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Sunday, June 9, 2013

"The Tale of Two Caves - Ahashagama"

The Ahashagama Cave

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The Ahasha Cave, Ie Jima

     N 26 43.610E 127 49.061

The Ahashagama Cave

June 22nd, 1945 – The Great Okinawan War' comes to an end. The day after, the long road to recovery begins.

June 23rd is a day of healing. It is Okinawa's Memorial Day, known to the Okinawans as 'Irei no Hi' (慰霊の日). The 22nd and the 23rd of June are two bookends of an era tied to a significant event. One is an end to a war-torn past. The latter, a beginning to a brighter future. This is Okinawa's past and with it, countless wartime stories told by the Okinawans – stories that did not always have a peaceful end. Telling them is their way of preserving the honor and memories of those who tragically lost their lives many, many years ago. Telling them is their way to remind us, the consequences of war. On Ie Jima, there are two caves that are connected by the Battle of Okinawa. One is about life, the other about death. Sen-nin Gama (now called the Niya-Thiya Cave) was said to have a 1,000 people take refuge in its domain as war waged on between American and Japanese forces. There were no reported deaths as a result of the war. And inside, you will find a stone about life. It's a fertility stone. Visitors to Ie Jima come here to feel a special power. To them, it is a 'Power Spot' and is pronounced as such in their own language.

Then, there is the Ahashagama Cave. It is a cave that for two decades that was seemingly left to be forgotten, and for understandable reasons. In 1971, just twenty-six years after the war, the cave was revisited and excavated for its remains. A dark past was about to be revisited. It was discovered that about 150 people died. The cause... suicide by use of grenades, given to them by the then Japanese Imperial Army. About 20 survivors walked away from that dreadful aftermath. All remains were removed and sent to a separate location. A phone number is left behind for those relatives who come back to Ie Island wishing to pay respects to their ancestors (it should be of no surprise that some Ie villagers left the island after the war to get away from the horrific memories of the past). Stories like this are not uncommon during the Battle of Okinawa, where mass suicides were committed to avoid being captured by the oncoming US Forces – a fear that was propagated by the then Japanese Army. It is a sensitive and controversial subject even today.

But 'Irei no Hi' is not supposed to be a day of controversy. Like Memorial Day in the United States, all political positions are set aside for one day in what should be a solemn and quiet moment to honor and remember the fallen. June 23rd is a day that helps Okinawans move forward to the next horizon. The story of Ahashagama – an end to a terrible past, and yet a monument that reminds us to strive for a better future.

Author's Note. The word 'then' is highlighted to emphasize that it was the then Japanese Imperial Army. It is a sometimes human tendency to inadvertently convict an entire current generation of people to the tragedies that took place long, long ago... or to convict an entire group of people over the misdeeds of one individual. The Okinawan War can be a topic of heated debate. I realize this especially as someone who has both an American father and a Japanese mother. History, in the author's opinion, should always be viewed in the context of the times they occurred.

Source of Information. Ie Jima Tour Guide phamplet (Japanese Only), provided by the Ie Village Office.

Related Articles. Beggars’ Belief: The Farmers’ Resistance Movement on Iejima Island, Okinawa (The Asia-Pacific Journal), Survivors Remember Commotion Then Calm Inside Okinawa Cave (Shimuku Gama), Okinawans Outraged....Cover-up of Mass Suicides During WWII Battle (Chibichiri Gama).

Directions. Ashahagama Cave is on Ie Jima Island. Please refer to the article 'Travel Prep to Ie Jima' on getting there. The cave itself borders a golf course (LandMarked on the map above) on the northeastern side of the island.

Other Places of Interest Nearby. Sen-nin Gama (Niya-Thiya Cave).


  1. Thank you for this nice insight. Completely agree with your comment, as well about convicting the current generation. The Jewish have stated that they do hold the children of Germany guilty for the sins of their fathers. It is not to forget so we all may learn.

  2. I agree with the author's note. It is interesting though to think that when dedicating the Japanese-American War Memorial in a tribute to all Japanese American citizens who fought with their country in WWII, no copy of Janet Reno's speech (this was during a Democratic Presidency) could be found 1 day after the tribute. The memorial is never mentioned on holidays that tout the American patriot holidays and not even mentioned by PBS as it scans the memorials in its clips. No wreath layings advertised on PBS, holidays or anything. The Yellow Peril not ever discussed in history books and why as immigrants Japanese (as well as other Asians) were never honored. Even in DoD Asian month in the DC area. I guess they only have to admit it even happened in CA and HI, maybe Oregon and Washington state. Lots of Japanese Americans don't even know it exists. So sad.