparent to any visitor that this is a sacred area.

To the right are some natural springs with water flowing toward some smaller caves. There are a number of signs with information carved in stone or painted upon wood - none of which am I able to comprehend.

The degree of compulsion from the Japanese military on local people who either took their own lives or killed family members became an issue of national significance when in 2007 the Ministry of Education ordered the amendment of passages in several history textbooks stating that coersion by the military was behind the mass suicides during the Battle of Okinawa. The references to the Imperial Japanese Army driving civilians to commit suicide were subsequently reinstated, but in some cases using less forthright terms. This will no doubt be an ongoing issue. McCormack, G. & Norimatsu, S, 2012: 31-32

It is important to understand the background of the widely used Japanese expression shudan-jiketsu, which was originally used to imply that the acts of suicide were self-determined and spontaneous. . From 1953, the Relief Law,

officially known as The Relief Law for Individuals and Survivors of Individuals Killed or Wounded at War, came to be applied to grant pensions to Okinawan civilians judged to have been killed or wounded while either cooperating or participating in some way in the combat activities of the Imperial Japanese Army. People who had been infants when their parents died during the battle became eligible to apply for bereaved family pensions, so the tone of the Relief Law encouraged a perception that defining war deaths as having occurred for the sake of the nation matched the logic of the law. It is suggested that this in turn helped lend momentum to the use of the phrase shudan-jiketsu, and contributed to perverting the stance on historical records of the civilian experience of the battle.

Ref: Descent into Hell: Civilian Memories of the Battle of Okinawa, Ryukyu Shimpo 2014, pages 32-33

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After days of shelling from off-shore ship batteries and airborne bombing prior to the April 1, 1945 invasion of the main island of Okinawa by Allied Forces, approximately 140 Okinawan villagers took refuge in a large cave in Namihira, Yomitan, known today as Chibichiri Gama. (The ancient Uchinaaguchi-language word for cave is gama)

Members of the Imperial Japanese Army had handed out poison and hand grenades to villagers with instructions to kill themselves rather than be taken alive by the Americans.

The Japanese had filled the people's heads with the notion that, if captured alive, the American beasts would rape, torture, mutilate and kill them. It would be a far greater honor for them to die by their own hands for their Emperor.

Well, the American troops did indeed advance and the villagers knew that they were coming. When called upon by interpreters who accompanied the Allied Forces to come out from the cave and give themselves up peacefully, with assurances that no one would be harmed, some of the villagers tried to resist with bamboo spears and such and were killed by the U.S. soldiers.

That set off the villagers who remained in the cave. One young girl, fearing that she would be raped and mutilated, begged her mother to kill her. The mother complied and soon many other villagers followed suit. They began stabbing their children, drinking poison and setting off the hand grenades.
It is reported that 84 of the 140 people in that cave died.

In 1987 a group of right-wing nationalist activists, according to an April 8, 2007, story in the Pacific Stars & Stripes, took sledge-hammers to many of the sculptures "of writhing figures reaching toward heaven, mothers embracing their dying children and human skulls heaped near funeral urns."

“The nationalists said the memorial insulted the emperor,” said Setsuko Inafuku, a tour guide for 18th Services on Kadena Air Base. “So many people died here foolishly believing the propaganda,” she tells the Americans she takes to the hidden cave.

Inafuku has said that guides for Japanese tourists often tell her to tone down her comments to Americans. "But I have to speak the truth," she said. "I am not anti-Japanese. I am anti-lies."

In another Stars & Stripes (Apr 2, 2007) "Ninety-two year-old Kamado Chibana of Yomitan Village, who miraculously survived the war, lost her son, Giichi Chibana, who was four years old at the time, in the gama. Chibana quietly said, "I cannot forget my son; he was a lovely child. I really hope that he rests in peace'."

She went on to say, "I would like Chibichiri Gama to become a place to promote peace and prevent the sort of tragedy that happened here from being repeated."

A very different story unfolded at another cave that I visited during this year's trip - that was at Shimuku Gama.

The sign at the entrance to the cave advised that entry into the cave is
prohibited since it is a grave. It tells us that there are the bones of family
members within the cave and they don't want people stepping on them.

Chibichiri Gama (Southern Okinawa) is a 100-foot-deep limestone cave, where 87 people died included 47 children on April 2, 1945, after American soldiers approaching the cave and shot and killed two boys who charged them with bamboo spears. American soldiers pleaded with the civilians to come out and dropped leaflets in Japanese that said they wouldn't be harmed. The people didn't believe them. Japanese propaganda had led these people to believe that suicide was better than capture and torture by American “devils.”

The slaughter begin when an 18-year-old girl shouted, "Mommy, kill me! Don't let them rape me" and her mother obliged, triggering a mass killing in which parents slaughtered their children with knives, sickles, flaming oil from the oil lamps and then killed themselves.

The cave was opened to the public in the mid-1990s. There is a stairway that leads to passages where the 140 civilians hid. Most of the remains of the dead were taken away by relatives, but a few bones were left behind as a reminder of the tragedy. There are large bones near the mouth of the cave. The interior—which is said to contain the small bones of children is closed off to let their spirits rest in peace.

Okinawa, you sing a beautiful song
But your story brings tears to my eyes...
(source: GlobalNomads)

As related by Haruo Chibana, age 74 at the time of his interview with the Pacific Stars and Stripes in 2007, “Among the people in that cave was a man who was conscripted and fought in China,” Chibana said. “He brought back the military mindset with him.”

According to survivor accounts, some civilians resisted the Americans with bamboo spears and were killed. Others drank poison after stabbing their children with knives, while others killed themselves with hand grenades. Of the 140 people in Chibichiri Gama, 84 people died.

And they died a second death in 1987 when right-wing nationalists took sledgehammers to a sculpture of writhing figures reaching toward heaven, mothers embracing their dying children and human skulls heaped near funeral urns.

“The nationalists said the memorial insulted the emperor,” said Setsuko Inafuku, a tour guide for 18th Services on Kadena Air Base. “So many people died here foolishly believing the propaganda,” she tells the Americans she takes to the hidden cave.

Inafuku has said that guides for Japanese tourists often tell her to tone down her comments to Americans.

“But I have to speak the truth,” she said. “I am not anti-Japanese. I am anti-lies.”

On April 1, 2007, Japanese Ministry of Education instructed publishers of school textbooks to alter descriptions of the mass suicide of Okinawa civilians during the battle. The order included eliminating all references to the Japanese military’s direct role in the tragedies, erasing accounts in earlier texts that claimed the Imperial Japanese Army instructed Okinawans to kill themselves rather than submit to U.S. invaders.

“There are divergent views of whether or not the suicides were ordered by the army and no proof to say either way. So it would be misleading to say the army was responsible,” said Yumiko Tomimori, an official in the Education Ministry.

The news drew outrage from Okinawans who claim the government is bent on whitewashing history. The ministry’s decision came on the heels of denials from politicians in Tokyo that women throughout Asia were forced to serve in Japanese military brothels.

For years, Okinawa teachers have fought to prevent school textbooks from glossing over that hundreds of civilians committed suicide during the battle, many of them reportedly with grenades Japanese soldiers distributed specifically for that purpose.

University of the Ryukyus professor Nobuyuki Takashima, a member of the Association to Not Allow the Distortion of the History of the Battle of Okinawa, said the education ministry is pushing “their one-sided historic perspective that the mass suicide was beautiful death of residents who died in the love and loyalty to their nation.”

Takashima and others believe the ministry’s move was prompted by a lawsuit in which the former commander of the Japanese army garrison in the Kerama Islands, part of the Okinawa chain, is suing the publisher and author of a book charging the military was directly responsible for some of the suicides. The defamation lawsuit, filed in 2005, included a book by Nobel Prize laureate Kenzaburo Oe, who wrote about mass suicides in the Kerama Islands, located just west of the main island of Okinawa.

It’s a charge supported by many residents of the Keramas.

Nobuaki Kinjo, 80, is one of the survivors. In 2001 he told Stars and Stripes that he was 16 years old living on Tokashiki Island when the Americans invaded the Keramas on March 26, 1945, in preparation for the April 1 landing on the main island of Okinawa.

He said that in a state of insanity fueled by the propaganda of Japanese soldiers, he killed his mother and two siblings in a mass suicide the day the Americans invaded.

“We were told the Americans were beasts,” Kinjo said in 2001. “We were told by the soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army that we should commit suicide rather than be captured.”

Some 329 bodies were later counted in a valley where the villagers pulled the pins on hand grenades passed out by soldiers. He said he survived the mass suicide only because he was convinced by other teens that they should die a “more glorious death” by attacking the Americans. They were armed with sticks, but became disheartened when they came across some Japanese soldiers.

“I felt we had been betrayed,” Kinjo said. “Why were they alive and all the residents had to commit suicide?” They were soon captured by the Americans.

“Besides the issuing of hand grenades, what else do you need to prove the army was responsible for the mass suicides?” asked Kosei Yonemura, 77.

Yonemura, former chief of the Okinawa Board of Education, is from Aka Island, one of the Keramas, and fought with the Japanese Imperial Army in the Boys’ Volunteer Brigade when U.S. forces landed. He was 15 years old.

“The residents in Zamami were driven to commit mass suicide,” he said. “The cause of the tragedy was militarism and nationalistic education. In those days, the Japanese people had been indoctrinated to choose a graceful death by cutting their lives short rather than exposing themselves to humiliation by enemies.”

He called the Ministry of Education’s argument that there may have been no written or historically proven oral order to commit suicide “ridiculous.”

“Such an argument is nothing but an effort to trivialize the irrevocable fact that the mass suicides were a result of the militaristic education of the day,” he said. “We must raise our voices so that Japan today does not follow the same path it went down in the past.”

Toshiaki Shinjo, a teacher at Ginowan High School, told the Okinawa Times that the textbook changes skew the telling of the Battle of Okinawa.

By leaving out mention that the military forcefully encouraged civilians to kill themselves, “the tragedy becomes a beautiful story of people who willingly offered their lives to the nation,” he said.

“In the classrooms it will now be difficult to teach students the reality of Battle of Okinawa,” he said. “It will be more challenging for teachers to teach students true history.”
(source: David Allen and and Chiyomi Sumida, Stars and Stripes, April 8, 2007.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 04:01
NHK World reporting:
Mass suicide cave in Okinawa vandalized
A cave in Okinawa that commemorates the civilian victims of a mass suicide on the southern Japanese island during the closing days
of World War Two has been found vandalized.

Seventy-two years ago, 83 residents were reportedly forced to kill themselves in the cave in Yomitan Village, known as Chibichiri-gama,
for fear of being killed or captured by US troops.
A local resident says that when he took a foreign journalist there on Tuesday morning, he found a sign near the cave's entrance torn off
and strings of origami paper cranes ripped apart.
He adds that deep inside the cave, water bottles used by the deceased residents had been smashed and scattered over the victims'
The cave is seen as a symbol of the tragic battle of Okinawa. More than 10,000 people visit the site every year, mostly students on
school excursions as part of peace education programs.
The leader of a group of bereaved families that takes care of the cave, Norio Yonaha, says it is an unforgivable act of desecration. He
says the bereaved will not tolerate such an act, and will continue to appeal for peace.


September 12, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo Digital Edition
Yomitan – Chibichiri Gama, a cave in Namihira, Yomitan where civilians were forced to commit suicide by the Japanese military after
the Battle of Okinawa, was discovered to be vandalized on the morning of September 12.
Shoichi Chibana, who for many years has been involved in activities such as collecting an oral history of the cave, made the discovery
around 11 a.m. while giving a tour to a journalist acquaintance.
Remains that had been collected inside the cave had also been destroyed.
According to the Bereaved Families Association, the cave was in good condition during the Bon festival on September 5.
The remains left inside the cave, which included bottles, jars, and teapots, were also found broken.
The paper cranes had been torn down, and the “Icon of Peace Connecting Generations” sculpture at the entrance was destroyed.
The sign prohibiting entry was also torn down.
Norio Yonaha, head of the Bereaved Families Association, angrily proclaimed, “Why would someone do this?
This time they even lay hands on the bones.
We’ve had incidents before, but this is just too much.”
Chibana, who discovered the destruction, explained, “The place where the teeth had been collected were all scattered.
[The remains of] the jars, bottles, and kitchenware were all disfigured.
Minoru Kinjo, who made the sculpture, added, “Who would do such a thing? It is unforgivable”
In November of 1987, the Icon of Peace at Chibichiri Gama was destroyed, but was reconstructed with help of descendants of the
incident at the Battle of Okinawa.

Minoru Kinjo’s destroyed sculpture “Icon of Peace Connecting Generations” at the entrance of the cave

Smashed remains inside the cave

Inside of the ruined Chibichiri Gama

Vandalized Thousand Crane strings sent from all over the country

Shoichi Chibana showing Minoru Kinjo the broken bottles that contained water and gasoline

Police investigating with the help of Shoichi Chibana
(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)


UPDATE: Naha, Okinawa Pref., Sept. 16 (Jiji Press)--Police in the southernmost Japan prefecture of Okinawa have arrested four boys
on suspicion of vandalizing a cave in a local village where a number of residents committed suicide in the final phase of World War II.
The suspects, held by the Okinawa prefectural police department on Friday, have all admitted to the allegations, investigative sources
said. They are 16 to 19 years old and residents in the central part of Okinawa's main island.
The boys are alleged to have broken a signboard and items kept at the Chibichiri Gama cave, such as origami paper cranes, between
Sept. 5 and Tuesday, the sources said. According to officials of the village of Yomitan on the Okinawa main island, where Chibichiri
Gama is located, and other sources, paper cranes at the entrance of the cave were ripped apart, and mass suicide victims' belongings
placed inside the cave, including pottery, were damaged.
In the cave, 83 local residents committed suicide following U.S. troops' landing on the main island in April 1945 in the Battle of Okinawa
in the final phase of the Pacific War, part of World War II. (2017/09/16-03:59)


EDITORIAL - Ryukyu Shimpo, September 21, 2017
"Unforgivable destruction at Chibichiri-gama desecrates the spirit of 'nuchi du takara'"

U.S. service members, families and locals visit the sacred cave of Chibichiri Gama - Sep 30, 2017

Memorial service for victims of compulsory group suicide held at Chibichiri-gama - Apr 18, 2020


Page updated: 2-28-2020