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Okinawa cave known for WWII mass suicide found vandalized

The inside of the Chibichiri-gama cave is seen in the Okinawa Prefecture village of Yomitan, in this Sept. 12, 2017 photo provided by The Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper.

YOMITAN, Okinawa -- A cave that once became the site of a mass suicide of local residents while taking shelter from U.S. troops that landed on Okinawa's main island in the final days of World War II was found to have been vandalized, sending shockwaves and provoking anger among families of the victims and concerned parties, it has been learned.

    An area near the entrance to the Chibichiri-gama cave in the village of Yomitan, Okinawa Prefecture, as well as its interior were found damaged by an unknown assailant who apparently defied the off-limits rule to the inside of the cave. The site is a memento to the families of 83 residents who killed themselves there on April 2, 1945, for fear of being captured by U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa.

    "It feels as though our loved ones were insulted," said one of the bereaved family members. The parties concerned are considering filing a damages report to the police.

    Shoichi Chibana, 69, a Buddhist monk and former member of the Yomitan Municipal Assembly, discovered the vandalism. According to Chibana and others, the stone wall of a peace statue at the entrance of the cave was destroyed, a signboard nearby was pulled out, and paper cranes donated by students who visited the cave on school trips were ripped apart. Glass bottles and pots that had been used by residents who took shelter there were broken, and a kitchen knife was bent.

    At the entrance of the cave is a sign erected by an association of bereaved families, which reads, "Inside the cave are left many pieces of the bones of our relatives. We cannot tolerate people entering the cave and trampling down upon our kin."

    "To the bereaved families, the cave is a grave for their loved ones," Chibana said. "I don't understand why someone could have done something like this. I'm saddened."

    According to the bereaved families' association, there were no abnormalities at the site when members visited there on Sept. 5.

    The cave, which is situated at the bottom of a shallow valley, served as a shelter for some 140 residents when U.S. troops landed on Okinawa's main island from the shores of Yomitan village and other areas on April 1, 1945. Among them, 83 residents took their own lives, with some killing their own family members, according to village's history and other sources.

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