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Mainland students upset landowners of WWII sites

Date Posted: 2002-10-18

There are currently more than 720 sites in Okinawa that are identified as fortifications or shelters from World War II era. Most were constructed by Japanese Troops prior or during the Battle of Okinawa and are now sites that many Japanese student groups come to see. Some sites are natural caves or were built by local people who sought refuge in them during the battle.

Every year more than 400,000 students come from mainland Japan to visit Okinawan battle sites as a part of their peace studies. The onslaught of so many visitors has now upset some owners of the land these shelters are located on. They claim that as the buses in most cases drive right next to the site, they are unable to work on their land. They also say that students toss their empty drink cans and candy papers around creating a severe littering problem. They also point out that most of these sites have not been developed, and they can be dark and dangerous. Many landowner have now resorted to closing access to sites on their land, and say that they will not open them unless officials some up with solutions to littering and safety problems.

Last month a site located in Gushikami Village called “Garabi” was closed, and the landowner says that unless the prefecture or local officials come up with a plan and money, he is not going to open, citing safety hazards. “When up to 40 students pack into these holes where there can be anything from habu snakes to a danger of cave-in, I’m not going to take responsibility for their safety,” the landowner says. “It used to be that there were only a few of them who came, but now they come in large tour buses. That’s too much,” he comments. For example, Itokazu in Itoman attracts as many as 150,000 students every year.

Another called Chibichili in Yomitan Village has also closed. Local residents who consider the site sacred as there are still many human bones and other relics left in the caves, say that some students tried to remove those relics and take them as souvenirs. That caused survivors’ families to file a petition to the prefecture to close the caves. Now visitors can only observe the caves from outside and the access is blocked.

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