• Kyodo

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A tourist bureau affiliated with Okinawa Prefecture has recommended ending tourist access to a cave in central Okinawa that played a key role in World War II, local officials said Wednesday.

In January, the Okinawa Tourist Convention Bureau told the village of Gushikami that Garabi Cave should be made off-limits due to the danger of falling rocks, the officials said.

This request drew criticism, however, from local volunteers who conduct guided tours of the cave. The volunteers said that both guides and visitors take safety precautions while in the cave and that closing the cave off will only limit visitors’ opportunities of learning about the Battle of Okinawa.

The 500-meter cave attracts 30,000 tourists annually, mainly students from other prefectures on school excursions.

Having housed more than 1,000 sick or wounded Japanese soldiers during the battle, it has become an important war monument.

Akiyoshi Murakami, director of Okinawa Peace Network — a citizens’ group that coordinates peace study tours — said the cave constitutes an important means by which tourists can learn about the ferocity of the battle.

“There have been no accidents in the cave in more than 20 years. The prefectural government should take measures to preserve and make full use of the cave rather than making it off-limits,” Murakami said.

The bureau recommended the measure to the local government after a private firm conducted a visual geological survey in November. The local government said it cannot close off access purely on the basis of a visual examination.

It did install a sign, however, warning visitors entering the cave that they do so at their own risk.

The Battle of Okinawa, which took place between March and June 1945, was the only land battle fought in Japan during the war.

More than 200,000 Japanese soldiers, U.S. soldiers and civilians died during the fighting. This total includes around 120,000 Okinawan civilians and service members — around one-third of its population at the time.

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